From impossible burgers to veggie dogs and beyond, these plant-based menu options are tasty (and healthy) alternatives to traditional BBQ favorites
Summer brings many opportunities to light a grill and cook up a bounty of juicy meats, corn on the cob, and potatoes for a backyard barbecue.
But as more Americans are embracing a plant-based way of eating, traditional BBQ foods are shifting.
In fact, a survey from Nielsen found that more than one-third — 39 percent — of Americans say they are actively trying to eat more plant-based foods.
“We know that eating more plant-based [food] is good for us and also the environment,” says Vanessa Rissetto, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian in the New York City area. “Tofu, lentils, Impossible Burgers are all great alternatives to meat that are tasty and not just brown rice and steamed vegetables. Also, more plants means more fiber, which is good for your gut health and helps with feeling full.”
So, if you’re one of those people who are trying to increase the amount of plant-based foods in your diet — or you’re cooking for someone who is — let this list of plant-based foods inspire your next summer BBQ menu.
You don’t have to fuss with making your own meat-free burger mixture. Many brands have mastered the best texture and flavor for spectacular sandwiches, and you can buy them frozen or fresh right at your grocery store.
“With burgers, there are amazing options, from those that mimic a classic beef patty, such as Beyond Meat’s widely available Beyond Burger, to legume-based burgers such as the classic — and crowd-pleasing — Spicy Black Bean burger from Morningstar Farms,” says Ann Taylor Pittman, recipe developer and author of Everyday Whole Grains: 175 New Recipes from Amaranth to Wild Rice.
Just be aware that some of these burgers have more sodium than traditional beef patties. With fixings like cheese and condiments, you could really whip up a salt storm. Cut back on high-sodium toppings, and opt for a low-sodium side like slaw or corn salad instead of fries.
In addition to plant-based fake meat options, roasted carrots look a great deal like hot dogs, and if they’re cooked right, they can taste and feel like one, too.
“A roasted carrot spiced with cumin is excellent in a whole-wheat hot dog bun topped with well-seasoned cabbage,” says Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian and founder of Maya Feller Nutrition.
Low and slow is the key to the carrot-turned-hot dog. This temperature setting for roasting allows the veggie to become tender and toothsome, and it infuses the vegetable with any spices or rubs you’ve applied.
Carrots are low-calorie, so you might feel a bit is lacking from your meal if you only eat one. You can help your satiety by eating a spoonful of a hearty grain salad in place of potato chips.
With proper handling, tofu tastes and cooks a lot like chicken or pork.
“Extra-firm tofu grills really well,” Feller says. “I like to marinate it in ginger, garlic, and coconut aminos with a dash of red pepper flakes.”
If presenting tofu steaks in place of regular ones won’t fly, get a bit more creative.
“You can go a little unexpected by grilling slabs of extra-firm tofu and building your menu around tofu banh mi, with a build-your-own sandwich bar with all the fixings — pickled carrots and radishes, sliced jalapeños, cilantro, hoisin sauce, mayo,” Pittman says.
You may think of potato fritters as winter fare, when they’re often topped with sour cream or apple sauce and eaten as part of a holiday celebration.
But really the small, round veggie pancakes are great as a year-round alternative to meat and fish patties.
Feller likes potato and broccoli fritters. Pan-fried in a bit of oil, fritters can seem rich, so balance them with a topping of fresh tomato salsa. Or dress them up with a no-cook sauce like chimichurri or pesto.
Jackfruit has made a name for itself in vegan and vegetarian circles as a dense and chewy meat alternative that’s so good it frequently convinces carnivores they are eating the real thing.
“You can make a wonderfully messy pulled jackfruit sandwich instead of the usual pulled pork. Upton’s Naturals makes a tasty, not-too-sweet version that’s great on a soft bun with a scoop of coleslaw,” Pittman says. The fleshy interior of the Southeast Asian fruit handles a bit like meat.
Marinate it with barbecue sauce and sauté it on a skillet on the grill for a fast meat-free option.
Like some other plant alternatives, jackfruit can have a great deal of sodium. Cut back with low- and no-sodium sauces to keep the numbers manageable.
Of course, you don’t have to try to hide the fact you’re eating veggies in place of meat. You can own it and really put on a show-stopping presentation.
“Flip the script by doing something a little unexpected: a grilled veggie and hummus platter as the centerpiece of your barbecue. Grill bell pepper strips, zucchini and yellow squash slices, asparagus spears, blanched Brussels sprouts, baby artichokes, broccoli spears, blanched carrots, fennel wedges, or any other veggies that would go well with hummus,” Pittman says.
Plus, the presentation is destined to be so beautiful that everyone will be proud to show off their non-traditional BBQ spread on social media.
If these options don’t sound like they may be for everyone and you’re hosting a backyard barbecue that will include a mix of guests — those who eat meat and those who prefer plant-based alternatives — don’t feel the need to have an entire menu for both.
Remember, all you need is a few options that you can pull together with your traditional menu in order to make sure everyone at the get-together is well-fed.
“Don’t make a big deal out of it; just have meatless burgers and dogs alongside the traditional versions,” Pitman says. “There might be meat-eaters who are excited to try some of the plant-based options, too.”