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11 best meatless grilling recipes to make for barbecue season

If you're a vegetarian, you can still enjoy your backyard grill this summer

Fried pineapple slices with creme fraiche, mint in black square plate on dark background
Anastasiia Petrych / Shutterstock

To put it bluntly, you don’t need meat to grill. There are plenty of other outstanding ingredients worthy of the open flame and subsequent char marks, from burly vegetables to summery fruits. We’re about to be waist-deep in market season, which means all kinds of great produce finds at your local store or farm stand.

And there’s no better way to enjoy them than through the unique and wonderfully hedonistic power of cooking over fire. It is the best way to enjoy a good meal on a warm day, and because we’re going meatless here, it’s all the healthier (and humane and better on the environment). That’s not to say we don’t love a good steak, but sometimes you need to broaden your palate.

Here are the 11 best meatless grilling recipes, just in time for barbecue season. The first five are from a true expert in the field, Chef Reza Setayesh, formerly of BimBeriBon in North Carolina, which unfortunately closed its doors in 2022; however, these recipes are definitely worth grilling up.

Grilled gaucho-style cauliflower steak

Grilled cauliflower steak
Chef Reza Setayesh

Here, cauliflower plays the role of steak and is given the South American treatment by way of a tasty chimichurri.

Ingredients:

For the cauliflower:

  • 1 cauliflower, cut into steaks about 1-inch thick
  • 1 ounce olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary

For the chimichurri:

  • 1 bunch parsley, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup fresh oregano, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teasoiin sea salt
  • 1 lemon, juiced

For the sun-dried tomato marbling

  • 2 cups sun-dried tomato, rehydrated in hot water for about 30 minutes
  • 4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon garlic
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Method:

  1. Mix all of the chimichurri ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
  2. Squeeze out any excess water from the rehydrated sun-dried tomatoes, place them, along with the rest of the marbling ingredients, in a food processor and pulse to make into a smooth paste, and set aside.
  3. Mix the rosemary and olive oil in a small bowl.
  4. Brush the cauliflower steaks with the rosemary olive oil and season with salt and pepper on both sides.
  5. Grill for about 5 minutes on each side or until nicely grill-marked.
  6. Place about 2-3 tablespoons of sun-dried tomato marbling on the steak and press into the cavities right before serving.
  7. Serve steak while still hot with a portion of chimichurri sauce and your favorite thick-cut potato or sweet potato fries.

Grilled Napa cabbage fattoush salad

Grilled Napa cabbage fattoush salad
Chef Reza Setayesh

The summer salad of all summer salads, fattoush could not be more refreshing.

Ingredients:

  • 1 head medium Napa cabbage
  • 1 small red onion, sliced thin
  • 3 vine ripe tomato, diced into large cubes
  • 1 Persian cucumber, sliced
  • 3 pita bread, cut into wedges
  • 4-6 ounce tofu feta or cow’s milk feta, diced or crumbled
  • 6-8 radishes, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons zatar spice
  • 1 tablespoon sumac spice
  • 1/4 cup chopped mint
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/8 cup chopped dill

For the dressing:

  • 2 lemons
  • 2 ounces red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
  • 1 teaspoon pink salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 ounces extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sumac spice
  • 2 teaspoons zatar

Method:

  1. Preheat the charcoal grill. Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Cut the cabbage in half lengthwise, brush lightly with olive oil, and grill until deeply charred. Immediately place in the fridge to prevent further cooking.
  3. Cut pita into small wedges and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and salt.
  4. Place on a cookie sheet pan and place in the oven for about 7-10 minutes or until crisp and toasted. Cool on a rack on the counter.
  5. Prepare salad ingredients and place all in a large bowl, including the grilled cabbage and toasted pita wedges.
  6. Place all dressing ingredients in a glass jar and shake vigorously prior to dressing the salad.
  7. Add the amount of desired dressing to the salad and toss. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Grilled corn and watermelon salad

Grilled corn and watermelon salad
Chef Reza Setayesh

Falling somewhere between an involved salsa and a straightforward salad, this recipe is a great appetizer while hosting or as just a quick mid-afternoon snack.

Ingredients:

  • 4 ears of corn
  • 48 ounces (about 6 cups) watermelon, diced small
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1 cup red onion, minced
  • 1 large jalapeño, minced
  • 1 tablespoon cumin, toasted and ground
  • 1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar (optional)

Method:

  1. Shuck the corn and place it on the grill, allowing each side to be blistered with grill marks before rotating until all areas are uniformly grilled with dark brown spots.
  2. Using a sharp chef’s or kitchen knife, cut the kernels off the cob.
  3. Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl, taste, and adjust seasoning.
  4. Add a splash of cider vinegar if you like your salsa to have a punch.

