BBQ Bonanza 2011 - Tofu Barbecue

We've been grilling our way through the Summer and I do hope you've tried some of our guest posters' recipes. This month, we've got another fine line-up of guest recipes from friends near and far. Sustainability at the Grill has been our theme and if you're kind of tired of the same old burgers and dogs you'll want to take a look through our July Wrap Up and August, too. We've been to New Zealand via Virginia with Chef Peter Pahk's Cervena Venison (dying to try that!) and fished the coast of Alaska to grill Copper River Salmon on a salt block.

Amy McCoy, author of Poor Girl Gourmet, took us to Block Island (one of my favorite escapes) for Swordfish and we've had beef, pork, and goat. Channel catfish and calamari recipes (from Good Fish) bring sustainable seafood to the table in South East Asian-inspired flavors. Today's entry does not rely on coastal access to sustainable fisheries, nor on pricy but worth it sustainably raised meats.

Today's entry comes from a whirling dervish of a woman, my friend Kim O'Donnel, whose mission is to share the savory side of meatless meals with all us omnivores. As the Washington Post says, "If anybody can persuade Americans to eat more tempeh, it's Kim O'Donnel." Now, I have to confess, if you say the word "tofu" or "tempeh" around these parts, at least one of us is tuning out (I'm looking at you, Doc). If you say "eat less" you've probably lost us both. I think that when many people hear "meatless" they think of deprivation. The bun without the burger is just plain sad.

One of my greatest joys is to find meals that are satisfying and delicious, and it's a bonus if they happen to be meatless. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE meat. But for health, for the planet, for the budget, there's a ton of reasons I know I should eat it less often. And there's the fact that I love animals. I eat them and I want them to have had a good life and fair enough death before I eat them. To some, that's a problem, it's a paradox I live with. The "shoulds" are not really why I love Kim's book. Valid as they are, they cannot sustain interest for most of us, over time. I love Kim's book for the "want" the "oh, yes, please more".

It's only a failure of imagination - and a lack of good recipes - that keep many of us from trying more meatless meals. And this brings us to the heart of it: I get a thrill trying new foods. Making new recipes that work and are delicious is something I try to do as often as possible. This book gives us a way to explore new foods, with familiar enough flavors and profiles, but in new meatless ways. Try thinking of adding one new dish to your repertoire, not subtracting meat. Your heart, your pocketbook, and mostly, your palate, your belly will thank you.

This recipe comes from page 92 of The Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes Carnivores Will Devour.


The idea: Tofu barbecue. Not baked tofu with some tangy sauce slapped on top, but marinated and slow-cooked over wood, so that you can really taste the spice and smoke, like a brisket. A few rounds of testing revealed good flavor on the outside, but nada on the interior. We even tried one of those flavor-injector gizmos. I was about to hang up my cockamamie experiment, when my friend Jeanne suggested putting it in the freezer. As it turns out, freezing tofu changes both its texture (from cheesecakey to striated and chewy) and porousness (from No way, Jose, to Bring it on!). The result: Knee-slapping tanginess. It delivers both spice and smoke, just like that brisket. In fact, Id like to make a declaration: Freezing takes the oxymoron out of tofu barbecue. Served up with baked beans and vinegar slaw, this is one helluva plate.

Kitchen notes: Just as with ribs or brisket, tofu barbecue is a weekend/ leisure time project. A block of tofu needs 24 hours in the freezer, then about 3 hours of thawing time. (You may also try thawing in the microwave, in 2-minute increments). And thats before you start the coals. Because of its newly acquired absorbability, the tofu needs relatively little marinating time—30 minutes is sufficient. One last note: Given the time commitment involved, its worth smoking two full-size blocks of tofu, which will keep in the fridge for five days for leftovers of the best kind. One batch of spice rub is plenty for two blocks.



  • 1 (14-ounce) package extra-firm tofu
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground New Mexico chile pepper (between paprika and cayenne in heat)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1 teaspoon granulated onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground fennel seed
  • Vegetable oil, for brushing
  • About 2 cups of wood chips of choice (hickory, alder, cedar), for smoking
  • About 1/2 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce, mixed with 1 tablespoon honey
  • Optional sauce: 1/2 cup soy or teriyaki sauce; 1 tablespoon hot water; 2 tablespoons honey; 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced; squeeze of 1/2 lime





  1. Remove the tofu from its packaging and discard the water. Set on a plate and top it with a smaller plate, weighed down with a filled can. Allow to drain, about 20 minutes.
  2. Place the tofu in a zippered plastic freezer bag and freeze for 24 hours. The tofu will turn a shade of pale yellow; do not be alarmed, as the color will return to its original shade of off white when it thaws.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare the spice rub: Mix the salt and spices together in a small bowl and place in an airtight container or jar. Stored in a dark, cool place, the rub will keep for a few months.
  4. Remove the tofu from the freezer; allow to thaw in the refrigerator (6 hours) or in the microwave in 2-minute increments (20 minutes—just remember to remove the tofu from the plastic bag before you start!). You may also start the thawing process on the counter for the first 30 minutes, then continue the process in the refrigerator. Keep in mind that tofu is perishable, and food safety precautions apply. Squeeze out any remaining water and pat the tofu dry.
  5. With a sharp knife, slice the tofu block in half, so that you have two smaller blocks. Measure out 1⁄8 cup of the spice rub and apply the rub all over each block. With a silicone or pastry brush, apply the oil all over the surface of each block. Marinate for 30 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, prepare the coals and soak the wood chips for 30 minutes, so they are ready for the grill. Prepare the grill for indirect cooking: Remove the wood chips from the water and place in a smoker tray or disposable aluminum pan or foil pouch, on the floor of the grill, off to one side. Fire up the grill according to the manufacturer’s instructions and bring the temperature to 350°F.
  7. Place both tofu blocks on the grate, on the opposite side of the wood chips (and charcoal, depending on what kind of grill you’re using). Cover and allow to cook for 20 minutes on each side, while trying to maintain the 350°F heat.
  8. Meanwhile, prepare for the final step of lacquering tofu with the following sauce or use your favorite barbecue sauce.
  9. In a small bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and stir well. Apply your sauce of choice all over each tofu block and cook 10 minutes on each side, closer to the coals, if you like, for some charring.
  • Remove from the grill and slice thinly. Serve with True-Blue Baked Beans and Vinegar Slaw.


Makes 4 to 5 servings.


Last Sauce Trio from Our Sponsor - Silk Road BBQ giving away another set of their terrific barbecue sauces; each winner will receive:

  • one bottle of Carolina sauce (for dressing pulled pork);
  • one bottle of pomegranate chili sauce (versatile sweet/sour/spicy);
  • and one bottle of jerk marinade (meat brine or stew base or ceviche base).

Enter a comment here to win the third and final Silk Road Sauce trio (not available in stores.)

I think the jerk marinade would be perfect for tofu or tempeh. Leave a comment here with your favorite vegetarian grilling tip or recipe and I'll use the Random Number Generator to pick a winner!