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Vegetarian Dishes for the Family BBQs

written by: Melanie Greenwood • edited by: Stephanie Mojica • updated: 6/27/2011

Family BBQs can be rough for vegetarians. Here's some info about what vegetarians can eat, and omnivore-friendly vegetarian dishes they can bring to share.

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    BBQ Season and the Vegetarian

    Summer is here, and that means barbecues with family and friends. Though almost everyone enjoys being outside, chasing a Frisbee around, or chatting around glowing coals, BBQs hold some unique challenges for vegetarians and vegans.

    What can a vegetarian eat at such a meat-centric event, and what can he or she bring that meat-eaters will also enjoy? Read on to find out more about suitable vegetarian dishes.

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    Side Dishes

    Fortunately, many traditional BBQ foods are naturally vegetarian-friendly. Usually, these are the side dishes. Potato salad, traditionally made from potatoes, mayonnaise and mustard, is a vegetarian option. Three-bean salad and corn on the cob are great for vegans. Most plain potato chips are also vegan-safe. The only types of sides to watch out for are “smoky” bean sides, such as Boston baked beans, which often contain ham, bacon or other pork products.

    For vegetarians tasked with bringing sides, there are fortunately a lot of great recipes available. Vegetarian Times magazine has a recipe for vegan potato salad with tempeh (the tempeh can be left out) . For those who like smoky beans but don't want to risk eating Uncle Harold's, the book Vegonomicon has a great recipe, which can also be accessed here.

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    Main Dishes

    Vegetarian main dishes are a bit harder for vegetarians to make palatable for meat eaters, but the effort is worth it. Not only do well-cooked vegetarian main dishes provide positive PR for vegetarianism, they also help fend off Aunt Esther's questions about “why you're not eating anything?”

    Two great vegetarian main dishes are grilled portabello mushroom caps and tofu-veggie skewers. Meat-eaters like the option of putting a grilled mushroom right on top of a burger patty, and vegetarians can avoid drawing unwelcome attention by being seen eating something in a bun. Vegetarian skewers seem to be one of the few methods of cooking tofu that meat eaters don't find “too weird.”

    To prepare portabello mushroom caps for high-heat cooking, it helps to use a spoon to scrape out the gills. This keeps mushroom caps from becoming soggy (America's Test Kitchen, 2006.) Then, caps can simply be grilled just like burgers.

    To prepare vegetarian skewers, cut pressed tofu into blocks, marinade in a simple sauce, such as soy sauce, BBQ or teriyaki sauce, then intersperse on a skewer with pearl onions, peppers, or any other veggies that will take well to long cooking. To keep tofu from sticking, it is essential that grill grates be scrupulously clean (Hacket.)

    Vegetarians who prefer not to eat off the same grill used to cook meat can use the risk of sticking as an excuse to bring their own small grills. Failing that, there's always the standard excuse “I want to make something special for everyone, and these need a different temperature than the main grill.”

    More recipes for great summer vegetarian food are available at the Vegetarian Times website, With these recipes for vegetarian dishes, and knowing what other dishes are usually “safe”, vegetarians can enjoy, not dread, the family BBQ.


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    Cooks Illustrated Staff (2006, 1 May). Main Dish Vegetable Stir-Fries. Cooks Illustrated Magazine. Retrieved 26 May, 2010 from

    Hacket, J. (n.d.). How to Grill Tofu. Retrieved 26 May, 2010 from