To grill or to roast? The best techniques for your veggies

Rachel Taylor

When it comes to preparing vegetables, roasting and grilling are both popular techniques to boost flavor and color. Though the two techniques are both loved by home cooks and chefs across the South, the resulting veggies come out differently depending on which method you choose. One certainly does not outshine the other, but there are a few things you should know before you choose one over another when cooking certain produce.

On a lazy night, one of the biggest benefits of cooking with a sheet pan is its simplicity. You can even add in your protein for a complete meal with easy clean up. More specifically, we like how easy roasting vegetables can be using a sheet pan. Cut up your preferred produce, toss it in olive oil, season with salt and pepper, spread it all out on the sheet pan and roast away. For more complex overall flavor, you can add whole cloves of garlic and fresh herbs like rosemary or thyme to the pan. 

“I can be lazy when I cook at home, so I’m less tempted to break out my grill pan,” Southern Kitchen chef Jeffrey Gardner said. “I’m more inclined to roast my veggies on a parchment-lined sheet pan for easy cleanup.”

You can find almost every kind of vegetable in at least one sheet pan recipe if you look hard enough, but not every vegetable roasts well. “Roasting brings out some of the natural sugars in the veggies,” said Jeffrey. “For example, give me a roasted carrot over a grilled carrot any day of the week.” 

He recommends using harder veggies, like potatoes, root vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and winter squash, when roasting on a sheet pan. 

To ensure the veggies don’t get overcooked in the oven, Jeffrey recommends spreading them evenly on the pan, checking them periodically and touching them every once in a while to make sure they don’t get overcooked. Remember, every oven is calibrated differently and can run either hot or cool. If your oven has a hot spot, rotate the pan halfway through the cooking process to make sure the vegetables are roasted evenly. Jeffrey also suggests moving them around with a spoon to ensure the caramelization develops evenly across the vegetables. 

He added: “My wife hates my response to her most frequent question: ‘How long do I cook this?’ [It’s always], ‘Until it’s done.’”

Unlike our unlucky neighbors to the North, grilling season almost never stops in the South. There’s nothing better than a perfectly grilled steak or burger at a cookout. But these meaty mains aren’t the only things that belong on the grill; if you’re not heading to the produce section you’re really missing out.

Peaches, pineapple, red peppers, onions, zucchini and tomatoes are the best produce to throw on the grill. Jeffrey explained that a chemical reaction causes the flavors to deepen when a fruit like pineapple hits the heat on the grill. “Anytime something hits direct heat it starts to caramelize the sugars,” he said. “Pineapples are naturally very acidic, and they have a good amount of sweetness, so when they hit the grill you’re tempering some of the acidity by enhancing the sugars as they deepen and caramelize.”

And while roasting produce on a sheet pan may be easier, but you’ll end up more flavor if you fire up the grill. “You can’t get a smoky char from the oven,” Jeffrey said. “Grilling also cooks the vegetables a bit faster, meaning that they’ll have nice color when they come off the grill, but are less likely to be overcooked.”

The time, equipment on hand and type of meal you’re cooking will determine which technique you should use. However, don’t feel afraid to experiment with both cooking techniques. If you always grill, give yourself a break by roasting veggies in a sheet pan instead of getting out the grill. And if you don’t have a grill on hand but are interested in grilling your produce, consider investing in a grill pan that works on the stove. Just like a sheet pan, it’s easy to clean and you get the smoky, caramelized flavors of the grill without the actual grill.