I remember being a kid and absolutely despising the idea of cauliflower. Nothing about the white, broccoli-like stalks looked appealing to me. Fast-forward 20 years and the veggie has become one of the most popular substitute ingredients on the market. The reason? There are so many ways to prepare cauliflower—it can be incorporated into salads, yes, but it can also be transformed into a vegetarian steak, pizza crust, rice, and more. Today, though, we’re going to start by focusing on the most summer-friendly preparation: grilled cauliflower.
While you might not have ever thought about grilling cauliflower, McCormick executive chef Hadar Cohen Aviram says you ought to. “Grilled cauliflower has more smoky notes thanks to the char on the grill,” she reveals. “The quick and high temperature also caramelizes the sugars in its exterior and creates a slightly crunchy bite.”
Another benefit of grilled cauliflower? It tends to be more evenly cooked. “The biggest difference between grilled and roasted cauliflower are the grate marks you’ll get on the cauliflower from the grill, and the one-sided cooking of the cauliflower in the oven versus the even cooking you’ll get on the grill as the heat surrounds the cauliflower,” restaurateur and chef Brian Malarkey, who is the founder of Chef’s Life, points out.
If you’ve never learned how to cook cauliflower on the grill, now’s your chance. Ahead, uncover the top tips and tricks for making grilled cauliflower taste its very best.
Do you need to soak cauliflower before cooking it?
The internet presents many, many opinions on grilled cauliflower and the best ways to cook cauliflower in general. While some people suggest soaking cauliflower before cooking it (so as to make it tender and banish any insects that may be hiding in it), both Aviram and Malarkey say that it’s not necessary.
“Unlike protein, soaking cauliflower won’t tenderize it,” Aviram says. Additionally, Malarkey says that you actually want your cauliflower to be as dry as possible in order to grill it to perfection. “Cook the cauliflower slow enough that it cooks all the way through, but doesn’t burn too much on the outside—and cook it hot enough that you get a good color on the exterior,” he says.
How can you prevent your cauliflower from becoming tough?
If you’re worried that skipping soaking will leave you with tough, inedible cauliflower, Malarkey says not to worry. “Cauliflower loves some steam,” he shares. “Put a pot of water on the grill or in the oven so it steams a bit as you cook it.” Just make sure that if you’re grilling your cauliflower, you put a grill lid on so that the steam won’t escape.
Aviram assures us that cauliflower is actually the toughest when uncooked. So if you grill, roast, or bake your cauliflower, you’re already a step closer toward a more tender veggie.
The best seasonings for grilled cauliflower
On its own, uncooked cauliflower tastes crisp, clean, and mild with an ever-so-slight sweet flavor. Because of this, Aviram says that any and all seasonings can be used to change its palette profile.
“I always reach for McCormick Grill Mates Smokehouse Maple Seasoning ($19) which gives cauliflower steaks an almost meaty flavor and enhances its natural sweetness,” she reveals. “For heat lovers, I highly recommend seasoning your cauliflower with some chili powder—the cayenne and cumin contribute to the meaty flavor while adding a little kick. You can also add straight-up McCormick Chipotle Chili Pepper ($6) to your base seasoning and enjoy a smoky-hot bite.”
If you’re worried that spicy grilled cauliflower won’t go over well with your kiddos (or yourself), Aviram says you can never go wrong with paprika, garlic powder, salt, and brown sugar. Toss your florets in oil, coat them in the seasoning mixture, and grill as usual, she says.
No matter which seasonings you choose, Aviram says that the beauty of cauliflower is its ease of cooking and how well it takes on flavor. That said, while it will absorb flavor from a marinade, she suggests seasoning it while it’s on the grill, too, to achieve the most delicious end result.
How to grill cauliflower
Since cauliflower is a dry, hard veggie, it doesn’t tend to stick to grill grates. That said, if you plan on marinating it in a juicy sauce of sorts, you may want to spritz your grates with non-stick cooking oil. Other than that, Aviram says to ensure your florets are big enough that they won’t fall through the grates of your grill. If they’re on the smaller side, grill them inside a basket like the Cuisinart Non-Stick 11-Inch Grill Wok ($11).
