Cooking on fire is as old as civilization, but BBQs aren’t only the home of steaks and popping bangers; fresh veg can be just as happy above a pile of glowing embers.
This year it seems to be going under the name of ‘live fire cooking’, with the emphasis on cooking over wood or coals rather than with gas. BBQs aren’t only the home of steaks and popping bangers; fresh veg can be just as happy above a pile of glowing embers. Here are our tips for feasting on flame-grilled flora.
- Trim away any tough, woody ends.
- Rub the spears with a little oil and season generously with salt and pepper.
- When your BBQ has settled to hot glowing embers, place the spears on the griddle bars in a regimented row. Cook for 4-6 mins, rolling occasionally for an even cook, until nicely marked and cooked through.
- Finish with a small squeeze of lemon juice and serve immediately.
- Rub the skin lightly with oil and place them directly on the bars of the BBQ.
- Keep turning every few mins to get an even cook. In about 20 mins (depending on size) they will start to soften and blister.
- They are ready when the whole thing feels perfectly soft. Always squeeze with a pair of tongs, not your fingers!
- Put aside until cool enough to handle, then peel away and discard the skin. You’ll be left with a messy, smoky mass; perfect to be folded into a stew, lengthened into a sauce or blended for a dip.
- Give the beets a scrub. While still wet, rub them generously with salt.
- Lay out a large, double-layered square of foil and place half the leafy tops in the middle.
- Sit the beets on top and drizzle with a little olive oil. Cover with the rest of the leaves. Fold the foil over and crimp into a tight parcel. Stab the parcels 3-4 times, to allow some smoke in.
- Bury the parcel in the glowing embers and cook for about 40 mins or until tender. Once cool enough to handle, slip away and discard the skins. Slice and dress the beets to your liking.
- Make sure your BBQ is on a medium/high heat – no flames or fireworks, just steady glowing embers.
- Rub the pods lightly with oil and throw them straight onto the bars. Cook for 2-3 mins, until marked and starting to blister.
- Flip them over and cook for a further 2-3 mins.
- Transfer to a bowl and toss with olive oil, sea salt and black pepper.
- Serve in an unruly pile with lemon wedges on the side for squeezing. When cool enough to handle, slip the beans from their pods and scoff them. An ideal snack with a cold beer.
There are two ways to cook carrots on the BBQ:
- Cook in the embers Remove the tops and keep to one side, wash and rub them generously with salt. Lay out a large, double-layered square of foil and sit the carrots in the middle. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Fold the foil over and crimp into a tight parcel. Stab the parcels 3-4 times, to allow some smoke in. Bury the parcel in the glowing embers and cook for about 30 mins or until tender.
- Griddle on the bars. Cook them first to avoid them burning. Boil the carrots in salted water or stock until just tender. Pat dry and toss them with oil, salt and pepper. Place on the bars, over a medium heat. Cook for 6-8 mins, turning often until nicely marked all over.
- Cut lengthways into 3mm thick slices. Don’t oil or season them.
- Drape them onto the bars over a hot BBQ, until nicely marked – 2 -3 mins at most. Flip; the other side will take slightly less time.
- Remove and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice and some freshly torn herbs (e.g. mint and parsley) or use them in a summery salad.
- A faster and less fiddly option is to simply split them in half lengthways. Griddle them, flat-side down, for 3-4 mins, before flipping and cooking for a further 3-4 mins.
Fennel is perfectly good raw, and only needs a light turn over the heat to add an interesting smoky edge.
- Trim away any tough tops and slice the bulb thinly, lengthways. Toss with a little olive oil and season well.
- Throw straight onto the griddle bars and cook for a few minutes over medium-high heat, until lightly marked.
- You can cook it for longer, cut into thicker slices or wedges and cooked over a less direct heat. It will take 12-15 mins or so and should be deeply coloured on the outside and tender to the bite.
These work on the same principle as barbequing broad beans: the pods provide a sacrificial vessel in which the peas can steam and cook. Bit of a faff, but worth it if you have access to fresh pods.
- Cook them for 2-3 mins, until marked and starting to blister.
- Flip and cook for a further 2-3 mins. When cool enough to handle, pop open the pods and thumb out the peas.
You can add them to salads and side dishes.
- Cut off the top centimetre of the bulb and sit it on a sheet of foil.
- Drizzle with oil and season with salt. Gather the foil up to create a parcel and crimp it closed.
- You can sit the garlic on the grill over some non-direct heat, or tuck it into the embers. It’ll take about 30 mins to soften.
- When cool enough to handle, squeeze the flesh from the skins, like toothpaste - a strangely enjoyable task. You'll end up with a sweet, sticky purée that can be used for everything, from stirring into a dressing or mayo to folding into soups or stews.
Remember the embers!
You don’t always need to cook above the fire; you can cook in it too. The embers will hold their heat for a long time. Think of it like an oven: a surrounding cloak of heat into which you can tuck tasty morsels.
