Do You Grill Meat or Vegetables First?

It’s time to answer the question that every grilling enthusiast sometimes thinks but never wants to ask.

Published Categorized as Questions
Artur Verkhovetskiy /Depositphotos

Time to come right out and ask the question, even if a lot of people are afraid to give say it out loud for fear of suffering the laughter of others.

Don’t be afraid. It’s perfectly normal to wonder what you should grill first: your meat or your vegetables?

There!

The question has been asked!

Come out of the darkness, for the answer is near!

Okay, now that that little bit of comedy-drama is out of the way, you have to admit it’s a bit of a silly question to be afraid to ask.

No one should fear bringing up vegetables when it comes to grilling. And no one should be intimidated by wondering what should be grilled first—even if the big tasty cut of meat is sitting there clearly wanting all of the attention.

Not only that, not to ask is an easy way to mess up your vegetables if you have any doubt whatsoever. Vegetables are unique and complex and worthy of proper attention they deserve without being ruined by being cooked too early or late.

That all being said, let’s dive into more details on what should be grilled first between meats and vegetables, grilling temperatures and times for your veggies, and the always important reason why one goes first.

First, though, one other quick question needs answering…

What Exactly is a Vegetable?

Yes, yes.

We all know what a vegetable is. Or do we?

Well, we know what meat is. And, being somewhat professional grill magicians, we also know meat is not vegetables. Nor are vegetables fruits, even though both come from plants, maybe even the same plant.

The most important thing to remember is that fruits grow from the flower of a plant. Fruit also has seeds in them. Vegetables basically make up the other parts of the plant (leaves, stems, etc).

Fruits also tend to be sweet when ripe, whereas vegetables are sweet pretty much never. However, vegetables are excellent platforms for savory flavors. Which makes them perfect grill mates for meat.

Then there’s corn, which is technically a fruit, vegetable, and grain all rolled into one. It can mate with anything, apparently.

Speaking of grill mates…

Another Thing to Consider

Now we have another question for you to consider before we get into what should be grilled first.

That, of course, is what vegetables are good to grill? If you can answer that question, then you’ll have a better idea of what meat you’ll be pairing with your vegetable of choice and what probably needs more time on the grill.

If you can’t answer the question, well, here’s a list. Some of the best vegetables for the grill include:

  • Eggplant
  • Zucchini
  • Squash
  • Bell Peppers
  • Mushrooms
  • Asparagus
  • Carrots
  • Cabbage
  • Onions

“Hey, where are the tomatoes and green beans?”

Well, tomatoes and green beans are both fruits. As are eggplants, zucchini, squash, and peppers. Artichoke hearts would be flowers if they weren’t eaten before they could bloom. And corn is… well, a freak, as already mentioned.

That doesn’t mean they all can’t be subjects for future articles.  We’ve included here what is often thought of as “vegetables” when it comes to grilling. (Had to draw a line somewhere!)

Anyway, all of these “vegetables” are great for the grill and pair well with meat. How you pair them is totally up to you. Heck, maybe you’re only going to grill vegetables, like a nice grilled cabbage wedge.

Once you choose your vegetable, you of course need to know…

What Temperature to Grill At? For How Long?

Okay, so you’ve got a handy list of some of the best vegetables to throw on your grill. Now you need to know how long to cook them for and at what temperature, right?

Say no more:

  • Eggplant – 4 to 6 minutes per side at 400°F (200°C).  Adjust if necessary if sliced very thinly.
  • Zucchini – 5 to 8 minutes per side at 400°F (200°C). Adjust if necessary if sliced very thinly.
  • Squash – 5 to 8 minutes per side at 400°F (200°C).  Adjust if necessary if sliced very thinly.
  • Bell peppers – 6 to 8 minutes per side at 400°F (200°C).
  • Mushrooms – 8 to 10 minutes per side at 400°F (200°C).  These are little mushrooms you’d put in an omelet. We’re talking about big ones like portobellos.
  • Asparagus – 5 to 10 minutes at 400°F (200°C). Make sure to turn every few minutes to avoid burning or charring.
  • Carrots – 5 to 8 minutes at 400°F (200°C) wrapped in a foil pouch or skillet and already chopped.
  • Cabbage – 5 minutes per side at 400°F (200°C).
  • Onions – 8 to 10 minutes at 400°F (200°C), turning every few minutes.

Notice a pattern above?

Yep, all of the listed vegetables are cooked at the same recommended temperature. The only thing that varies is how long they need to cook for.

Even then, you’re not looking at more than twenty minutes for grilling any vegetables unless you want them nice and charred or cooked slower at a lower temperature.

The fact that vegetables cook quicker and require less temperature control now leads us to…

So, What Do You Grill First?

Meat. Always grill the meat first.

It doesn’t matter what vegetable you’re going to have with your cut of meat, you always grill the meat first.

Why?

Because meat takes more time and attention. Period. And you can’t risk undercooking certain types of meat like poultry.  Undercooked vegetables may simply taste tough or bad.  Undercooked chicken can lead to food poisoning.

This is especially true if you’re grilling over charcoal. Remember that charcoal burns hot for about 45-60 minutes. After that time, it starts losing temperature. At some point, you either stop grilling or need to replenish the coals.

Grilling your meat first guarantees that the coals are still hot, giving your steaks, burgers, or sausages the perfect sear—and allowing them to cook through. Then you can grill the veg to any level of doneness you’d like.

Yes, it took us a while to get to the answer but, you know what, it’s worth exploring how we get to the answers.

In Summary

Wondering if you should grill your meat or vegetables first isn’t a crazy question to ponder nor one you should be afraid to ask out loud.

The big thing to remember is, unless you’re cooking a very thin piece of meat or grilling something like hot dogs, you’re almost always going to grill your cuts of meat first.

This gives you the wiggle room to devote your time and attention to making sure the meat cooks thoroughly and to the consistency you want without feeling rushed.

Not to mention, vegetables are pretty easy to whip into shape on the grill while you’re letting your meat rest. 

Lastly, if you’re smoking any meat, cooking your vegetables first should never even be a consideration, especially a brisket. Unless you enjoy reheating veggies eight to twelve hours later.  Just saying.

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