The days are long, the grill is hot, and more people are opting to swap out barbecue classics like burgers and hot dogs for plant-based dishes. In fact, a Nielsen report published in June 2018 found that nearly 40 percent of Americans consciously make an effort to incorporate more plant-based foods into their diet.
There’s a lot more to a veggie-based meal than salad, and you don’t have to be a strict vegetarian to reap some of the health benefits, and flavors, of meatless meals.
Incorporating more plant-based dishes into your diet is linked to lower blood pressure and better heart health. A study published in September 2018 in the journal Current Diabetes Reports determined that a vegetarian diet that’s rich in whole plant foods is the best diet for type 2 diabetes prevention and management.
Cutting back on meat is also linked with a smaller carbon footprint, according to the University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems, which is important because the implications of climate change are closely linked to health. Not to mention that it takes 460 gallons of fresh water to make one ¼-pound hamburger, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
Whatever your reason for adopting some new plant-based recipes, these summer barbecue dishes are surefire crowd-pleasers.
1. Fake meat burgers
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.
3. Tofu steaks
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.
4. Vegetable fritters
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.
5. Pulled ‘pork’ jackfruit sandwiches
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.
6. A veggie platter
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.”
7. Southern Sweet Potato Salad
Substituting sweet potatoes for half the white potatoes makes this recipe from Sweet Potato Soul a healthier take on the staple barbecue side dish. According to Iowa State University, compared with white potatoes, sweet potatoes have more fiber, protein, and essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, potassium, and manganese.
What’s more, sweet potatoes are one of the top sources of the antioxidant beta-carotene, which gives both carrots and sweet potatoes their signature color. The body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, which promotes eye health, according to the Mayo Clinic. As the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) notes, one medium plain boiled sweet potato provides 1,180 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin A, or 131 percent of the daily value (DV).
8. 15-Minute Vegan Pasta Salad
Pasta salad is a dish perfectly suited for when you’re pressed for time and have to throw something together. This vegan version from Jessica in the Kitchen is dressed in an olive oil–based vinaigrette and ditches the cheese and processed meat for fresh veggies, olives, and herbs. Olive oil is a hallmark of the Mediterranean diet, and despite being pure fat, it’s not the kind you should shy away from. According to the Mayo Clinic, the fat in olive oil is mostly monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), a healthy type also found in avocados, which is actually linked to lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and higher “good” HDL cholesterol.
9. Vegan Kebabs From Miso Eggplant, Tofu, and Butternut Squash
Kebabs provide a simple way to get your veggie fix. Just throw your favorite produce and protein on the grill, stick them on a skewer, and enjoy. For some plant-based inspiration, give this veganized kebab recipe from Fit Men Cook a try. In addition to mild-flavored eggplant and butternut squash, it has tofu, a low-fat plant protein. According to the USDA, ⅕ of a tofu block (about 79 g) provides 8 g of protein and 4 g of fat, only 0.5 g of which is saturated. In excess, saturated fat can contribute to high cholesterol, notes the American Heart Association (AHA). A study published in March 2020 in the journal Circulation found that people who ate tofu at least once a week were nearly 20 percent less likely to develop heart disease than those who ate it once a month. Plus, butternut squash is an excellent source of vitamin A. Give your eyes some love — a 3-ounce serving of the yellow veggie provides 2,700 mcg of vitamin A, covering 180 percent of the DV, per the USDA.
10. Vegan Elote
Elote, a Mexican street-food staple, has gained traction in the United States in recent years. It’s a rich twist on the grilled corn on the cob that’s typically front and center in a backyard spread. As the USDA notes, one plain ear of corn provides 4.93 g of fiber, for 18 percent of the DV, along with 1.21 mg of iron, for 6 percent of the DV. This recipe from Eat Figs Not Pigs tops grilled corn with garlic, cilantro, vegan cheese and homemade lemon crema, providing a flavor-packed way to reap the benefits of this veggie.