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A Guide to Vegan BBQ

November 1, 2021, is World Vegan Day as well as the beginning of National Vegan Month. A lot of BBQ culture is built on meats, from pork to seared salmon, but the act of cooking over a hot flame works for way more than just meat. In honor of National Vegan Month, we’ve compiled some vegetarian BBQ ideas and tips on grilling for vegans that are good for meat-free folks or those simply looking for some healthy BBQ tips. For example, if you’re looking to slowly integrate a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, adding Meatless Mondays is an easy way to give it a try.

Meatless Mondays

One of the most popular ways foodies are diversifying their menus is with Meatless Mondays. Because it’s the first workday of the week for most, Meatless Mondays are an excellent candidate for meal prepping the night before. On Sundays, you can prepare your side dishes, like a tasty succotash or a broccoli chickpea salad. If you’re planning to grill a thicker vegetable like cauliflower as your main course, you can also marinate the veggie overnight. Carrots, beets, potatoes, and other hard vegetables are also able to stand up to a marinade overnight. Take a look at mondaycampaigns.org for tips on how to integrate Meatless Mondays into your schedule.

Vegetarian BBQ Ideas: Cauliflower Steaks

Two large slices of grilled cauliflower steaks stacked on top of each other on a plate with seasoning on top of them and garnish on the side.

Cauliflower steaks are sometimes mentioned as an alternative to a beef steak in vegan cuisine. Let’s get one thing out of the way: cauliflower is not beef, and a grillmaster does the vegetable a disservice by treating it as a mere substitute and not the tasty, versatile main course it can be. If you’re a fan of cauliflower as is, consider cutting a large crown into thick wedges and steaming (or microwaving, no judgment here) for fifteen minutes until tender. Then, coat it in melted butter or olive oil to help with charring and place on a hot grill for three to four minutes on each side.

If you’re looking for a little extra flavor, worry not, cauliflower works equally well with marinades or even a spice rub.

Of course, your options aren’t limited to cauliflower. These days there are plenty of meat alternatives out there that can sub for the real thing, like a Beyond Burger or vegan hot dog. These are also excellent candidates for grilling–after all, the best burger (even if it’s meatless) is one you cook on the grill!

Healthy BBQ Tips

Plate full of many different kinds of grilled veggies with a sauce in a small bowl next to the plate.

Including less meat in your diet can be beneficial for your health, the environment, and your wallet. That includes even trying out vegan sauces and marinades like the recipe for a Vegan BBQ Sauce by Vegetarian Mamma Cindy Gordon. If these things sound good to you, but you’re not ready to give up firing up that grill, have no fear! We have plenty of healthy BBQ tips for you below including how to grill tofu, how to smoke vegetables, and how to grill fruit. These can be used when grilling for vegans or for vegetarian BBQ ideas, depending on you and your guests’ preferences.

How to Grill Tofu

Tofu can work very well on the grill. Be sure to choose extra-firm tofu, slice it thick, and press it for 15 minutes before you grill it. Pressing your tofu allows you to squeeze out additional moisture and prevent it from going soft once it’s on the heat. If you don’t own a tofu press, laying a heavy pot or pan like a cast-iron skillet on top will do the trick.

Tofu also plays well with a marinade, and you don’t necessarily have to marinate it overnight either. Thirty minutes to an hour will be enough to impart flavor. Consider a marinade with less sugar to avoid burning and sticking on the grill, like the Citrus-Chipotle Grilled Tofu recipe available from Rainbow Plant Life.

Once on the grill, make sure the tofu is cooked over low or indirect heat to avoid burning, and give it roughly 8 to 10 minutes for each side. Then, brush some more marinade over the top and you’re ready to serve with your meal!

How to Smoke Vegetables

Meat isn’t the only thing that can absorb good flavor! Vegetables are also an excellent candidate for smoking.

Fresh grilled veggies like mushrooms on a plate an in a salad with some garnish on top.

To smoke vegetables, you have to consider the moisture content of your veggie of choice. A moister and less firm vegetable will need less time to smoke because it will lose structural integrity quickly if cooked for too long. Vegetables like zucchini, squash, mushrooms, and bell peppers should only be smoked for about 30 minutes before they’re cooked and fully flavorful.

Firmer vegetables can be smoked longer, but remember that the key to successfully smoking any food is maintaining a good level of moisture while exposing your meal to prolonged heat. Two easy ways to add moisture to vegetables before smoking: soaking and steaming.

If you want to keep it simple, soaking corn cobs for several hours in water before smoking will keep them moist and impart a delightful flavor to the corn after a couple of hours on the grill. Marinades also work, especially for vegetables like cauliflower that have nooks and crannies.

Steaming can also add in the requisite level of moisture. This recipe, for instance, recommends steaming artichoke hearts for 20 minutes to ensure they’re tender and juicy before adding olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic, salt, and pepper to the veggies and placing them on a smoker for two hours.

Don’t forget to choose the proper wood when smoking your vegetables: some experts recommend maple as a good catch-all wood, but feel free to experiment with different flavors. For vegetables that need a short time to cook, consider using wood chips, which burn hot and fast. If you’re smoking your food for a longer period of time, though, logs are likely the way to go.

How to Grill Fruit

Fruit is another excellent candidate when grilling for vegans. Equally tasty as the main course, side dish, or dessert, if you choose the right kind of fruit, you can achieve a delicious caramelization and smokiness that will change the way you view your grill forever.

Grilled round pineapple ring slices on a wooden board covered in honey with a jar of honey next to them and some spices and a rag on the sides.

One of the best candidates for grilled fruit is pineapple. The perfect combination of sweet yet firm, pineapple can be quickly grilled over medium-high heat for just a few minutes on each side to achieve caramelization. Be sure to use larger chunks, like spears or rings, to ensure it doesn’t disintegrate. The pineapple is good on its own, but is also a great candidate for a slaw, salsa, or another topping for a spicy main course.

Stone fruit, like peaches and nectarines, can also be grilled and achieve a nice char. The best way to do it is to cut your peach in half and grill it cut side down for five minutes, to give the fruit a nice char. Then, put the fruit in a grill pan covered in foil and move it to indirect heat, where you continue cooking for another 10 to 15 minutes until perfectly tender.

Last but not least, consider adding just about any grilled fruit to a bowl of vanilla ice cream. The combinations of hot and cold, toasty and sweet, comforting and refreshing are the perfect end to a delicious meal. Bon appetit!

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