Summa time, and grilling’s easy… but what if you just aren’t in the mood to eat meat? CJ Jacobson, veggie connoisseur and Chef of Ema, Rotisserie Ema and Aba is sharing some of his tips on smoking, braising, grilling even whole-roasting vegetables.
Chef CJ Jacobson holding vegetables

Smoking: While the easiest choice is grilling vegetables, Chef CJ finds you’re tasting the grill and not the vegetable. This is when he turns to smoking. The difference between smoking meat and smoking a vegetable is time. “When you smoke a vegetable you don’t have to do it all night like you do with pork,” Chef CJ says, “Vegetables just take a little bit of smoke to transform their taste.”

Try It: Add wood chips or rosemary branches to one side of your charcoal grill to smoke your favorite vegetables. Add green onions to the other side, close the lid, and allow to smoke for a few minutes. Chef CJ takes those smoked green onions (which he smokes with rosemary branches) and turns them into a salsa that he tops bone marrow with.

Braising: Searing something on a high heat and then cooking it slowly isn’t just for meats. This method of cooking works well with heartier vegetables. Chef CJ recommends braising eggplant, artichokes, cauliflower, and onions.

Try It: Braised Artichokes with white wine, garlic, tomatoes, and pancetta. Chef CJ says, “Treat the artichoke just like you would meat. Sear them off on a high heat and then lower to braise them. You could even flour them first before searing. This will allow the sauce to thicken. And always lemon and butter at the end.”


Salt-Baked: You’ve heard of salt-baked fish, but Chef CJ sees no reason you can’t use those same methods with your vegetables. This technique ensures perfectly seasoned and moist vegetables without having to add excessive amounts of fat.

Try It: Salt-Baked Beets have been seen in Chef CJ’s kitchen lately, and for good reason. The beets’ flavor deepens and becomes moister with a beautiful firmness and meatiness.

Raw beets

Grilling: Grilling vegetables are the obvious choice. But Chef CJ takes an unexpected twist with this one. Forget grill marks and go for a serious char to maximize flavor and tenderness.

Try It: Next time you’re grilling out, throw a bunch of unpeeled onions on the grill until they’re thoroughly charred. Peel and pair with your grilled lamb and tzatziki to punch of that grilled flavor. Or grill corn in the husk and slather with butter and top with you favorite herbs like fresno chili, garlic, nutmeg and green onion.

Grilled Corn

Whole-Roasting: Roasting something whole is a method as old as time. Whole chickens. Whole fish. Hell, whole-roasted pigs. The same reasons we want to roast animals whole are the reason roasting vegetables in their entirely has quickly become a trend.

Try It:Whole-Roasted Romanesco Cauliflower is the much hipper version of your everyday cauliflower. Stun your guests with this beautiful and unique presentation, whether it’s your side or main. Chef CJ likes to serve his romanesco cauliflower with his house yogurt and local honey.


DO try this at home. Here is Chef CJ’s recipe for Grilled Kale and Vegetable Kabob with Lemon and Olive Oil, as featured in People Magazine!

Grilled Kale and Vegetable Kabob with Lemon and Olive Oil
Makes 4-5 skewers

INGREDIENTS:1 bunch Tuscan Kale
1 zucchini
1 red or white onion (cut into 1-2 ” pieces)
4-6 button mushrooms
Olive oil
Salt and pepper|
2-4 skewers (if using wood, soak in water for a few hours)

METHOD:1. Blanch the kale by cooking them in boiling salted water for three minutes.
2. After three minutes plunge the kale into bowl filled with ice and water.
3. Drain the kale and lightly squeeze off the excess water.
4. Slice the zucchini into 1/4 inch discs.
5. Lay the kale out on cutting board, and stack the leaves on top of each other.
6. Starting at the end of the kale, pierce the kale with the skewer so there is still a few inches of the skewer sticking out.
7. Slide on a mushroom, then a zucchini and then a piece of onion.
8. Repeat with the kale so it “hugs” the vegetables and then with the vegetables.
9. Season the kabobs with olive oil and salt and pepper.
10. Grill on grill for about three minutes each side.
11. Drizzle lemon juice on top.