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The Vegetarian or Vegan’s Guide to Navigating a BBQ


Summer is prime grilling season, meaning you’ll probably find yourself at a cookout or two in the coming months. Cookouts are a great way to spend time with friends and family, enjoy the long summer days, and share your favorite recipes. But they’re not always vegan-friendly. Whether it’s planned well in advance or a spur of the moment get-together, the tips below will help you navigate any BBQ without inconveniencing the host, making a scene, or leaving hungry.

Pre-Planned Events

For events planned in advance, your safest bet is to bring something you know you can eat. There are two main strategies: embracing the grill, and avoiding the grill.

1. Embrace the Grill

If you want to get your grill on without taking part in the meat-fest, just bring your own (veggie) burger. Check out this awesome list of delicious, grill-friendly veggie burger recipes. Or if you don’t have time to make your own, there are also plenty of great vegan burgers available commercially. The only tricky part is making sure your plant-based burger doesn’t end up flipped with a shared spatula, cooked next to a hamburger, or covered in meat drippings. You can either:

  1. Wrap your burgers in foil and throw them worry-free on the grill, or;
  2. Prepare to befriend the grillmaster. Stake out a corner of the grill, grab a clean spatula, offer to tend to your own burgers, and start chatting. He or she is likely to appreciate the company, and most people will understand the need to avoid contamination.

2. Avoid the Grill

If you don’t know the host very well, or just don’t feel comfortable asking for “special” treatment, your best bet is probably to avoid the grill altogether. But that doesn’t mean you have to feel rude, deprived, or left out!
Just offer to bring a plant-based main dish or substantial side to share with the group. The host will surely appreciate the help, and it’s a great opportunity to share one of your favorite dishes with people who may not be familiar with vegetarian or vegan foods. Be sure to bring enough of the dish to cover your own meal and share with others – it will surely be a hit! Here are a few cookout-friendly, vegan sides and salads to try:

  1. Quinoa with Secret Pesto and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
  2. Mock Chicken Salad (great served with tortilla chips or crackers!)
  3. Pineapple Jack BBQ Sandwiches
  4. Spicy Lentil Salad
  5. Kale Waldorf Salad
  6. Mesquite-Avocado Kale Salad
  7. New Caesar Salad
  8. Spicy Sweet Potato Salad
  9. Simple Summer Tofu Salad
  10. Vegan Sloppy Joes

The Impromptu BBQ

If you find yourself at an impromptu BBQ with no veggie burgers or vegan dishes in sight, prepare to forage. Although you may not come away with the most nutritionally complete or satisfying meal of your life, you can surely piece together a plate of food to tide you over for a few hours. Here are a few “accidentally vegan” options that are often available at the typical BBQ:

  • Fruit and vegetable trays are a vegan’s best friend. Bonus points if there is hummus! Load up with the good stuff and nobody will even notice you skipped the burger. Your plate will be full of fresh, crunchy, and colorful fare.
  • Even if it’s sad looking, there is probably some type of salad available. Look for Italian or Balsamic Vinaigrette dressings, which are likely to be vegan.
  • Most types of chips are vegan, and so are some dips. Tortilla chips and salsa or guacamole are great to snack on until you can find a real meal.
  • If the only plants in sight are the burger toppings, make your own impromptu salad using lettuce, tomato, onions and pickles. Throw some ketchup, mustard and relish on top if you dare. You might get some funny looks, but you won’t have to sit there feeling awkward while everyone else eats, or leave hungry. Oh, or you could just put the toppings on a bun and make a veggie sandwich. But the salad is a better conversation piece.

How do you enjoy a BBQ as a veg eater? Let us know in the comments!

Image source: Pineapple Jack BBQ Sandwiches

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