Spring / Summer is not the easiest time to opt for a meat-free diet or cut back on meat, which is odd because you can create some really imaginative plant-based salads and we generally crave less filling foods in the warmer months. The real culprit for challenging plant-based diets in the summertime is the BBQ. Grilled meats are so much a staple of summer with that chargrilled quality going perfectly with those citrusy and cool tastes. If you’re new to veganism then BBQs can be a struggle but even seasoned vegans who have no craving for meat can find slim pickings at a BBQ.
Of course, there are plenty of sides but the main show is usually meat-based and plant eaters can feel shortchanged. If you’re entertaining non-meat eaters by the grill this summer or are plant-based yourself, we're here to help you throw a BBQ proving it’s possible to do so without missing meat. Here are my top plant-based BBQ ideas for 2022.
Chilli and Butter Corn
Ok, so corn on the cob is a BBQ side traditionally and we’re looking for centrepieces here. However, corn on the cob can be elevated with a little extra flavour.
BBQing corn can be difficult because it needs time to soften so can easily burn. What I find is part boiling the corn first reduces the time it needs on the BBQ meaning you get both the softness and the chargrilled flavour. Before adding the cobs to the BBQ I like to mix dried chilli flakes and plant-based butter and brush it all over the corn. The balance of sweet and spicy really gives regular corn on the cob a flavour kick.
Vegan Kebab Skewers
Veggie kebab skewers are a great plant-based BBQ option. Chargrilled vegetables have that sweet sticky taste and can be elevated with a drizzle of
maple syrup and a squeeze of lime. You can add almost anything to skewers - courgette, onion, mushrooms, tomatoes, aubergine, peppers - but it’s the size that matters. Cut vegetables that take longer to cook a bit smaller and make those that take longer to cook larger. You’ll also need to keep a close eye on these on the grill as they’ll need turning regularly. For a garlicy flavour, sautee the vegetables with crushed garlic and olive oil before threading them on the skewers.
For a more unique skewer, why not add fruit. Apple pieces and pineapple BBQ go really well and will add a sweetness to go with the taste of the grilled vegetables.
Plant-based and Vegan BBQ Substitutes
If you like vegan meat substitutes then this is a very easy way to achieve a meat-free BBQ, especially if you’re new to veganism and missing meat. Beyond and Moving Mountains are two of the most popular brands leading the way in vegan meat alternatives. Their burgers and sausages are ideal for grilling and are packed full of flavour.
It’s important to note that these are not the healthiest options, often containing more salt and saturated fat than their real meat alternatives. If you have not tried dairy-free cheese before then you might be tempted to think one of these substitutes will taste great grilled like halloumi. You would be very very wrong. Vegan cheese does not cook well and generally that rubbery cheese that tastes so great grilled has not yet been recreated effectively without dairy. Having said that, the greek cheese vegan alternatives are far more like the real thing and taste great in a greek salad or with couscous.
These are also usually not packaged very consciously, so make sure that you read the packaging options and dispose of it responsibly
Because tofu contains a fair amount of water, many people avoid grilling it on a BBQ for fear that it might fall through the rack. However, if you properly press the tofu, squeezing out excess water, then it should hold.
Your tofu will need a marinade to secure its place as a central dish at your BBQ. Teriyaki works well, as does a coriander and lime marinade. Cut the tofu into large blocks roughly 3cms thick and leave in the marinade overnight if possible. Then they’ll just need grilling on the BBQ for a few minutes on each side. They will taste amazing with a crisp mixed leaf salad.
Jackfruit is a great food for delivering that BBQ sauce flavour. In this style, it mimics pulled pork and is ideal when generously scooped into baps or hotdog rolls. So obviously, BBQ is the marinade you want to go for here and there are some great recipes online if you want to make yours from scratch, which we highly recommend for ensuring it’s plant-based and, well, because homemade is just better.
The easiest way to cook pulled jackfruit is actually in a frying pan. You need the onion (you should absolutely add onion) to be fried for that great southern flavour. The jackfruit itself can be pulled apart with two forks which is good fun as there is no care involved in this process so you just get to rip it up. We’d suggest frying the onion and jackfruit in the marinade for a while and then transferring it to a sheet of tin foil. Loosely package up the mix in the tin foil and place it on the BBQ, not too close to the heat. This should gently smoke the jackfruit to finish off the cooking process.
To be honest, aubergine gets a mixed reception. A lot of people find it a slimy food lacking flavour. But they haven’t tried properly flavoured aubergine. When
grilled, aubergine softens but doesn't become slimy and the grilling process brings out that edamame taste. This can be further impacted with a great marinade - and not one that needs to sit for hours to take effect.
It’s easy - mix one part soy sauce with one part maple syrup and a generous squeeze of lemon. Add garlic, coriander and a drizzle of sesame oil. Slice the aubergine skin-on into 1-2cm thick pieces and lay them in the marinade whilst you fire up the BBQ. When the heat is reasonably high, grill the aubergine slices for a few minutes on each side to create an amazingly sweet, softened, Asian-inspired dish that is perfectly finished off with a sprinkling of sesame seeds.
There is absolutely no reason why those on a plant-based diet should miss out on BBQs. They’remore than just a way of cooking - they’re usually social experiences and celebrations of the far-too-short summers we get. With a little creativity and prep, plant-based BBQ can be delicious and won’t leave you with that heavy feeling that often results from meat encased in bread. Whether you choose to go with premade vegan meat substitutes or make vegetarian dishes with homemade marinades, with a little effort a plant-based BBQ can be so much more than satisfactory.