There’s this (mis)conception that grilling season is just for meat eaters and that vegans have to survive on just fruit and burger buns with ketchup and lettuce. But, with a few tips under your belt and some creative inspiration, every vegan can host and enjoy a successful and extremely tasty grilling season.
I’ve rounded up 9 delicious yet easy plant-based foods you can grill this summer, along with vegan grilling tips and tricks, so everyone can enjoy barbecue season to the max! And you can find so many affordable plant-based foods that are perfect for the grill at your local ALDI, from vegan proteins to fresh veggies to pre-cut fruit.
Thank you to ALDI for sponsoring this post! And thank you, readers, for supporting the brands who help make my work possible.
How to grill vegan proteins
When it comes to vegan grilling, the protein situation is usually the hardest because the options at a barbecue are typically animal-based. Luckily, in 2021, there have never been more options for plant-based meats and fun recipes to try. I’m going to highlight just a few here to get your creative juices flowing.
How to grill tofu
1. Use extra-firm tofu. It’s the only variety that can really stand up to the grill and retain its texture. I love using ALDI Earth Grown Organic Extra Firm Tofu (it works great on the grill), and with these tips, you’ll get tofu that’s perfectly crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.
2. Press the tofu for 15 minutes to release the excess water. More flavor and less likely to stick to the grill.
3. Don’t cut the tofu slabs too thinly, or they’ll fall apart or fall through the grill grates. You want about 8 to 11 slabs, crosswise, per 14-ounce block of tofu.
4. Preheat the grill for at least 10 minutes on high heat. Once hot, scrape down the grates with a heavy duty grill brush.
5. Then, season the grill by rubbing an oil-blotted paper towel across the grates (use tongs to hold the towel). Cover the grill for 30 to 40 seconds, then repeat this process 3 times (more or on recommended tools and cleaning in the “general tips” and “tools” sections below). I learned this tip from Serious Eats and helps prevent the tofu from sticking to the grates.
6. Marinate the tofu for more flavor, but it doesn’t need too much time. As little as 15 minutes, or up to 1 hour.
7. As for marinades, you can keep it simple and use your favorite BBQ sauce, sweet and sour sauce, or peanut sauce. Or, try my delightful Citrus-Chipotle Grilled Tofu recipe below. If using another sauce/marinade, marinate one block of tofu in about 1/3 cup sauce, and reserve 1/4 cup sauce for brushing at the end.
8. As soon as you add the tofu, reduce the heat directly below the tofu to low. Grill for 8 to 10 minutes, carefully flip and grill for another 7 to 10 minutes.
9. Brush reserved marinade on the tofu after grilling for maximal flavor.
How to grill frozen veggie burgers
If you want to keep things really simple and fast (so you can spend more time hanging out with your friends in the sunshine!), try grilling some frozen veggie burgers.
ALDI has a robust selection of vegan burgers from Earth Grown, including traditional veggie burgers, black bean burgers, and my favorite one to grill, the Earth Grown Flame Grilled Soy Protein Burger–it already has nice grill marks in case you mess yours up ;). And you don’t even need to defrost them so it’s super quick.
- Preheat the grill to medium for at least 10 minutes. Once hot, scrape down the grates with a heavy duty grill brush.
- Season the grill (see tips above in the tofu section).
- Brush the frozen burger patties with oil to prevent sticking.
- Grill the patties, allowing them to sear on one side before flipping, about 3 minutes. Cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add them to burger buns and spread with a flavorful sauce like Vegan Aioli, Vegan Ranch, or Vegan BBQ Sauce. Pile on your favorite burger toppings and enjoy!
How to grill vegetables
Grilling vegetables, similar to roasting them, draws out the natural sugars found in vegetables. Once caramelized and browned, they’re sweeter and more flavorful, which is a great way to get veggie skeptics to eat more veggies.
Plus, that subtle smoky char from the grill makes them feel a bit heartier and more substantial. And of course, they’re versatile. Serve them as a side dish, as a topping for pizzas or sandwiches, turn them into a salad, toss them into pastas or grain bowls, or layer into tacos.
How to grill corn
Is it even summer if you don’t have grilled corn on the cob at least once?? Corn season is truly a magical season, so I try to grill corn as often as possible.
Here’s one way I like to prepare grilled corn: simple but so tasty.
- Preheat the grill for 10 minutes over high or medium-high heat.
- Take husked ears of corn and add them to the grill.
