Grilled zucchini is a great way to enjoy this healthy vegetable on a warm summer evening. They're tasty, juicy, and perfectly charred. They are easy and quick to make and you can customize them with your favorite marinade.
The secret to the healthiest and tastiest grilled zucchini? Don't put any oil on the veggies before grilling them. Let's see how it's done!
Check out our Best Zucchini Recipes
"Such is the power of heat, smoke, and some neat black stripes"Yotam Ottolenghi on Charring, from his book Flavor, P. 25.
There are two ways to grill zucchini, and vegetables in general, and both are valid methods.
One is done by rubbing oil and salt onto the zucchini before grilling.
The other is grilling the zucchini dry, without any oil or salt, then adding a marinade or a dressing on top straight after grilling.
For years I had been grilling by coating the veggies in oil before throwing them onto the grill, which admittedly is an ok way of grilling.
But everything changed on a trip to Italy, where I had the best platter of grilled vegetables (a mix of zucchini, eggplants, bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms) in my entire life.
I went up to the chef and asked how he did that. The secret? No oil and salt before grilling. Apply the dressing, or the marinade, straight after grilling, while the veggies are still hot. The crazy thing is that everyone in Italy grills vegetables like this!
Why no oil before grilling?
Put simply, you don't want to eat burned oil with your grilled veggies. Fat tends to burn with the high grilling temperature, creating potentially harmful chemical compounds and often sour flavor.
The salt takes the water out of the veggies, making them shrink and dry. So add oil and salt last.
But won't the zucchini stick to the grill?
No, they won't. Of course, your grill or grill pan needs to be clean and well seasoned.
Won't the zucchini taste bland?
No, they won't. Charring without oil adds a ton of smokey flavor.
Drizzling the marinade onto the hot zucchini when off the grill and on the serving platter will load them with garlic, herbs, and olive oil aroma.
Italians go as far as throwing the just-grilled veggies into a bath of oil and aromatics (think garlic, oregano, mint, and really good quality extra virgin olive oil). The veggies literally soak in the marinade and its aroma, becoming super duper flavorful.
So let's see how to make the best and healthiest grilled zucchini ever!
Zucchini: we use regular green zucchini but you can really use any type of zucchini. Try summer squash, globe zucchini, yellow crookneck, yellow squash, yellow zucchini, grey zucchini, and costata romanesco.
Make sure your zucchini are fresh. Fresh zucchini should feel hard to the touch. Press the tip of the zucchini, the part opposite to the stem, between your fingers. That part should be hard. If it's soft, the zucchini is not fresh.
For the marinade
See the "variations" chapter below for more marinade, sauce, and dressing ideas.
Extra virgin olive oil: this is the main seasoning element of your grilled zucchini. Try to get good quality extra virgin olive oil. It really makes a difference in this recipe.
Vinegar: a little acidity goes a long way in boosting the flavor of the grilled zucchini. Combined with the smokiness and bitterness of the charring, and the sweetness of the zucchini, a touch of vinegar will make your taste buds go crazy. You'll love it! For zucchini, we use white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar. Lemon juice plus a little lemon zest works too.
Garlic: I'd recommend fresh garlic rather than garlic powder. Thinly sliced, raw, added to the oil. It will infuse the marinade and make your grilled zucchini fresh, aromatic, and delicious.
Herbs: by changing the herb you can change the flavor of your marinade. If you can, opt for fresh herbs. If you can't, use dried herbs, but in lesser quantities as they are stronger. Herbs that go well with zucchini are mint, basil, flat-leaf parsley, thyme, and oregano. In this recipe, we are using fresh mint leaves.
Salt: a touch of salt ties all flavors together. Sea salt and kosher salt are best. If you are on a low sodium diet you could try a potassium chloride salt substitute, but talk to your doctor first.
Make the marinade
Make the marinade first so that the ingredients have time to sit together to infuse their flavor into the oil.
To a bowl, add extra virgin olive oil, thinly sliced garlic, chopped mint (or another fresh herb), vinegar, and salt. Give it a stir and set it aside.
Grill the zucchini
Preheat the grill or the grill pan to medium-high heat. The temperature should be around 430F or 220C. Make sure the grill grates or the pan are clean.
If you use a grill pan, cast iron is your best bet because it distributes the heat evenly and reaches higher temperatures than regular pans.
Wash the zucchini, remove the ends, and cut it into slices that are ⅓ to ¼ of an inch thick (that's about 7mm). You can cut long slices or round slices. To cut zucchini you can use a chef's knife or a mandoline slicer.
Consideration: zucchini is a water-rich vegetable. When it cooks, some of the water evaporates and the zucchini loses volume. For this reason, don't make your slices too thin, they'll turn into nothing on the grill.
When the grill or grill pan is hot, turn the heat a notch down from medium-high to medium.
Place the zucchini slices on it, on a single layer. Grill for about 3 minutes on one side, then turn around with tongues and grill for another 3 minutes. Transfer onto a serving platter and keep grilling till you run out of zucchini.
Do not overcook. Grilled zucchini should be juicy and tender-crisp.
Consideration: Less charring is a little healthier, but it's also less flavorful. If you want clear charring marks, do not move the zucchini at all. Only flip it once. If you want less charring, then move the slices around while they cook.
As you transfer the zucchini from the grill to the serving platter drizzle with a generous amount of marinade while the zucchini is still smokey and hot.
