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10 Ways to Make Awesome Vegan BBQ Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades


Summer may be grilling season, but for amazing food, you need to have rubs, marinades, and sauces all year long. A tasty marinade is essential to getting flavor inside a pressed block of tofu or a bunch of vegetables and turning them from bland to BAM! Dry spice rubs not only add spice, but when you cook the food, you get a delicious crusty coating. BBQ sauces are a much needed ingredient in summer, but even if it’s raining or cold, you can make awesome BBQ dishes indoors, on a grill pan, or in the oven.

Before you dunk your tofu into a marinade of soy sauce or bottled salad dressing, before you head to the store to buy pre-made BBQ sauces or spice blends, think about making your own. It’s as easy as knowing what flavor profile you want and then mixing the right ingredients together to get it. Here are 10 ideas for awesome BBQ sauces, rubs, and marinades. For even more ideas, check out my articles on How to Add Ethnic Flavors to Your Dishes and How to Stock Your Spice Cabinet for Delicious Vegan Cooking.

1. All-Purpose Spice Rub

For a basic spice rub you can use on seitan, tofu, or vegetables, try this combination that is similar to the famous Chicago steak spice blend. After rubbing on the mix, let the food stand about 15 minutes before cooking. For about 1/3 cup of rub, combine 2 Tbs. dry mustard, 2 Tbs. garlic powder, 1 Tbs. black pepper, 2 tsp. smoked paprika, 2 tsp. kosher salt, 1 tsp. dried thyme and 1 tsp. cayenne pepper.

2. Sweet and Spicy Rub

This rub has a little more heat in it from the chile powder, but it’s not too spicy. It’s best used when you need a bolder flavor — for instance on seitan or BBQ dishes. Combine ¼ cup chile powder, 2 Tbs. paprika, 1 Tbs. dried oregano, 1 Tbs. ground cumin, 1 Tbs. dried coriander, 1 Tbs. dry mustard, 2 Tbs. brown sugar, 2 tsp. kosher salt and 1 tsp. black pepper to make about ¾ cup of spice blend. Let the rub sit on the food for 15 minutes before cooking.

3. Indian Curry Rub

The curry, cumin, coriander, mint, turmeric, and ginger in this rub make a bold and delicious spice blend for tofu, tempeh or vegetables, especially potatoes.  To make about ½ cup of Indian Curry Rub, combine 3 Tbs. curry powder, 1 Tbs. kosher salt, 2 tsp. crushed red pepper, 2 tsp. ground cumin, 2 tsp. ground coriander, 1 tsp. dried mint, 1 tsp. turmeric and 1 tsp. ground ginger. Let the rub sit on the food for 15 minutes before cooking.

4. Jerk Marinade

This is the marinade I use when I made Jerk “Chicken” with tofu or other vegan meats. This recipe makes enough marinade to serve 4. Combine ¼ cup tamari, ¼ cup apple cider vinegar, ¼ cup fresh lime juice, 2 Tbs. vegan Worcestershire sauce, 2 tsp. hot sauce, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 minced chile pepper, 1-inch grated fresh ginger, 3 Tbs. brown sugar, 2 tsp. ground allspice, 2 tsp. dried thyme, 1 tsp. kosher salt, 1 tsp. onion powder, 1 tsp. ground cinnamon, ½ tsp. ground nutmeg, ½ tsp. cayenne pepper and ¼ tsp. ground cloves. Mix the ingredients well and let the tofu or vegetables marinate for at least 15-20 minutes before cooking.

5. Spicy Balsamic Marinade

When I make tofu veggie kabobs, this is my go-to marinade. It’s rich from the balsamic vinegar and just a little spicy. This recipe makes enough marinade for one block of tofu and enough vegetables to make 8 kabobs. In a bowl, combine ¼ cup low-sodium vegetable broth, 2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar, 2 Tbs. tamari, 1 Tbs. vegetable oil, 1 tsp. kosher salt, 1 tsp. dried basil, 1 tsp. dried oregano, 1 tsp. dried thyme, 1 tsp. paprika, ½ tsp. ground black pepper, ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes and 2 minced garlic cloves. Marinate the tofu in the mixture for at least 30 minutes. Reserve a bit of the marinade and in another bowl, marinate the veggies for no longer than 10 minutes.

6. Pineapple Island Marinade

My Island Tofu Kabobs have tofu, seitan, and vegetables marinated in a sweet and spicy blend of orange juice, garlic, and ginger. I add pineapple to the veggies on the skewer for an added tangy tropical flavor. When the pineapple is grilled, it becomes a whole new thing. So delicious! For 8 kabobs, combine ½ cup fresh orange juice, ¼ cup agave nectar, 1 Tbs. tamari, 1 Tbs. brown rice vinegar, 3 sliced scallions, 1 Tbs. fresh grated ginger and 3 minced garlic cloves. Place your tofu or seitan in one plastic storage bag or bowl and your vegetables in a second one. Add half the marinade into each of the storage bags or bowls. Make sure all of the ingredients are covered with marinade and place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before cooking.