- Cook for 10-15 minutes, turning every 3 minutes or so, until charred in some spots.
- Prior to grilling, I like to brush the corn with some Simply Nature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil and season with salt and pepper, but you can also grill it naked.
- Once the corn is done, rub with a bit of olive oil and a generous sprinkling of Tajin, aka chili/lime seasoning.
How to grill portobello mushrooms
Looking for a meaty but wholesome alternative to a burger patty? Try grilling whole portobello mushrooms. I love how hearty and chewy they are, but of course they’re so wholesome and good for you.
Slice off the stem and quickly marinate the whole mushroom caps. Grill the shrooms (cap side down) on a preheated grill (medium-high heat) for 4 minutes on each side. To get those fun crosshatched marks, rotate the mushrooms by 90º at the 2 minute mark. Finally, brush any reserved marinade on top before serving.
Since mushrooms are quite watery, it really helps to weigh down the shrooms while they grill (a cast iron skillet works the best). This helps expel moisture and flattens the mushrooms in almost half, making them denser and meatier. It also helps them absorb the marinade flavors more effectively.
You can find my grilled portobello recipe below!
How to grill romaine lettuce
While I like romaine lettuce in standard cold salads, I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite salad green. But, grilled romaine lettuce? That’s a whole different game!
The lettuce retains its crisp and crunch but packs in a smoky char that’s just so fun. It makes lettuce feel hearty and bold in a way that lettuce rarely does.
It’s also really simple. Just cut romaine hearts in half lengthwise, and brush with oil and season with salt. Grill, cut-side down, on a preheated grill (medium to medium-high heat) for 3 to 6 minutes, turning occasionally, until nicely charred. That’s it!
You can find my grilled romaine salad with creamy cashew dressing below.
How to grill vegetable kebabs
My personal preference is to grill one vegetable at a time, as it gives you the opportunity to highlight that vegetable and focus on making it taste the best. That said, many people enjoy mixed veggie kebabs during grilling season because they’re colorful, cute, and a fun way to get your veggies in. So here are some tips for grilling vegetable kebabs.
As for veggie variety, the most common veggies used for kebabs are bell peppers, onions (I prefer red), zucchini and summer squash, button or cremini mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes, all of which you can find at your local ALDI store.
You can also try chili peppers, such as poblano, shishito, or jalapeno peppers (if they’re large enough and you like it spicy!). I’ve also seen some folks cut corn on the cob into rings and thread those on. You can do as many veggies as you like, or stick to just one or two veggies (think eggplant and red onions, or lots of mushrooms).
Try to cut your vegetables in relatively uniform sizes. For peppers, cut them into squares; onions, wedges; zucchini/summer squash or eggplant, half moons; button mushrooms and cherry tomatoes, leave them whole. Don’t slice veggies too thinly, or they’ll turn to mush and/or get stuck in the grill grates.
When it comes to skewers, wooden skewers need to be soaked in water for at least 30 minutes to prevent burning on the grill. If using stainless steel, look for varieties that are thinner, as the thick ones are a bit too much for delicate veggies like zucchini and tomatoes.
Think about cook time. Onions typically take the longest to cook, so cut them smaller relative to other veggies. And try to skewer veggies that cook the quickest in the middle, not at the ends (I made this mistake with cherry tomatoes and lost some of them to the grill grates, oops!). If I were to make skewers in the future, I wouldn’t include cherry tomatoes on the same skewer as onions, as their cooking times are quite different.
Don’t forget the marinade! Before skewering the veggies, give them a quick marination. Even just 15 minutes at room temperature is sufficient, or you can marinate in the fridge for a few hours.
You can keep things simple with an olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing with salt/pepper and dried herbs, or get fancy and try some other flavors, like a chimichurri or a salsa verde. Whatever marinade you use, be sure it has a bit of oil in it to prevent the veggies from sticking to the grill and from drying you.
You can find my simple vegetable kebab recipe below.
How to grill fruits
Summer seasonal fruits don’t need much to make them appetizing. Their juicy sweetness speaks for itself (hi, watermelon on a hot summer day!). But, if you want to try something new or bring a unique dimension to fruits, grilling them is a great option. At ALDI, you can choose from fresh whole fruits like mango, watermelon and pineapple, or buy them pre-cut to save a little time.
How to grill stone fruit
I usually buy an excess of peaches and nectarines in the summer, so I love grilling some of them for a change (though I never really tire of eating them raw!). Grilling (and hence caramelizing) stone fruit enhances their aromas and intensifies their sweetness, so while it feels quite different to the raw version, it’s just as tasty.
