A BBQ State of Mind
There’s a dusty, old, romantic idea about BBQ in our region of the South: barbequeing pork low and slow over gently glowing embers is the only way to make it happen. Sorry, y’all — we disagree. We think BBQ is a state of mind and an attitude. It’s salt and smoke and fat, and most importantly, it’s a description of the vibe you can expect from the eponymously named gathering, rather than just a strict adherence to tradition.
Since we skip the meat at our table, we choose to believe there are many paths to the part of heaven that houses BBQ land. Learning how to make delicious vegetable-based BBQ-style dishes will expand your cooking repertoire and help you to include everyone at the table this summer.
If you’d like to try out veg BBQ out first before you give it a shot in your own kitchen, start with City Silo. They have a BBQ sandwich on the menu there, the “Foxy BBQ.” It’s based on the BBQ Spaghetti Squash ‘ribs’ recipe in our latest cookbook, The Chubby Vegetarian. Will Byrd, head chef at City Silo, says, “If you have guests who are used to only having meat off the grill, then texture is important. The texture should be crisp on the outside and tender on the inside and provide a ‘visually familiar’ experience.” If it looks like BBQ and tastes like BBQ, it must be BBQ, right?
Zach Nicholson, of Lucky Cat Ramen Pop-Up on Cooper at Peabody in Midtown, advises, “Eggplant and Brussels sprouts, in particular, are great choices for Southern-style BBQ. Eggplant takes smoke incredibly well, and Brussels have a meaty texture and are very satisfying,” he explains. (Zach’s wife, Sarah, is a vegetarian, so he has plenty of experience making vegetables taste delicious.)
When asked for a good place to start when making BBQ out of vegetables, Chef Byrd offers this tip: “Portobello mushroom caps are available at any store. You can marinate them overnight for a very meaty texture and taste.” Mushrooms, when prepared correctly, are a really good option for replacing meat in most recipes.
On the Chubby Vegetarian blog, we’ve also offered everything from BBQ Artichoke-Heart Tacos to BBQ Eggplant Ravioli. We think it’s safe to say that if it hasn’t oinked or mooed, we’ve likely dry rubbed, grilled, and sauced it.
Chef Nicholson sums our intention. “It’s about creating an inviting atmosphere that puts people at ease, whether it’s traditional barbecue or vegetable-based.” Chef Byrd agrees, “Summer and smoke are the things that people think of when they think of BBQ. I just want to cook food that people like, and people want salt, smoke, and twang.”
The variety of vegetarian BBQ options in Memphis is impressive, and these creative dishes by hometown chefs have made their way into our work again and again. In our first cookbook, The Southern Vegetarian, we feature the BBQ Portobello Mushroom Sandwich with Smoked Gouda that’s on the menu at Central BBQ; owner Craig Blondis kindly shared the recipe with us years ago. In addition, BBQ Tofu Nachos, also in our first book, is a recipe that’s based on the R.P. Tracks staple created by one of our old-Memphis-friends-now-in-Portland, Chris Hawkins. And our Vegetarian BBQ ‘Boss Man’ Salad with Yogurt Ranch Dressing from The Chubby Vegetarian cookbook was directly inspired by our memories of the awesome salad at The Commissary in Germantown; our recipe replaces the traditional pulled pork with what we call “pulled” eggplant.
We’re not asking you to toss all of your BBQ traditions. We just think you and your guests will love trying something new and different, yet somewhat familiar. Serve some pulled eggplant and BBQ Brussels sprouts this summer and fall alongside the usual expected dishes, and watch your guests ask you how you came up with that. We’ll let you take all the credit!
Making a classic...vegetarian
We love to make our own BBQ sauce, and like any good Southerners, we pride ourselves on our own original recipe. That said, we don’t always have the time. Reading labels on jar after jar, we discovered that many commercially available BBQ sauces tend to be made with ingredients that we aren’t fond of, such as Worcestershire sauce (which contains fish) and high-fructose corn syrup. Luckily, The Rendezvous brand just released a new sauce that ticks all the boxes for us. It’s vegetarian and vegan, sweetened with real sugar, spicy, and totally delicious. We caught up with The Rendezvous’s project manager Anna Vergos Blair and got the scoop on Charlie’s Select.
How is this sauce different from other sauces by The Rendezvous? Charlie’s Select takes our Mild Sauce and sweetens it just a touch; it still has the vinegary and spicy flavor. Charlie’s Select is also gluten-free and has no artificial dyes and no high-fructose corn syrup.
Tell us about the inspiration behind the creation of Charlie’s Select. We found out last year that my daughter was allergic to one of the ingredients in the Rendezvous’ mild and hot sauce. She loved those sauces. I hated telling her she couldn’t have it. So, I thought I’d give it a shot and see if we could get that ingredient out of the sauce. We tried and tried, but the sauce just didn’t taste the same. During the testing and tasting process, however, we realized that we’d come up with a new, delicious sauce and thought — we have to share this!
Why do you call it Charlie’s Select? My cousin Dean Carayiannis (who works at the ‘Vous) thought of the name. This is the first sauce/seasoning the restaurant has ever put out that didn’t have Charlie Vergos’s signature stamp on it. We really think he would’ve approved. He was also all about family. He definitely wouldn’t have wanted one of his great-grandkids to not be able to have sauce on her barbecue sandwich!
What is your favorite use for the sauce? My kids love to dip almost anything in it — cheese, veggies, potatoes. I love to throw it in to a pan of sautéed veggies. It gets sticky and is delicious.