6 Plant-Based Foods That Will Change How You Perceive Vegan Barbecue, According to Chefs

BBQ has always been a meat-eater’s game. Let’s change that.

Grilling is one of the most delicious (and easiest) ways to cook, particularly in the summer. An optional dry rub or marinade followed by a quick sear is all it takes to make a mountain of juicy burgers, tender baby back ribs, or perfectly charred chicken breasts.

What often gets overlooked is that grilling veggies adds complexity and depth to fresh-grown produce, and is the perfect way to bring out fruit's natural sweetness. In the spirit of adopting a more plant-based diet (and accommodating our vegetarian and vegan friends at the next summer soiree), we asked six chefs about their favorite non-meat BBQ dishes and how to cook them, so you can try them at home.

01 of 06

Whole Cauliflower

"I'm a huge fan of grilling cauliflower," says New York-based chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author Seamus Mullen. "I like to blanch it for 3 to 5 minutes in well-salted boiling water, and then let it air-dry while I prepare the grill. I drizzle the cauliflower with olive oil, season with sea salt and spices, and grill the whole head, getting it nice and charred on all sides."

"Lately, I've been really into Middle Eastern spices," he continued. "I've been seasoning with harissa and za'atar, and serving it with an herby, yogurt sauce and some fresh cilantro."

02 of 06

Summer Squash

Roasted Zucchini

"I'm a fan of veggie skewers," says Chef Abbie Gellman, New York City culinary and nutrition expert. "Cube or cut thick slices of summer squash, onion, fennel, and so on."

"Be sure to cut veggies to similar sizes, so cooking time is relatively similar," she advised. "Toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper or a vinaigrette dressing marinade."

Thread your skewer with alternating veggies, and then grill. This super simple side works well on an indoor grill pan or outdoor grill.

03 of 06

Stone Fruits

"I love stone fruits on the grill," says Herve Guillard, director of education and lead chef, pastry and baking arts at the Institute of Culinary Education. "It's an unusual way to prepare them that always surprises guests, and very easy to do." Stone fruits retain their natural sweetness when grilled, which gets enhanced by the smokiness of the grilling process.

When sourcing fruit, Guillard recommends to choose them slightly under-ripe so their flesh holds up well while cooking. "My favorite stone fruits are white peaches, but this method works for any," he says. Cut them in quarters lengthwise, remove the pit, drizzle lightly with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Get some nice grill marks, about 2 to 3 minutes on each side, but keep them lightly al-dente in the center.

Grilled stone fruit pairs well with grilled pork chops, as a main component in a salad, or as base for salsa to serve with grilled fish. Of course, a drizzle of balsamic and vanilla ice cream transforms them into a wonderful impromptu dessert. "I especially love grilled stone fruit in salad with endive or dandelion greens, smoked Gouda, and miso dressing," Guillard says.

RELATED: The Go-to Guide for Grilling Fruit to Perfection

04 of 06

Cauliflower Steaks

Grilling a cauliflower steak gives it a smoky, nutty flavor. "It's quick, versatile, and stress-free grilling," says Chef Palak Patel of the Institute of Culinary Education. "They're also visually appealing and can replicate the way a piece of meat is served off the grill."

To grill cauliflower steak, start by cutting the cauliflower right down the center into 1- or 1½-inch slices, keeping the stem intact so the steaks don't fall apart on the grill. Save those remaining smaller florets to make cauliflower rice or mashed cauliflower, or put them in a grill basket to serve to the kids.

Any seasoning works for this preparation, but Patel recommends a lighter, oil-based dressing that you can create a sauce from to accompany the steaks. For one option, toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper, with a hint of vinegar or citrus, and then cook until slightly charred on the grill for 8 to 10 minutes (depending on the grill and size of the steaks), turning halfway until cooked through.

Another option is to add a little brown sugar or barbecue sauce to the marinade—resulting in beautiful caramelized grill marks. In summer, top with citrus and fresh herbs for a refreshing finish.

"I make a chimichurri or roasted jalapeño, scallion, and herb salsa to top the steaks and then serve them on top of grains or lentils with a side of chopped salad," Patel says. "It's a perfect meal."

05 of 06


grilled potatoes
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"One of my favorite summer side dishes is potato salad, and grilling the potatoes keeps the heat out of the kitchen and adds a delicious smoky char to the dish," says Chef Rebekah Ziesmer from Conagra Brands. "I par-cook them in the microwave before cutting and tossing with some EVOO and salt. Then I throw them on the grill."

To keep this dish plant-based (but still creamy), she tosses the freshly grilled potatoes in ranch dressing (she recommends Healthy Choice Ranch Power Dressing) mixed with a little Dijon mustard and fresh dill.

06 of 06

Green Onions

"My favorite plant-based ingredient to grill is green onions or spring onions, because you can use them in so many different ways," says Frank Proto, director of culinary operations at the Institute of Culinary Education. "You can grill and eat them whole with romesco as they do in Spain, or you can cut them up and use them in a salad or a vinaigrette."

According to Proto, the best method is to grill the whole thing. If the green ends are dry, just trim a little off the top and the root end. Toss in olive oil, salt and pepper, and then grill until a little charred and wilted. "I would serve whole with a romesco sauce or make a dressing, salsa, or chimichurri," he says. "But it's so versatile, you could really use it on anything."

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