- Be sure to use ripe but not overripe or soft stone fruit. Unripe stone fruits will likely burn before softening; very soft fruit will turn to mush.
- Cut the fruit in half, twisting apart and remove the pit. Be sure to coat the flesh with a bit of oil to prevent sticking and to encourage caramelization.
- According to Cook’s Illustrated, the best way to grill stone fruit is to grill them over medium-high or high heat for 5 minutes; then, transfer to a metal baking pan, cut-side up, and cover. Steam for 15 minutes to help them cook and fully soften. This avoids having to flip the fruit, as well as undercooking the inside.
How to grill pineapple
Cutting a pineapple can be tricky, which is why I love relying on the pre-cut pineapple spears at ALDI. They’re pre-cut into the perfect width for grilling–not too thin or thick. If you’re using a whole pineapple, you’ll want to peel it and cut into wedges, or even rings.
I like to brush the pineapple with brown sugar-cinnamon mixture for extra sweet goodness, and then cook on a preheated grill (medium-high heat) for 2-3 minutes per side. You can find the recipe for caramelized grilled pineapple below.
How to grill mango
Grilling mango is pretty similar to grilling pineapple, and again, you can find pre-cut mango wedges at ALDI. These are perfect for keeping fuss-free barbecues because they minimize the time spent in the kitchen so you can maximize the amount of fun outside!
It’s best to use mango that is ripe but not overly ripe, as it will stick to the grates and/or fall apart. Preheat the grill to medium-high and after seasoning your grill (see the “general tips” section below for how to do this), add the mango wedges. Grill for 3 to 4 minutes per side, until they smell caramelized and grill marks form. Use a thin metal spatula to scrape carefully under the mango to release it and flip.
To take grilled mango over the top and bring those spicy-salty flavors that surprisingly enhance the sweetness of the mango, I finish it with Tajin seasoning.
General tips for vegan grilling
Season your grill! Seasoning your grill makes it easier to clean, prevents food from sticking, makes your food taste better, and prevents rust. Basically, it’s a must!
The easiest way to season your grill is with some oiled paper towels (or clean dish towels if you don’t mind them getting real dirty). I usually pour some of the cooking oil in a bowl and blot the towels in the oil. Using tongs, I apply the oiled towel to the grill grates. Then, I close the grill for 30 to 40 seconds until smoking. For items that are more prone to sticking (think tofu or fruit), I repeat the oiling process three times.
It’s easiest to clean your grill when it’s still hot. I typically do this in between grilling certain items to prevent sticking, as well at the end of the grilling session.
You’ll need somewhere to rest your spatula and tongs, and somewhere to put food as it comes off the grill. Keep a couple baking sheets, casserole pans, or large plates on hand to store utensils and cooked food.
Finally, while the grill should do a lot of work for you, don’t forget some easy side dishes you can prep in advance. Some ideas include this Herbed Potato Salad, Watermelon and Cucumber Salad, or Charred Corn Salad with White Beans.
Recommended tools for grilling
Cooking oil. I like to keep a bottle of Simply Nature 100% Avocado Oil near the grill for oiling the grates. And depending on what I’m making, I’ll also have a bottle of Simply Nature Extra Virgin Olive Oil at the ready.
A heavy duty grill brush. Grills don’t require much to keep clean, but a heavy duty grill brush is needed to scrape down all the char and gunk that sticks to the grate.
Stainless steel tongs. Useful for flipping all kinds of foods, from tofu to lettuce to fruit.
A wide stainless steel spatula. Also useful for flipping lots of food. I often use it in conjunction with the tongs to flip delicate items. I have a slotted offset spatula that’s often used for fish, but it works great for all kinds of plant-based foods too :)
Oven mitts. Flipping food over a hot grill can get, well, hot. I like to keep oven mitts on hand.
Skewers. Thin metal skewers are great for veggies (the thicker ones are a bit too strong for delicate veggies). If using wooden skewers, make sure to soak them for 30 minutes to prevent them from burning on the grill.
Grill basket. Not an essential tool, but something to consider if you’re grilling veggies that might fall through the grates, or if you’d like to minimize the amount of oil in your cooking or the amount of time you spend flipping veggies.
Whether you’re vegan or not, I hope this post inspired you to really enjoy grilling season. For the best prices on lots of fun and fresh summer food, be sure to visit your local ALDI and then put that grill to good use!
