When it’s too hot outside to turn on the stove, preparing a meal on the grill is a welcome alternative. Steaks, burgers, and chicken are the easy part, but just about all of the produce ripening this time of year can be cooked on the grill, from zucchini and squash to peaches, tomatoes, and eggplant.

Summer vegetable mélange — squash, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes — is a wonderful side dish that can be made as healthy or, with the addition of some creamy pepper jack cheese from Ashe County, as decadent as you like. Charred tomato salsa is easy to prepare with the aid of a food processor, and can be the coup de grace to grilled fish or steak, or a smoky twist on that stand-by meal-starter with chips.

Cute baby okra, shorter than your pinkie finger, is wonderful when grilled, then spritzed with balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper.

When grilling corn on the cob, some folks prefer dunking the cobs in water before grilling so they are effectively steamed, but try this: With the corncob still in the husk, use scissors to trim the top of the husk down to the cob, then cook it on a cooler area of the grill until thoroughly browned. When it is cool to the touch, strip off the husk and silk, then add seasoned whipped butter or seasoned olive oil at the table.

Don’t be afraid to get creative with starches: Grilled rustic bread or sliced potatoes add a unique twist to a summer meal.

For dessert, try grilling some peach halves and drizzling them with sorghum after removing them from the grill, or grilling thick watermelon slices until warmed — not really heated throughout — and dusting with a pinch of Kosher salt.

No matter what you make, cooking outside will inspire you to look at ingredients in a different light and be creative. Before you start, get the grill smoking hot and allow it to ash up, then brush away the evidence from your previous grilling escapade. Most grill brushes have brass bristles, but a brush with steel bristles is more effective. Also invest in good tongs that close well enough that you can tie your shoes with them. Most importantly, never turn your back on the grill, as many a meal has been compromised that way.

View Jay’s grilling recipes:
Vegetable Mélange
Charred Tomato Salsa

Jay Pierce is the Executive Chef at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen, with locations in Greensboro and Cary. He loves cooking, teaching others to cook and reading and writing about food.

Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen
Discover American Southern Cuisine rooted in the Piedmont, served in an upscale environment. We use the highest quality ingredients (including a lot of local food) to create our interpretation of classic Southern dishes. Please join us for lunch or dinner, seven days a week, for the highest quality food and drink with friendly, attentive service in our Greensboro restaurant near UNCG and our Cary restaurant near Raleigh, Apex and Holly Springs. We promise you’ll be happy! Click here to make a reservation.

Visit Lucky 32’s Farm to Fork blog for more great information.

This story was published on

Since 1933, Our State has shared stories about North Carolina with readers both in state and around the world. We celebrate the people and places that make this state great. From the mountains to the coast, we feature North Carolina travel, history, food, and beautiful scenic photography.