7. Spanish Chile Marinade

This marinade is actually a thick paste that I use to cover tofu and onions in one of my favorite Spanish recipes. It’s really fast and easy to make and it adds bold flavors to anything you put it on. This recipe makes enough to easily cover one block of tofu. In a food processor, add ½ an onion that is chopped into large pieces. Add 4 cloves of garlic to the food processor along with 1 Tbs. chile powder, 1 tsp. ground cumin, 1 tsp. ground oregano, ½ tsp. kosher salt and ¼ tsp. ground cloves. Add 1/3 cup of water and process into a smooth paste. Place the tofu or whatever you are marinating in a shallow bowl or dish and pour the marinade over it. Use a pastry brush to make sure the food is evenly covered with the chile paste on both sides. Let marinate for 30 minutes before cooking.

8. Basic BBQ Sauce

BBQ sauce is really easy to make. The basic recipe involves combining a tomato base, an acid, a sweetener, and spices. Knowing the basic formula lets you mix and match ingredients to create new and exciting BBQ sauces. You can adjust the amounts of the ingredients if you prefer your BBQ sauce more tomato-y, more vinegar-y, sweeter, or spicier. My basic BBQ Sauce recipe is a bit more sweet than spicy, and I add some orange juice for a bright fruity note.  In a saucepan, combine 2 cups ketchup, 1 ¼ cup apple cider vinegar, ¾ cup maple syrup, the zest and juice of ½ orange, 3 minced garlic cloves and 1 tsp. black pepper. Stir and heat over medium heat until it comes to a bubble. Lower the heat and let simmer for 30 minutes until it thickens.

9. Spicy Balsamic BBQ Sauce

When I want a BBQ sauce that has a lot more kick and richer, deeper flavors, I go for this one that gets extra heat from red onions and chiles. Using balsamic vinegar in addition to apple cider vinegar adds a rich, syrupy flavor that is just incredible. In a small saucepan, combine 1 ½ cups ketchup, 1 cup apple cider vinegar, ¾ cup balsamic vinegar, ¾ cup maple syrup, 2 Tbs. brown sugar, 1 minced red onion, 2 minced garlic cloves and 1 Serrano chile that has been seeded (if you want less heat) and minced. Stir and let simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes until the sauce thickens.

10. Chinese BBQ Sauce

For Asian barbecue dishes, you can quickly whip up this sauce, which is sweet, salty, thick, and tangy. Combine ½ cup hoisin sauce, ½ cup mirin or sherry, ½ cup ketchup, 2 Tbs. minced ginger, 2 Tbs. brown rice vinegar, 1 Tbs. agave nectar, 2 tsp. Sriracha (or more to your liking), 1 minced garlic clove and ¼ tsp. of five-spice powder. Bring the sauce to a boil over medium heat, and then reduce the heat to low and simmer until slightly thickened. It should take about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir the sauce occasionally.

When it comes to rubs, marinades, and sauces, these are just 10 of the infinite possibilities. Think about what flavor profiles you prefer and let your imagination run wild. Once you experience how much a rub, marinade, or sauce can boost the flavor of your dishes, you’ll love creating your own combinations and wowing everyone with your secret recipes. But you’ll share them with me, right?

For more ideas on how to use these marinades and rubs, check out these 6 Vegan Options for Hearty, Meat-Free Dishes.

Lead image source: Balsamic BBQ Seitan and Tempeh Ribs

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3 Years Ago

Hi! Thank you for the ideas. I used your Basic BBQ marinade with a couple alterations and coated my tempeh in it.. It was delicious! Here it is:

Sweet N\' Hot Tempeh bowl

For the sauce:
1 cup of ketchup
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup orange juice
3 garlic cloves minced
1/2 jalapeno pepper

Bring to a bubble and then simmer for 30 minutes. Let cool and coat chopped up tempeh with sauce. Let sit overnight in the fridge.

For the bowl:
1/2 medium zucchini
1 cup brown rice (dry)
1 cup black beans

Prep rice as directed on package. Mine said to use 1 cup of rice for 2 cups of water. Saute zucchini for a few minutes and then add black beans until mixture is warmed. Saute tempeh for about 5 minutes on medium heat.

Spoon rice into bowls. Add zucchini/bean mixture. Top with tempeh and extra sauce. **Only used 8 oz of the 16 oz tempeh to serve 2 for lunch. 8oz left for lunch tomorrow**. Topped ours with some slivered almonds.

09 Jun 2015


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