You’ll often need a vessel that bears the brunt of the heat and allows you to create a hot, steamy chamber in which the veg can cook – jacket spuds wrapped in foil is the classic campfire trick. You can place some veg directly onto the embers; aubergines and onions can be blackened and blistered, before peeled and serving.
Little gem lettuce
Lettuce on a BBQ? Sounds like madness, but Little Gems are tightly packed and robust. They won’t wilt or collapse as fast as a soft-leaved lettuce, meaning you can lightly char them whilst retaining their distinctive crisp succulence.
- Cut them into wedges, 6-8 per head is about right, keeping the root end attached to hold everything together.
- Brush them with oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat for about 2-3 mins a side, until lightly marked and half wilted.
A grilled mushroom is the closest veg will come to the texture of a steak. Portobellos’ wide, flat shape makes them perfectly suited to cooking directly on the griddle.
- Oil and season them well and then cook over a high heat for 10 mins, turning frequently, until dark and tender.
- You can baste the gills with garlic butter or herby oil for the last few mins to add some extra flavour, if you like. Serve whole or carved into thick slices.
Griddled nectarines are simplicity themselves.
- Halve and stone them, lightly brush with some plain oil, place them on the BBQ and griddle them, face-side down, over a medium heat until nicely marked. This should take about 4-5 mins.
- Resist the temptation to play with them too much or they’ll tend to stick or tear. Flip them and cook for a further 4 mins or so, until softened – the skins will wrinkle and pull away from the flesh when they’re ready.
New season spuds won’t take as long to cook as a traditional old baker, but the same principles stand: a foil parcel and glowing embers
- Give them a wash but try not to lose all the delicate skin. Give each one a couple of jabs with a sharp knife. Keep the small ones whole; any larger ones can be halved.
- Lay out a large, double-layered square of foil and sit 500g potatoes in the middle. Drizzle with oil and season generously. Add a couple of bay leaves, a few sprigs of woody herbs (thyme or rosemary are ideal), two split garlic cloves and a few slices of lemon.
- Fold the foil over and crimp into a tight parcel. Bury the parcel in the glowing embers and cook for 40 mins – 1 hour or until tender. Empty the parcel into a serving bowl and toss the spuds with a knob of butter before serving.
Take a strong tear-jerker of an onion, apply some steady heat, and you’ll end up with something sweet and tender. There are two BBQ methods:
- Cook them in a heavy-based frying pan, off to one side from the direct heat. Peel and slice the onions and add to the pan with a good glug of oil and a generous pinch of salt. Let them cook away, stirring often, until you have a soft, tangled mass. You want them golden but not burnt. If they look like catching at any point, add a dash of water.
- The less gentle method is to place your onions directly onto the embers to cook. Leave the skins on and turn them at regular intervals, until the outsides are blackened but they feel soft when squeezed with tongs. Large ones can take up to 45 mins. When ready, strip away the burnt outer layer and serve the tender hearts.
- Halve and stone them, lightly brush with some plain oil, place them on the BBQ and griddle them, face-side down, over a medium heat, until nicely marked. This should take about 4-5 mins; resist the temptation to play with them too much or they’ll stick or tear.
- Flip and cook for a further 4 mins or so, until softened – the skins will wrinkle and pull away from the flesh when they’re ready.
Ideal served with cold yogurt, ice cream, or a few drops of rose water.
- This gives a deliciously smoky flavour. Grill whole peppers over a medium–high heat, turning them every few mins, until blackened and soft; about 20 minutes.
- Once charred, tip the peppers into a bowl and cover with a plate or cling film so that they cool in their own steam. This loosens their skins.
- When they’re cool enough to handle, peel away the blackened, papery skin and discard. Remove any seeds and slice the soft flesh as desired, saving as much of the roasting juices as possible.
Pineapples are robust and fibrous enough to stand their ground against some BBQ heat.
- Peel and cut into thick wedges or rings. Toss them in some light brown sugar and place directly on the grill, over a medium-high heat, turning occasionally, for 10-12 mins, until nicely caramelized on the outside.
- You can get into a whole world of bastes and marinades, usually involving allspice and rum. If you have a rotisserie spike you can cook one whole, skinned and sugared; rotate slowly over a medium heat for the best part of an hour.
Radishes are almost always served raw, but we often roast, braise or BBQ them on the farm when we have a glut. The heat softens the hot peppery notes, but take care to avoid overcooking; their slight bite is part of the charm.
- Cooking them on skewers makes them easier to turn, and stops the smaller specimens from disappearing between the bars. Keep the small ones whole, but cut any large ones in half. Baste them with olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper.
- Place them directly on the bars. 5-6 mins should be enough, turning often until lightly coloured and starting to soften.
- Eat straight from the skewer or slide them off and slice straight into a salad or side.
Herbs & aromatics
There’s a whole world of wood geekery to be applied to open fire cooking. Some people insist on oak, while others like the apparent sweetness of fruit woods like apple or cherry.
