Vegan Barbecue

Just because you don’t eat meat, doesn’t mean you have to sit out of summer cookouts.

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© Akshay Amesur/iGeneration Youth/TNS iGeneration Youth reporter Ayisat Bisiriyu, 15, who is a vegan, and Jeremy Reed, executive chef at Wheelfish Tavern in Pittsburgh, Pa., dig in to the meatless meal Reed taught Bisiruyu to make when Bisiriyu reached out in advance of barbecue season.

With barbecue season coming up, many adults and teens are rushing with excitement to get back to grilling their favorite foods, as well as getting together with their friends and family to enjoy Grandma’s mac and cheese, Auntie’s potato salad and Dad’s famous barbecue burgers.

However, for many vegans and vegetarians, this is a dreadful time of year restricted to second-hand sides and trips to tasteless veggie platters.

Meanwhile, the market for vegans and vegetarians is steadily growing. It’s time Uncle Willie learned how to make a wider variety of barbecued foods.

I am a vegan, which means I exclude all animal products from my diet. I believe that eating a plant-based diet benefits animals, the environment and people’s own personal health. I’ve been a vegan since October 2017. That’s when I did research on the lifestyle and decided to commit.

I have always had a passion for cooking. I loved to make food with my mom for bake sales and cookouts. As soon as I was old enough, I was making dinners, desserts and breakfasts on my own. When I went vegan, I wasn’t worried about cooking or what to eat because I had read articles, watched YouTube videos, downloaded a vegan app and looked for vegan recipe blogs, so that I knew what I was doing. For new vegans, I would highly recommend that.

Last summer was my first as a vegan, and I wanted to make extra sure I was not starving at cookouts, so I worked with two chefs to learn how to make meatless barbecue dishes. First, I interviewed author and journalist, Steven Raichlen, host of the popular PBS TV shows, “Project Smoke,” “Project Fire,” and “Primal Grill,”  and author of 31 books including international blockbusters, “The Barbecue Bible,” and just-published “The Brisket Chronicles.”

Raichlen got into cooking when he was pretty young. He is very interested in all facets of cooking, but specializes in the barbecue and grilling category.

“My interest in food is an intersection of food and history and culture,” he says. “Grilling is the world’s oldest cooking method. Every culture grills, but every culture does it differently.”

Especially interested in American barbecue, Raichlen’s professional mission “is to help people grill better, and help people grill in a more interesting way, and simultaneously in the process of doing that make their life richer and more satisfying.”

Raichlen gave me instructions on how to make a real crowd-pleaser — grilled pound cake with berry salsa and whipped cream. This recipe was very easy to make and something I think everyone should make for their next cookout.

© Akshay Amesur/iGeneration Youth/TNS Grilled pound cake with berry salsa and whipped cream from Steven Raichlen’s book, “The Barbecue Bible.”

Next, I reached out to Jeremy Reed, who taught culinary arts at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and executive chef at Wheelfish Tavern in Pittsburgh, Pa. I asked him to help me make Stephen Raichlen’s recipe, since I didn’t have a smoker. He agreed and helped me prepare Raichlen’s tasty grilled dessert plus smoked eggplant and grilled veggie tacos, two dishes from Wheelfish’s menu. He also taught me a simple stovetop/oven method for smoking foods.

Reed also started cooking at a young age, but for very different reasons.

“I grew up in New York and we didn’t really have much. I thought that if I went the direction of being a chef that I would never have to worry about being hungry,” he said.

He started working at a local pizzeria folding boxes and soon realized that when he worked, he was able to get free pizzas. This allowed him to help feed his family.

Reed expanded on his cooking skills from there, and his experiences eventually led to positions as a chef and educator, teaching in higher education and mentoring younger students like me.

Most people know how to prepare only meat-based dishes and have no idea where to start with creating plant-based meals. Vegetables can actually be a versatile, hearty meal. As long as you know how to prepare and season it, you can make practically any vegetable taste delicious.

Reed emphasized the importance of knowing what foods you’re working with.

“Meatier, heavier vegetables do really well in terms of texture,” he said. “Eggplant definitely fits into this box and is a great meat substitute when vegetarian grilling.”

© Akshay Amesur/iGeneration Youth/TNS Our author and our guest chef, Jeremy Reed, put together this vegan smoked eggplant with creole tomato sauce even a meat-eater would envy.

Other vegetables that can really work well for meat substitutes are Portobello mushrooms, bell pepper and cauliflower.

If you’re setting out to make your grilled vegetarian recipe, don’t be afraid to experiment. Do research on textures, flavors, and spices of plant-based foods, Reed said.

“When you have those robust flavors, you’re satisfied, and that’s what a lot of people don’t realize — the more layers of flavor you build, the more satisfied you are holistically with what you eat.”

© Akshay Amesur/iGeneration Youth/TNS Grilled veggie tacos are great with napa slaw, mango salsa, and Hawaiian BBQ sauce — a side of Wheelfish Mac N’ Cheese.

If you don’t eat meat you don’t have to starve. There are many barbecuing and grilling recipes that are super easy and simple to make. Even if you are a meat eater, it is easy to accommodate your vegetarian and vegan friends by just doing a little research and experimentation. When provided with the right tools, you can learn to make plant-based recipes that even carnivores can enjoy.


At Wheelfish, Chef Jeremy Reed’s got barbeque down: pulled pork, brisket, salmon, chicken, sausage & ribs (not to mention the smoked eggplant and veggie tacos featured in our story).

Name of Chef: Jeremy Reed

Name of restaurant: Wheelfish Tavern

Location: 635 Sangree Road Pittsburgh, PA 15237

Phone number: 412.487.8909

Website: www.wheelfish.com

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