Summer is finally in full swing and the smell of backyard barbecues permeates the air. I have a new grill this year, and I’ve been cooking all sorts of things on there. It keeps the kitchen cool. Plus grilling lends itself well to summer’s carefree evenings.

But the thought always lurks in the back of my mind – does grilling meat increase my risk of developing cancer? I’ve read various reports about marinating the meat to reduce the risk. Or grilling leaner cuts of meat. But no one seems to know for sure what helps.

So this summer, I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands. I’m grilling the contents of my produce drawer and experimenting with all sorts of vegetables.

According to WebMD, That substances that forms on meats cooked at high temperatures when grilling are known as HCAs, or heterocyclic amines. Some research has shown that eating more HCAs increases your risk for several cancers, including colorectal, stomach, lung, pancreas, breast and prostate cancers.

By swapping veggies for meat when grilling, you eliminate the formation of HCAs because they form in muscle proteins not found in vegetables. This greatly reduces your risk factor from eating grilled foods.

As you consider what vegetables to grill, keep in mind one of my favorite pieces of advice – don’t be afraid to experiment! The worst that will happen is you end up with something you’re not crazy about. But you may end up with new favorites from the grill as I have this summer.

Most people have probably grilled onions and bell peppers on kabobs, but here are some other items to try. For some, a grill basket or skewers are necessary. Others can be placed directly on the grill rack or on foil.

Asparagus lends itself particularly well to grilling. Choose half-inch-thick spears if possible. The very thin spears will wither in the heat while the bulky ones will burn before they cook through.

Simply snap off tough ends by holding the asparagus spear halfway down the stalk with one hand then bend the bottom half of the stalk with the other hand until it breaks. Cook 5 to 7 minutes, turning once. It may be easier to cook the asparagus on foil to keep them from falling through the grill.

Corn on the cob takes on a nice smoky flavor when prepared on the grill. Remove all but the innermost layer of husk and snip off silk at the top. Cook 8 to 10 minutes, turning every 2 minutes. Leaving the innermost layer of husk on during grilling prevents the corn from charring and becoming tough.

My favorite veggie this summer has been grilled green beans. Choose thick mature beans, and, for this one, a grill basket is almost a necessity. Cook 6 minutes turning once. I like to finish mine with a splash of balsamic vinegar.

For onions, cut half-inch slices parallel to the equator (like you were making onion rings) and lay them flat on your cutting board. Skewer parallel to work surface. Cook 10-12 minutes turning once.

Brussels sprouts are also tasty and require either a grill basket or skewers. For large sprouts, cut in half. Cook 8 to 10 minutes, turning or stirring once or twice. These are also nice finished with a splash of balsamic vinegar. Or try them on skewers alternating with chunks of onion.

Karen Tempel, an aspiring chef since she could reach the countertops, has been delighting friends and family with tempting treats for most of her life. She is the owner of Everyday Gourmet, a custom caterer in the Aiken area. Visit her website at or email her at

For charcoal, build a medium hot fire. Most vegetables do better over medium heat than a blazing hot fire. To test the temperature of your grill, hold your hand 5 inches above the grate. You should be able to hold it there for 3-4 minutes.

Cut vegetables to maximize surface area and try to cut all of the pieces about the same size.

Brush veggies with oil to encourage even browning and help prevent them from sticking to the grill grates.

Go easy on the char by moving pieces around to avoid hot spots and grilling just until tender.

When using charcoal, grill meat first while the fire is hottest. By the time the meat is done the heat will have subsided and you can cook your vegetables.

Do you have a topic you’d like reading about or want to share your favorite grilled vegetable recipe? Email chef Karen at or comment at Everyday Gourmet Aiken on Facebook and your suggestion may be featured in my next article!