Growing up, my grandfather grew rows of okra in his prolific garden, handing my mother and I sackfuls at harvest time. I loved the stuff and looked forward to it year after year, a bright spot in the oppressive late summer months. I found out after he passed away that he didn’t even like okra—he grew it just for me.
I’m from Tennessee, where fried okra reigns supreme. While I inhaled the fried bites as a kid—I still enjoy fried okra like my grandmother made it, tossed in cornmeal and quickly fried—my love has evolved. Okra is not just for frying; in fact, it might be even better grilled.
Why Grilled Okra Reigns Supreme
The high heat of the grill gives okra a lightly charred exterior and a tender (not slimy) interior. Chris Smith proclaims in his very fun book, “The Whole Okra,” that grilled okra is “the number one okra converter,” and I agree. The vegetable’s mild flavor is crowd pleasing and perfect for grilling, taking on the smokiness of the grill.
A charcoal or gas grill both work well for grilling okra—just be sure to use high heat. A very hot grill pan will work in a pinch. Serve them warm off the grill, on or off the skewer, or at room temperature. A garlicky, lightly spicy tahini dipping sauce is a fun touch and helps transition the veggie from a side dish and to an appetizer, but it’s certainly not required.
Avoiding Okra’s Slime Factor
Okra can sometimes get a bad rap for its sliminess, which can naturally thicken stews, gumbos, and soups. I don’t mind it, but it often puts eaters off. Luckily, it’s easy to avoid.
If you’re not a fan of slime, don’t cook okra in moist environments, such as boiling or stewing. By cooking the vegetable at high, dry temperatures, such frying, roasting, and grilling, you rid the pods of their sliminess, leaving the interiors tender with little to no goo in sight.
Tips for Choosing and Grilling Okra
Look for the freshest possible pods for the best possible result. They should be bright in color, dry, firm, and free of discoloration. Use them as soon as possible, storing them in an open plastic bag in the crisper in the meantime.
Okra is one of the simplest vegetables to grill since it need little more than a light coating of oil and high heat. I like to thread the pods onto skewers to make them easier to flip and to decrease the chances they’ll fall through the grates, but if you’re careful and willing to flip each and every pod, they aren’t required.
- Grill pan: Take this grilling recipe indoors by using a cast-iron grill pan. Preheat it to high, lightly oil, and proceed with the recipe. The okra may take a little longer to cook.
- Spiced: After grilling, remove the pods from the skewers and toss with a teaspoon or two of spices, such as Creole or Cajun spice mix.
- Mix and match: Try threading okra onto skewers with vegetables that have a similar cook time. I like alternating pods with long, thick strips of peppers. Just make sure they’re the same length and width so that everything makes contact with the grill equally.
Other Dipping Sauces to Serve with Grilled Okra
Soak the skewers and preheat the grill:
If you’re using bamboo skewers, place them in a shallow dish long enough for the skewers to lay flat and top them with cool water. Let soak for 30 minutes.
Preheat the grill to high heat, about 450°F. If needed, clean the grates.
Make the dipping sauce (optional):
In a small bowl, whisk the tahini, garlic, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon warm water, salt, and cayenne. Add more warm water while whisking, a teaspoon at a time, to reach a sour cream-like consistency. Set aside.
Prepare the okra:
If needed, trim any brown ends from the stems of the okra pods. Add the okra to a large mixing bowl and toss with the oil.
Drain the skewers if soaked. Arrange several okra pods in a line with every other pod pointing in the opposite direction. Thread the pods onto 2 skewers, with 1 skewer an inch from the stem end and the other an inch from the pointy end. Leave about 2 inches of the top and bottom of the skewers bare so they’re easy to flip.
Repeat with the remaining okra.
Once the grill is hot, fold up a paper towel into a compact square and moisten with oil. Clasp with metal tongs and use it to quickly oil the grill grates.
Add the okra skewers to the grill and close the lid. Check after 2 minutes, then every minute after until the okra is bright green and has pronounced grill marks on the bottom. Depending on your grill, this will take 3 to 5 minutes total.
Flip and continue grilling:
Use tongs or a spatula to carefully flip the skewers. Close the lid and repeat, checking after 2 minutes and then every minute after until the okra is tender with grill marks on both sides.
Remove from the grill, being careful not to tilt the skewers too much—now that the okra is tender, it will want to slide off the skewers. Sprinkle with the salt. Once cool enough to handle, remove the skewers.
Serve with the sauce alongside for dipping.
Grilled okra is best served warm but is also good at room temperature. Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 days and can be reheated in the toaster oven until warm.
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