Grilled red onion and watermelon salad

Grilled red onion and watermelon salad
Chef Reza Setayesh

The versatility of watermelon is on full display through this dish, which benefits from the brine of olives and the coolness of fresh mint.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large red onion
  • 48 ounces (about 6 cups) diced watermelon
  • 1 large green pepper, medium dice
  • 1 English cucumber, large dice
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 cup feta (we prefer plant-based feta)
  • 2 grilled pita bread (optional)

Method:

  1. Peel, slice, and grill the onion until nicely charred and softened, then chill in the fridge.
  2. Prepare pepper, cucumber, mint, and olives and place in a bowl with the grilled onion.
  3. Add vinegar and the optional olive oil.
  4. Toss and adjust seasoning.
  5. Top with feta cheese of choice (again, we love a plant-based feta) and an optional side of grilled pita bread.

Charred eggplant dip

Charred eggplant dip
Chef Reza Setayesh

If you like hummus, you’ll love this eggplant dip. The char gives it a smoky quality, and it’s not just great on various raw vegetables, but rice cakes, pita bread, and sandwiches, too.

Ingredients:

  • 3 large eggplants
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground toasted cumin
  • 1/2 cup chopped tomato

Method:

  1. Preheat your grill, or if you don’t have a grill, you can preheat your oven to 475 degrees Fahreneheit, placing a cast-iron skillet in the oven while it heats.
  2. Using a small pairing knife, cut a few slits into each eggplant and place on the hottest part of a grill.
  3. Char the skin very hard and rotate so all the skin is nicely burnt and the interior of the eggplant feels soft when you press on it with your finger, roughly 5-7 minutes per side.
  4. Remove the charred eggplants and allow them to cool for a few minutes. Then, using a small spoon, scoop out all of the soft interior and discard the burnt skin.
  5. In a small sauté pan, heat the olive oil and toast the garlic and mint until the garlic is golden brown, about 1 minute.
  6. Break up the eggplant with a spoon, add the toasted garlic and then the mint and all other ingredients and mix well.
  7. Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed, and serve with cut vegetables and toasted pita bread.

Genuine grilled cheese

Genuine grilled cheese
Image used with permission by copyright holder

When was the last time you made a real grilled cheese on your grill? Do it, the first bite will have you never returning to your stovetop.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Rougette BonFire Grilling Cheese Mild and Creamy
  • 4 slices pancetta
  • 2 tablespoons canned cranberry sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 mini pretzel buns, split
  • 1/4 cup fresh arugula for garnish

Method:

  1. Preheat the grill to medium heat.
  2. Remove the grilling cheeses from the package and pierce with a fork on both sides according to package instructions. Place cheese on a hot grill, along with the pancetta. Grill over medium-high heat for 4 minutes, rotating cheeses once to create grilling cross marks.
  3. Use a spatula to carefully flip the cheeses and pancetta. Grill for 4 minutes more or until the cheeses are lightly browned and pancetta is crisp.
  4. Place the spit pretzel buns on the grill cut side down the last 2 minutes of cooking, or until buns are toasted.
  5. Remove the buns, pancetta, and cheeses from the grill. Assemble the burgers by spreading cranberry sauce on both bottom buns and mustard on both bun tops. Top each bun bottom with a grilled cheese, two slices of pancetta, half the arugula, and the top bun. Serve immediately.

Grilled polenta with Spinach and Robiola cheese

Grilled polenta with Spinach and Robiola cheese
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Grilled polenta is an unsung specialty that does great with green veggies like spinach and kale.

Ingredients:

Method:

  1. Lightly oil a 9-inch round glass baking dish. In a medium saucepan, bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and slowly whisk in the polenta. Cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until the polenta is thick, about 5 minutes. Pour the hot polenta into the baking dish and cover the surface directly with plastic wrap. Let stand until firm, about 25 minutes.
  2. In a large, deep skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
  3. Add the garlic and cook over moderate heat until golden brown, about 30 seconds.
  4. Increase the heat to moderately high and add the spinach, stirring to wilt it. Season with salt and pepper. Keep the spinach warm.
  5. Light a grill and oil the grates. Cut the polenta into 8 wedges and grill over moderately high heat until crisp and lightly charred, 5 minutes per side. Place 2 wedges on each plate; top each with 2 robiola slices. Spoon the warm spinach on top and serve.

Grilled caprese salad

Grilled caprese salad
Image used with permission by copyright holder

How do you make a caprese salad even more summery? You grill it, of course.