The best temperature for grilling cauliflower
According to Aviram, grilled cauliflower comes out the best when cooked at mid to high temps, around 400 to 475 degrees.
The trick to making the perfect cauliflower steak
Easily the most popular way to cook cauliflower on the grill is to treat it like a steak. While many cauliflower steak recipes exist, Aviram has a few tips for making the most of the dish.
“My tricks are to choose a very fresh head that’s very thick—which will slice more easily and won’t fall apart—and to use a thin spatula, like a metal fish spatula [such as the OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Fish Turner, $16], to flip the steak to reduce the risk of it breaking,” she reveals.
If your goal is to achieve truly Steak-like flavor, she says to reach for the McCormick Grill Mates Montreal Steak seasoning. Once you sprinkle it on, it’s time to grill. “Grill eight minutes or so per side, or until golden with char marks,” she instructs. “Use the wide side of the spatula to gently remove the tender steaks from the grill.”
(Looking for an exact recipe to follow? Check out the Grilled Cauliflower Steak recipe from NYT Cooking.)
Other cauliflower recipes to try
Grilling is just one of the best ways to cook cauliflower. You can also roast and bake it. Ahead, find 10 easy cauliflower recipes for days when grilling isn’t an option.
Whole roasted cauliflower with pistachio pesto
Many roasted cauliflower recipes exist, but this one from NYT Cooking is especially beloved, with hundreds of foodies giving it their two-thumbs-up approval. The roasted cauliflower is cooked so perfectly that it’s tender enough to eat with a spoon—and flavorful enough that you’ll want to whip it up again and again.
Get the recipe: Whole roasted cauliflower with pistachio pesto
Looking to make your pizza a bit less carby? By swapping the classic crust with a cauliflower crust, you can do just that. While you can buy cauliflower pizza crusts these days, this cauliflower pizza recipe is so easy to make that you might just want to opt for the homemade take on the trend.
Get the recipe: Cauliflower pizza
Remember: One of the perks of cauliflower is that it works as not only a steak substitute, but a carb one, too. As such, if you’re looking to lessen your carb intake but are craving the comforts of a warm bowl of rice, this cauliflower rice recipe is worth perusing.
Get the recipe: Cauliflower rice
While cauliflower steak is the most popular way to use the veggie as a meat substitute, this cauliflower parmesan recipe proves just how versatile it is as an entree alternative in general.
Get the recipe: Cauliflower parmesan
Roasted cauliflower and broccoli with salsa verde
Give your roasted cauliflower a Southwestern flavor by serving it with salsa verde. Whether you eat it as a main course or a side dish, you’ll be surprised by just how satisfying it is.
Get the recipe: Roasted cauliflower and broccoli with salsa verde
Buffalo cauliflower wings
Love buffalo wings but trying to cut back on fried food and/or meat? This buffalo cauliflower wing recipe will be your saving grace.
Get the recipe: Buffalo cauliflower wings
Roasted cauliflower tacos with chipotle romesco
Since cauliflower soaks up flavor so readily, it serves as a great taco filler. Don’t believe us? This roasted cauliflower taco recipe has racked up hundreds of rave reviews.
Get the recipe: Roasted cauliflower tacos with chipotle romesco
Garlic mashed cauliflower
Garlic mashed cauliflower is an especially easy cauliflower recipe, as you just have to steam the veggie before mashing it up with olive oil, garlic, cream cheese, cheese, salt, and pepper. (Of course, you could always skip the dairy to keep it vegan.)
Get the recipe: Garlic mashed cauliflower
Just as you can stuff peppers, you can fill cauliflower with tasty ingredients like beef, chicken, garlic, onions, and more.
Get the recipe: Low-carb stuffed cauliflower
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