Whatever you choose, just make sure it’s dry, hasn’t been treated, and isn’t too resinous, as it can be overly smoky and potent, giving everything an almost antiseptic taste. Some people swear that throwing herbs like rosemary or sage into the fire will impart some extra flavour, too.
If you’re using charcoal, we’d recommend searching for a UK brand from a sustainable source, free from any chemical burn agents.
The Spanish have a tradition of cooking young onions over open fires - they eat them whole, dragged through a red pepper sauce and accompanied by free-flowing red wine.
- You need to do nothing more than lightly brush them with oil and season with salt and pepper. Throw them straight onto the bars; they’ll take anywhere between 5-8 mins to cook, depending on their size.
- Turn them often and don’t worry if they look too burnt on the outside; you can always discard the outer layer before serving. You know they are ready when they feel noticeably softer.
Never try to bake a squash whole and uncut; it will explode, trust us! Small, round specimens can be baked in the embers.
- Just cut away the top and scoop out the soft, seedy core. Pop the top back on, wrap in foil and sit in the belly of the fire for 30-40 mins, until soft.
- Denser varieties, like a butternut or Crown Prince, are better cooked on the griddle in fat wedges. Lightly score the flesh to help the heat penetrate. Oil and season well.
- Cook the sides of exposed flesh for 3-4 mins each, over a medium heat, and then turn the skin side onto the bars. Cook for a further 8-10 mins, until tender to a knife tip.
- It doesn’t matter if the skin burns, as you can simply scrape the flesh out. You can baste the flesh with the BBQ marinade of your choice while it cooks.
This seems like a crass way to treat such a delectable soft fruit, but it is all about the contrast of hot and cold, sharp and sweet.
- Cut any large ones in half. Add them to a bowl with a little sugar and a dash of balsamic vinegar. Mix well and leave to macerate for 10 mins.
- Thread the strawberries onto skewers and place directly on the BBQ bars. Griddle for about 2 mins, turning once, until lightly marked.
- They only want a quick flip-flop across the grill, enough to warm them and caramelize some of the sugar - if they look like they are turning mushy get them off the heat.
We sell our corn in its husk, which acts as an ideal wrap for the BBQ.
- Soak them in a bucket of water for 30 mins or so, while you tend to your fire.
- When the BBQ has dropped to a steady medium heat, pop the corn on the grill and cook for 15-20 mins, turning frequently, until the husk has started to colour and burn.
- Peel the husk back and slather the tender kernels with your flavouring of choice – butter and black pepper is classic; lime, chilli and salt work too. Devour straight from the cob using the bunched husks as a heatproof handle.
You can sit large tomatoes on the BBQ to cook, but they tend to split or burst, sacrificing all their sweet flavour to the flames.
- A nice trick is to halve or slice them and toss in a heavy roasting tray with a generous glug of olive oil.
- Season well and throw in a bay leaf, some sprigs of fresh thyme and a small glass of white wine. Let them tick away over a steady non-direct heat on one side of the grill. They’ll slowly collapse down into a simple, chunky sauce.
The only reason to BBQ a watermelon is to add to the taste. They don’t need cooking in any real way. In fact, they suffer if left on the heat for too long.
- Cut your melon into quarters, lengthways. Then cut the quarters into 2cm thick slices. You can cook them sweet or savoury. For sweet, give each side a light sprinkle of brown sugar. For savoury, rub lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
- Cook them straight on the griddle over a high, direct heat so that they get dark, distinct griddle marks in as short as time as possible; about 1 min a side should do. Try serving with limes, chilli and honey, or feta and torn mint.
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A summer of vegetarian feasting.
Some top veg grilling tips...
It’s not meat
Your veg won’t sear in quite the same way as meat, and it won’t drip or render fat either. A few of the same principles do apply though: the thinner the cut and larger the surface area, the faster the cook. A larger, denser item will need a longer cook over a lower heat. Think ahead – A good fire take time to catch, flare, flame and settle. Give yourself some time and get everything well prepared. Depending on the fire, you might need to cook different things in different places and for different times.
Direct heat is for a speedy, searing cook; ideal for veg that is thin and will cook fast, the equivalent of a steak or chicken breast – think asparagus spears or courgette strips. The fire is at its hottest just after the flames have died down and you have glowing embers with small flicker flames.
This is a slower and lower cook, allowing the heat to build up and move through the whole veg without burning the outside and leaving the inside raw. Think cabbages, squash, sweetcorn. This is usually done over a shallower bed of embers when they are starting to fade and turn ash-grey. Increasing the distance between the embers and the grill can help mellow the heat too.
Ideally you should arrange your fire into three rough zones. At one end, you want a deep pile of hot, glowing embers for high-heat, direct cooking. In the middle, rake a thinner layer of ebbing embers for indirect cooking. At the other end, keep a space below the grill that’s fire free, as a ‘safe space’ to shift things that look like they may be suffering or misbehaving. It’s also a great area to hold food that’s ready. You’ll end up with a spectrum of heat across the fire. You can feed new wood or coals into the hot end and shuffle everything along.