Ingredients:

  • 2 red peppers
  • 4 balls of good-quality mozzarella cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups ripe cherry tomatoes
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 bunch of fresh basil

Method:

  1. Place the peppers directly onto a naked gas flame or under a very hot grill and let them blacken and blister.
  2. Turn now and then with a pair of metal kitchen tongs. When blackened all over, pop them into a bowl and cover with clingfilm.
  3. Leave the peppers to steam for about 10 minutes, then remove the clingfilm and leave them to cool.
  4. When they are cool enough to handle, rub off the blackened skin and brush away the seeds from the inside.
  5. Tear the mozzarella balls into chunks and divide them between four plates. Slice the peppers into strips and scatter them over the mozzarella plates. Halve the tomatoes and scatter them over the top.
  6. Season well with sea salt and black pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Pick and tear up the basil leaves and sprinkle them over the salad before serving.

Grilled portobello mushrooms

Grilled portobello mushrooms
Image used with permission by copyright holder

A classic within the canon of grilled vegetables, portobello served this way just tastes better. The flavors concentrate and the oil compensates for the bit of moisture lost during cooking.

Ingredients:

Method:

  1. Several hours before cooking, place Portobello mushrooms in a large sealable plastic bag. Pour in some olive oil, enough to coat all the mushrooms, plus some excess. Sprinkle a little salt and some cracked pepper into the bag. Add about a tablespoon of minced garlic. Seal the bag and shake it. Refrigerate for a few hours.
  2. Preheat the grill to high, remove the mushrooms from the bags, and place them on grill for 5-to-7 minutes per side or longer; you really can’t overcook them. Flip them every few minutes or so.

Glazed tofu sandwiches with jicama slaw

Glazed tofu sandwiches with jicama slaw
Image used with permission by copyright holder

This dish offers a fireworks display of flavors for your palate, ranging from sweet and spicy to zesty and umami.

Ingredients:

Method:

  1. Set the tofu on a cutting board and top with a cookie sheet and 2 or 3 heavy cans. Let stand for 1 hour or until the tofu is very firm and the liquid has been pressed out. Pat the tofu dry. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the jalapeño jelly with the ketchup, soy sauce, sesame oil, and 1 tablespoon of lime juice.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the sugar with the garlic and minced jalapeño.
  3. Using the side of a spoon, mash the mixture into a paste. Add the fish sauce and the remaining 1 tablespoon of lime juice. Stir in the jicama, carrots, cilantro, and mint.
  4. Light a grill. Brush the tofu and the cut sides of the rolls with the vegetable oil. Lightly grill the rolls, for about 2 minutes.
  5. Grill the tofu over a hot fire until lightly charred, 8-10 minutes.
  6. Brush on the jalapeño jelly glaze and grill, turning and brushing until nicely glazed, 2 to 3 minutes longer.
  7. Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on both halves of each roll. Mound the jicama slaw on the rolls and top with the tofu steaks.
  8. Close the sandwiches, cut in half, and serve.

Fresh pineapple with crème fraîche and mint

Fresh pineapple with crème fraîche and mint
Image used with permission by copyright holder

A grilled dessert item? Naturally. This one takes advantage of pineapple’s ultra grillability, which looks and tastes all the better with a few grill marks.

Ingredients:

  • 1 small tub crème fraîche
  • 1 vanilla pod, scored lengthways and seeds scraped out
  • 1 pineapple
  • Icing sugar, for dusting
  • 1 handful fresh mint, leaves picked and finely sliced

Method:

  1. Preheat your barbecue. Beat the crème fraîche with the seeds from the vanilla pod and put to one side.
  2. Cut the ends off the pineapple. Sit it on a board and cut off the skin in wide strips from top to bottom, making sure you cut out any woody eyes. Thinly slice the pineapple, and dust the slices with icing sugar.
  3. Make sure the bars of the barbecue are clean — especially if you’ve been cooking fish or meat beforehand — and drop the slices of pineapple on to it. Grill for about 30 seconds on each side and then lift off with the tongs and transfer to a serving plate.
  4. Serve scattered with mint and a generous dollop of vanilla-flavored crème fraîche.

The best vegetables to grill on a barbecue as side dishes

Grilled corn on the cob
byrev / Unsplash

Want to add a side of some char-grilled veggies to your meal? Here are some of the best vegetables to grill on the barbecue as accompaniments to your meatless grill main.

  • Bell peppers: Bell peppers are sturdy enough to hold up well on the grill and get nice grill marks. Grill them whole or sliced.
  • Zucchini and summer squash: These mild-flavored vegetables cook quickly and can be sliced into rounds, halves, or spears. Grill them with some olive oil, salt, and pepper for a simple and delicious side dish.
  • Asparagus: Asparagus is a great choice for grilling because it cooks quickly and evenly. Look for thick spears that are firm and not limp. Toss the asparagus with olive oil, salt, and pepper before grilling.
  • Corn on the cob: Corn on the cob is a classic summer barbecue side dish. To grill corn on the cob, simply peel back the husks and remove the silks. Then, soak the cobs in water for 30 minutes before grilling. Grill the corn over medium heat, turning occasionally until the kernels are tender and golden brown.
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Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
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