- 1 14- ounce block Earth Grown Organic Extra Firm Tofu
- 3/4 cup (9g) cilantro leaves and tender stems
- 2 chipotle peppers in adobo, plus 2 teaspoons adobo sauce
- 6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 2 teaspoons orange zest
- ⅓ cup (80 mL) freshly squeezed orange juice
- 2 ½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- ¼ cup (60 mL) Simply Nature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 tablespoon organic cane sugar or brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more to taste
- Lots of black pepper
- Simply Nature 100% Avocado Oil
- Drain the tofu. Slice the tofu crosswise into ⅓-inch slabs, about 8 to 11 slices per block. Arrange on a paper towel-lined cutting board and add a few paper towels on top. Weight with a heavy cookbook or cast-iron skillet. Press for 15 minutes to remove excess water.
- Make the marinade: To a blender or food processor, add the cilantro, chipotle peppers and adobo sauce, garlic, orange zest, orange juice, lime juice, olive oil, sugar, cumin, salt, and black pepper to taste. Blend until relatively smooth. Season to taste with more salt and pepper needed. Reserve 4 tablespoons of the marinade.
- Transfer tofu slabs to a shallow dish or pan and pour the rest of the marinade on top, using a pastry brush to evenly coat the tofu. Allow to marinate for at least 15 minutes at room temperature, or up to 1 hour in the fridge.
- Prepare the grill. Preheat a gas grill (between medium and medium-high) with the lid on for at least 10 minutes to get the grates really hot. Scrub down with a heavy-duty grill brush to remove any gunk or drippings. Set a small bowl with a few tablespoons of oil near the grill and oil up a wad of paper towels in the oil. Use a set of tongs to rub the preheated grill grates with the oil-soaked towels. Let the oil smoke for 40 seconds or so, then rub with oil again. Repeat three to four times total to build up a good layer of seasoning.
- Immediately before or as soon as you add the tofu, turn the burners directly under the tofu to low heat and close the lid. Grill the tofu for 8 to 10 minutes, until nice grill marks form. Using a pair of tongs and/or a thin metal spatula, carefully flip each tofu slab and grill for another 7 to 10 minutes.
- Once the tofu is grilled, brush it with the reserved marinade.
- 3 romaine hearts (the center leaves of the romaine)
- Simply Nature 100% Avocado Oil (or Simply Nature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- ¼ to ½ cup pickled red onions (see below), pickled cabbage, or ¼ cup thinly sliced raw red onion
Creamy Cashew Dressing
- 1/2 cup (65-70g) Simple Nature Organic Raw Cashews
- 1/4 cup (56 mL) Simply Nature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) water, plus more as needed
- 1/2 cup (6g) fresh cilantro or parsley leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- 1/2 of a large lemon, juiced + more to taste
Quick Pickled Onions (Optional)
- 1 medium red onion, sliced as thinly as you can
- 3/4 cup (180 mL) water
- 1/2 cup (120 mL) apple cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup or organic cane sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon fine sea salt
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- Soak the cashews overnight in cool water, or cover them with water in a saucepan and boil for 15 minutes. Drain.
- Make the dressing. Add the soaked and drained cashews to a high-powered blender or food processor. Add the remaining ingredients and blend for a few minutes, scraping down the sides as you go, until the dressing is thick and creamy. If too thick, add a spoon or two of water. Season to taste with more salt and pepper or lemon juice as needed.
- Make the pickled onions (optional). Bring the water to a gentle boil. Place the onion slices in a large mason jar. Mix together the hot water, vinegar, maple syrup, salt, and red pepper flakes. Stir to combine until the syrup is dissolved. Pour the pickling liquid over the sliced onions in the jar. Allow to cool to room temperature, at least 30 minutes. You can serve now, but I prefer to refrigerate them for a more developed flavor.
- Grill the romaine. Preheat the grill (medium to medium-high) with the lid on. Season the grill as needed.Note: If using a grill pan, heat it to high.
- If using whole romaine lettuce heads instead of romaine hearts, remove a few of the outer layers and save for another salad or use. Rinse and dry the lettuce. Cut each romaine heart in half, lengthwise, leaving the core intact.
- Drizzle each side of the romaine hearts with some of the avocado oil and rub it into the nooks and crannies. Sprinkle with some kosher salt to season.