The warm zucchini will absorb the flavor of the garlic, herbs, and olive oil. The vinegar and salt will make the flavors pop. Optionally you can sprinkle extra fresh herbs on top, and some freshly ground black pepper.
Enjoy warm, at room temperature, or cold.
You can replace the fresh mint in the marinade with many other fresh herbs. Try basil leaves, marjoram, cilantro, chives, oregano, parsley, and red pepper flakes.
If you want to replace the marinade, you could drizzle with some aged balsamic vinegar instead, and a sprinkle of fresh herbs of your choice for some extra flavor.
Italian salsa verde
For a bolder, tangier, and more herby flavor, make our delicious Italian salsa verde and drizzle it on the charred zucchini. You can make it in 1 minute in a blender with parsley, olive oil, capers, and a few other ingredients. Here's the full recipe for Italian salsa verde.
This Argentinian condiment is perfect for charred grilled zucchini. It adds a nice kick with the minced garlic and red pepper flakes. Here's the full recipe for chimichurri.
As you can see in the picture, we substituted grilled tofu for chicken/steak, and we kept the meal low-carb and gluten-free.
Pine nuts and basil are one of the best flavor affinities with grilled zucchini. Try drizzling our homemade vegan pesto (we replace the parmesan cheese with nuts) onto this dish and it'll get to a new dimension of flavor.
The smokey charred notes combined with the mild sweet basil and nutty pine nuts are a fantastic combination. We even sprinkle with some extra basil leaves, extra virgin olive oil, and toasted pine nuts on top. Here's the full recipe for vegan pesto.
Hot, slightly sweet, and tangy, our quick chipotle sauce is a great complement to the smokey, slightly bitter, and charred grilled zucchini.
Dip the zucchini in it, or make an open sandwich with a slice of toasted bread, some grilled zucchini, and a drizzle of chipotle sauce. Here's the full recipe for our quick chipotle sauce.
Grilled zucchini is typically served as an appetizer on a platter with other grilled veggies or as a side dish. It goes well next to pretty much anything.
- Serve with tofu such as this 10-min air fryer tofu or marinated tofu.
- Add to a pasta salad as a hot element, we love it with this vegan pasta salad or chickpea pasta salad.
- Serve with pasta either on top or as a pasta side dish. It's a great pair with lemon pasta and garlic and oil pasta.
You can also use grilled zucchini in a salad. It's delicious. We made a very quick and simple one by mixing the zucchini with grilled cherry tomatoes, grated carrots, spinach, and arugula, in a large bowl. We then served and drizzled the salad with a sweet and tangy carrot and ginger dressing.
More zucchini recipes
If you like zucchini as much as we do, check out these healthy recipes:
- Sauteed zucchini: a basic recipe for zucchini and ready in 10 mins.
- Zucchini frittata: an egg-free frittata perfect for picnics, brunch, and lunch.
- Zucchini pesto: a healthy green condiment with plenty of good fats and vitamins. A wonderful addition to pasta and vegan salads.
- Roasted zucchini easy baked zucchini in 2 ways that you can serve as an aromatic side or appetizer.
- Air fryer zucchini: the best of zucchini but with reduced oil.
- Zucchini risotto: creamy, indulgent, and a perfect crowd-pleaser.
- Tofu soup: one of our favorite easy dinners as it's ready in just 20 mins.
Store leftovers in the fridge for up to 3 to 4 days. Keep them on a plate, covered in aluminum foil, or in an airtight container.
You can freeze grilled zucchini for up to 3 months. To do so, transfer them onto a baking sheet or a platter line with parchment paper.
Arrange them so that they don't overlap. Put the tray in the freezer, then after about 8 hours or more, transfer the frozen zucchini into a freezer bag to save space.
Thaw in the fridge overnight, or in the microwave. You can also thaw them on a pan with some olive oil.
For many more side dishes ideas, check out our sides category page.
- grill or grill pan (ideally cast iron)
- long tongs to turn the zucchini
- 4 medium zucchini (about 1½ pounds)
For the marinade
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon vinegar white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- 2 cloves garlic thinly sliced
- ¼ teaspoon salt or more to taste
- 2 tablespoons mint leaves or basil or parsley, finely chopped
- Add extra virgin olive oil, thinly sliced garlic, chopped mint (or another fresh herb), vinegar, and salt, to a bowl. Stir and set aside.
- Preheat the grill or the grill pan to medium-high heat. The temperature should be around 430F or 220C. Make sure the grill and the pan are clean.
- Wash the zucchini, remove the ends, and cut it into slices that are ⅓ to ¼ of an inch thick (that's about 7mm). You can cut long slices or round slices. To cut, use a chef's knife or a mandoline slicer.
- When the grill or grill pan is hot, turn the heat down a notch from medium-high to medium.Place the zucchini slices on the grill on a single layer; no need for oil. Grill for about 3 minutes on one side, then turn around with tongues and grill for another 3 minutes. Transfer onto a serving platter and keep grilling till you run out of zucchini. Do not overcook. Grilled zucchini should be juicy and tender-crisp.
- As you transfer the zucchini from the grill to the serving platter, drizzle with a generous amount of marinade while the zucchini is still smokey and hot.The warm zucchini will absorb the flavor of the garlic, herbs, and olive oil. The vinegar and salt will make the flavors pop. Optionally you can sprinkle extra fresh herbs on top and some freshly ground black pepper. Enjoy warm, at room temperature, or cold.
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