As the weather warms up and summer approaches, many of us are starting to think about firing up the grill for some outdoor cooking. While traditional BBQs tend to center around meat-based dishes, more and more people are looking for vegetarian options that are just as delicious and satisfying. Fortunately, there are plenty of vegetarian and vegan options that can be grilled to perfection, and with a little creativity, you can create a spread that will please everyone.
What vegetables are best on BBQ?
When it comes to grilling vegetables, the possibilities are endless. However, softer vegetables with a higher moisture content tend to be the best on the grill. For example, aubergine, courgettes, mushrooms and squash. They are easier to char and cook in the shortest amount of time. They are also great with a marinade.
Whereas, root vegetables such as carrots or beetroots can be more difficult to grill and take much longer. There are, of course, a couple of exceptions to the rule such as:
- Bell peppers: Bell peppers can easily be sliced, grilled and charred to add some smoky flavour to your dishes.
- Corn on the cob: Grilling corn on the cob can create a smoky, caramelized flavour that pairs well with butter and spices. It is great with a sprinkle of citric acid and chilli.
- Leeks and asparagus: leeks and asparagus caramelize beautifully on the grill and are great served with a romesco sauce.
A seasonal option - Spanish Calcots!
Calcots are a type of sweet and mild onion that are regional to the Catalan region of Spain. They are typically harvested in the winter and early spring months and are a popular ingredient in the region's cuisine.
Calcots are typically grilled over an open flame until they are charred on the outside and tender on the inside. They are traditionally served with romesco sauce.
To eat a calcot, you should hold it by the green stem and gently pull off the charred outer layer of skin with your fingers. Then, dip the tender white part of the onion into the romesco sauce and enjoy!
In the UK, calcots are not widely available but you may be able to find them in specialty markets. They are in season in the winter and early spring months, typically from January to April. If you're looking to cook them, you can grill them over an open flame or use a barbecue or grill pan to achieve a similar charred effect.
Genevieve Taylor's top vegetarian BBQ tip
I think the main thing that people are perhaps surprised about is that vegetables take longer to cook than you imagine.
You want to have a half and half grill, with charcoal under one side of the grill and then nothing on the other half. This gives you the option to cook directly over the flame, or indirectly.
Due to the chemical reaction that takes place between the sugars and acids, you can’t just chuck them over a flame and expect them to be done. One of the key principles I try and teach people about is how to set up the BBQ so you can create different zones for vegetables, meat and fish.
You want to have a half and half grill, with charcoal under one side of the grill and then nothing on the other half. This gives you the option to cook directly over the flame, or indirectly. Again, imagine you’re cooking on a hob and you have a dial for turning the heat up and down. If you’re cooking indirectly, it’s a lower heat. I would cook slightly off the heat for most ingredients and really take my time over the cooking.
Read more of Genevieve Taylor's top BBQ tips in her article.
What can I grill vegetarian instead of steak?
If you're used to grilling steaks, you may be wondering what you can substitute for the meat. Fortunately, there are lots of different options from tofu and portobello mushrooms to aubergine and seitan - all of which have different benefits. I've broke it down into three simple categories
- Simple alternatives
- Similar in flavour and texture to meat
- Options with a high protein content
- Halloumi cheese: This is probably the easiest alternative for steak as it will take the least amount of time to cook and is great with or without a marinade. Serve with houmous, tomatoes and lettuce in a burger bun.
Most similar in terms of flavour and texture:
- Mushrooms: Big-cap varieties of mushrooms are the best for grilled as they can be used whole. Portobello mushrooms are the best alternative for steak as they have a meaty texture. Just make sure to marinade your mushrooms before grilling for the best texture.
- Tofu: Firm tofu can be sliced and grilled to create a delicious and protein-rich dish. It's important to press the tofu before grilling and remove any excess moisture. However, tofu has less flavour than mushrooms or halloumi so you want to make sure you also marinade it for at least an hour before grilling.
High protein content:
If you're looking to add some protein to your vegetarian BBQ, there are plenty of options beyond meat. Here are a few ideas:
- Tempeh: Made from fermented soybeans, tempeh has a nutty flavor and a firm texture that holds up well on the grill. It's a great source of protein and can be marinated for extra flavour.
- Seitan: Also known as wheat meat, seitan is made from wheat gluten and has a chewy texture that's similar to meat. It can be grilled, baked, or sautéed and is a good source of protein.
- Legumes: Beans, lentils, and chickpeas are all great sources of protein. They can be blitzed to make burgers and then grilled to add some smoky flavour to your vegetarian dishes. See some example recipes below.
Vegetarian BBQ recipes
The best ingredients for vegetarian BBQ
Tofu is great to add to a vegetable skewer or to blend into a veggie burger. It can also be marinated ahead of time with some soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil before being sliced into lengths and grilled.
Sprinkle liberally over corn on the cob or any vegetables. As well as using on fresh mango, melon or pineapple. Super versatile. Super zingy.
Great for charred leeks and asparagus as mentioned above. And traditionally served with calcots. Or you could make your own romesco sauce either the traditional almonds or pistachios for a unique vibrant green sauce.
Rose harissa is used in Ixta Belfrage's recipe to make the chilli oil for her oyster mushroom skewers. But it is also great to use as a marinade for any vegetables before grilling. Or you can add it to your burger once constructed.
Bullhead BBQ sauces are often used in Chinese cooking and as seasoning in hot pot. This vegetarian blend is made with soybean oil, sesame, ginger and chilli powder. It has a balance of hot and punchy flavours. It's not like any other BBQ sauce you will have tasted from American or Western cooking.
Use it over cauliflower, aubergines and courgettes. Or as a flavour-packed glaze for your veggies,and marinade for tofu.
Shop all our BBQ ingredients here or BBQ Rubs & BBQ sauces.
Frequently Asked Questions
What can I use instead of vegan meat?
If you're looking for a vegan option that's similar to meat, there are plenty of plant-based meat substitutes available, such as veggie burgers, hot dogs, and sausages. However, if you prefer to stick to whole foods, there are plenty of options that can be grilled, such as:
- Mushrooms: Mushrooms are a great alternative to vegan meat due to their umami flavour. Whole portobello mushrooms can be marinade and grilled to create a meaty texture.
- Aubergine: This versatile vegetable can be sliced and grilled to create a smoky, meaty flavor. It's a good source of fiber and can be seasoned with a variety of spices and herbs.
- Cauliflower: This cruciferous vegetable has a mild flavor that pairs well with a variety of seasonings. It can be sliced into steaks or florets and grilled to create a satisfying dish.
- Sweet potatoes: Sweet potatoes are a good source of fiber and can be grilled to create a sweet and savory side dish. They can be sliced into rounds or wedges and seasoned with spices like cinnamon, cumin, or paprika.
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