By Erik Marcus
No vegan ever needs to go hungry at a summer barbecue. You have all sorts of spectacular plant-based possibilities. So let’s take a deep dive into how to prepare a fantastic vegan barbecue.
Vegan Foods to Barbecue:
Sure, vegans are excluded from barbecuing steak, pork sausages, hamburgers, and hot dogs. But consider all these other fantastic choices:
- Veggie Burgers
- Vegan Hot Dogs
- Vegan Sausages
- Any Sort of Vegetable (especially ears of corn, whole peppers with seeds removed, asparagus, de-thorned nopales, and thickly-sliced onions and eggplants)
- shish kabobs (tofu and veggies)
What’s great about vegan barbecue is you can eat it as often as you want without worrying that you’re jeopardizing your health. Grilled meats like hot dogs and sausages are strongly linked to colon cancer, whereas vegan alternatives give you all the flavor and none of the risk.
Vegan Barbecue Sauces
One of the most unlikely surprises in the world of food is that most barbecue sauces are vegan. Better than 90 percent of these products are free of animal products. The most common non-vegan barbecue sauce ingredient is honey. I’ve also seen brands that contain ingredients like bone broth and Worcester sauce, but that’s unusual.
The barbecue sauce industry has some big players, but it’s also full of tiny companies run by enthusiasts. It’s a perfect small budget niche-business since the stuff is easy to make and imperishable. Even a fledgling business can rent a commercial kitchen to produce a couple thousand bottles of sauce for regional distribution. Any good natural food store or boutique grocery should carry some exciting locally-made sauces.
Here are some vegan barbecue sauce brands sold by Amazon.com:
- Gayle’s: Sweet ‘N’ Sassy Barbecue Sauce
- Heinz: Original Sweet & Thick BBQ Sauce
- Jack Daniel’s: Sweet & Spicy BBQ Sauce
- Yo Mama’s: Classic BBQ Sauce (“Vegan” is printed on the label!)
Many barbecue sauces contain preservatives or are formulated with high fructose corn syrup. All of the products linked to above are free of those ingredients. I’ve also left out any product that lists “natural flavors” in its ingredients, since that could reference anything—vegan or not.
Before barbecuing tofu, tempeh, or vegetables, you’ll first want to marinade them. This not only adds flavor, but also adds moisture to keep them from drying out during cooking.
Start with something simple: soy sauce with a little sesame oil, plus some minced garlic and ginger is a nice basic marinade. If you like spice, also mix in a bit of chili powder. Submerge your tofu, tempeh, and veggies in this marinade for at least a half hour before barbecuing.
Once you’re food is on the grill, use a basting brush to periodically douse your food with some of the marinade. That’ll keep things moist and flavorful.
For even more flavor, use your basting brush to apply a little of your favorite hot sauce once your food is off the grill.
Types of Grills
What is barbecue? It’s a method of cooking food a grill over flames. So a classic old-school barbecue delivers two distinct flavor components: searing from your food touching hot metal (hence the black stripes), and smokiness picked up from the coals.
Vegans who are serious about barbecue don’t need any special equipment. An inexpensive portable charcoal grill can do a fine job. But barbecue’s one of those pursuits that inspires people to spend obscene amounts of money. Enthusiasts buy Weber propane grills costing hundreds of collars, or Big Green Eggs costing $1300 and up.
Whether you should go with a propane or charcoal grill depends on a couple things. Charcoal adds a delicious smoky flavor. But if you have neighbors nearby that same smoke will surely create resentment. Also, propane costs a pittance compared to charcoal.
George Foreman Grills
These electric units offer the safest and most convenient way to grill. But cooking on a George Foreman is not barbecuing. You lose the searing that only flames can provide, and you also lose the smoky flavor of charcoal.
But these grills do enable you to prepare your food right in your kitchen. I believe George Foreman grills do a much better job with meat-based foods than they do with vegan meats, since many vegan meats contain comparatively little fat. Part of what makes a George Foreman produce good results is its ability to cook fatty foods while having the fat drain away. Since many veggiedogs and veggieburgers contain little fat, these foods can come out unappealingly dry when cooked in a George Foreman.
So if you’re going to cook vegan meats on a George Foreman, choose products that contain at least 20 percent of their calories from fat. Also, these grills do a magnificent job on broccoli, cauliflower, and peppers.
Vegan Barbecue Cookbooks and Recipes
Publishers offer vegan cookbooks covering every conceivable niche, including barbecue. In fact, these three cookbooks are entirely devoted to the topic:
- Vegan BBQ, by Katy Beskow
- VBQ: The Ultimate Vegan Barbecue Cookbook, by Horn & Mayer
- Great Vegan BBQ Without a Grill, by Linda & Alex Meyer
- Vegan Barbecue, by Adam Jones
If you began this article skeptical that it’s possible to make delicious vegan barbecue, I expect this coverage has laid your concerns to rest. You can compare barbecue to sushi. Both these foods may have a reputation for being unsuitable to vegans. But in reality, they both offer some of the most delicious flavor experiences in vegan cooking.