- Place the romaine, cut-side down, on the grill. Cook for 3 to 6 minutes, turning occasionally, until the leaves are nicely charred and grill marks form. If the grilled lettuce seems to start sweating water, transfer it to a colander or wire rack for a minute or two to allow excess moisture to drip off.
- Arrange grilled romaine on a platter, cut-side up. Scatter pickled onions on top and drizzle with the dressing.
- 2 large portobello mushroom caps
- 1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 teaspoons Simply Nature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon organic brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- A pinch or two of cayenne pepper
- Black pepper
- Simply Nature 100% Avocado Oil
- 2 L’oven Fresh Golden Sesame Hamburger Buns
- lettuce leaves sliced tomatoes, sliced red onion or pickled onions, sliced avocado, pickles
- sliced tomatoes and red onion
- Pickles, pickled onions, or pickled jalapeños
- Sliced avocado
- Simply Nature Organic Ketchup Dijon, yellow, or spicy brown
- Mustard of choice: Dijon, yellow, or spicy brown
- Remove the mushroom stems and brush the caps with a damp towel to remove any dirt. Place the mushrooms in a shallow baking dish.
- In a small bowl, mix together the vinegar, oil, soy sauce, sugar, onion powder, garlic powder, and cayenne. Season with a bit of salt and lots of black pepper.
- Drizzle the marinade over the mushrooms and use your hands or a pastry brush to coat the mushrooms on both sides. Allow to marinate at room temperature for 10 to 20 minutes.
- Preheat the grill over medium-high with the lid on for at least 10 minutes to get the grates really hot. Scrub down with a heavy-duty grill brush to remove any gunk or drippings.
- Set a small bowl with a few tablespoons of oil near the grill and oil up a wad of paper towels in the oil. Use a set of tongs to rub the preheated grill grates with the oil-soaked towels. Let the oil smoke for 40 seconds or so, then rub with oil again. Repeat twice.
- Remove the portobello caps from the marinade, reserving excess marinade for the end. Add to the grill, cap side down, and weigh them down with a cast iron skillet (this helps expel excess moisture, making them meatier and denser). Grill for 4 minutes, then using oven mitts, remove the skillet. Flip the mushrooms and weigh down again, and grill for another 4 minutes, until deeply golden brown. Take the mushrooms off the grill and brush them with the reserved marinade.Tip: to get crosshatch grill marks, rotate the mushrooms by 45-90º after 2 minutes on each side.
- To assemble a burger, layer your desired condiments to a bottom bun, top with a grilled mushroom, layer with desired burger toppings, and finish with the top bun.
- 8 to 10 cups fresh vegetables cut into bite-sized pieces (such as bell peppers, red onions, zucchini, summer squash, mushrooms, eggplant, or poblano peppers)*
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ¼ cup (56 mL) Simply Nature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed with a press or finely minced
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 ½ tablespoons maple syrup
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- A pinch or two of cayenne pepper
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- If using wooden skewers, soak them in water for 30 minutes while you prep the vegetables and marinade; dry before using.
- Prep your veggies. Cut peppers bite-sized squares; onions into small wedges; zucchini, squash, or eggplant into ½-inch half moons; remove stems from mushrooms and leave whole. Transfer all veggies to a shallow baking dish.
- In a bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, soy sauce, mustard, maple syrup, onion powder, oregano, cayenne, and a few pinches of salt and pepper.Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables and toss to coat. Allow to marinate for 15 minutes to 1 hour at room temperature, or refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours.
- Preheat the grill over medium for 10 minutes with the lid on. Lightly oil the grill.
- Thread the veggies onto stainless steel skewers or soaked wooden skewers. Reserve excess marinade.
- Add the skewers to the hot grill and cover the grill. Grill for 3 to 5 minutes, then turn the skewers. Continue grilling and occasionally baste with reserved vinaigrette, until tender and nicely charred in spots, a total of 10 to 15 minutes. Brush grilled kebabs with reserved vinaigrette.
- 1 pound (454g) pineapple spears
- 2 ½ tablespoons Simply Nature 100% Avocado Oil
- 3 tablespoons organic brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Preheat the grill over medium-high heat for 10 minutes with the lid on. Lightly oil the grill.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the avocado oil, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Using a pastry brush, brush the mixture on both sides of each pineapple spear.
- Add the pineapple spears to the hot grill in a single layer. Cook for 2-4 minutes per side, or until golden brown and tender. If you have reserved brown sugar mixture, you can brush it on at the end.