Since moving out West, Southern barbecue has been my most-requested meal by far. And since it’s summer and I see no need to mess around, we’re gonna get right to the good stuff.
Before moving to the South, I never knew what real barbecue was. As a Jewish girl from New York, pulled pork wasn’t really on my radar, and I had no idea that different regions of the country have such different approaches to and definitions of barbecue (“You mean not everyone just dumps a bottle of KC Masterpiece on some grilled chicken and calls it a day?”) Then I spent three years in the heart of North Carolina, and as you can imagine, I had to spend all of those years intensively studying BBQ and its very different regional incarnations across the US. After all that research, the question remained of how to make this soulful American legacy vegan without turning it into a national disgrace.
After spending two years recipe-testing everything from barbecued tofu to barbecued pumpkin, I found that by far the most successful vegan barbecue mediums are actually mushrooms and jackfruit. Info on how to do mushroom barbecue will be coming soon, but for today, here’s a run-down of how to make the ultimate jackfruit barbecue sandwich.
Jackfruit barbecue is cheap, easy, shockingly healthy (without tasting healthy), and significantly less time-consuming than any meat-based barbecue. From the look and the texture of the pulled jackfruit, it naturally looks just like pulled pork. Many a meat-eater has fallen in love with these sandwiches, and most of said meat-eaters had a very hard time believing they were vegan.
If you’re a purist partial to any particular regional style, please don’t get mad that this sauce is a hybrid. But the combination of mustard (a la South Carolina), brown sugar and molasses (a la Kansas City), vinegar (a la Memphis and Eastern North Carolina), tomato base (a la western North Carolina), some optional heat (a la East Texas) and that slight smokiness (a la Central Texas) create a big, bold, balanced flavor profile that gives you the best of everything.
This recipe makes enough sauce for about 10 cans of jackfruit (roughly 15-17 sandwiches) so you can cut it in half if you want a smaller yield, or to make your life easier, make the full batch and freeze the extra for next time.
Can you use store-bought BBQ sauce from a jar if you’re short on time? Absolutely. Have I done it? Yes, no shame. Just open the bottle, taste it and adjust as needed by adding a little Worcestershire sauce, a little mustard or whatever it needs. But barbecue is really all about the sauce, so scratch-made is always best.
- 1 28oz can tomato puree
- 2 large yellow onions, chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp liquid smoke
- ½ cup brown sugar (you can sub coconut sugar if you don’t do refined sugar)
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- 3 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce (Kroger generic brand is vegan)
- 3 Tbsp tamari, soy sauce or liquid aminos (coconut aminos work ok if you do zero soy)
- 1/2 cup mustard
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1/3 cup molasses
- 1 tsp black pepper
- ¾ tsp salt
- 1.5 Tbsp olive oil
- 2+ Tbsp hot sauce (optional)
- Heat a large pot on medium-high, do not add oil
- Once the pot is hot, add the onions (without oil) with about half a teaspoon of salt. Stir thoroughly so that the salt coats the onions- the salt will draw out the excess water and allow it to evaporate. This should take about 7 minutes- stir occasionally
- Once the water has evaporated and the onions are sticking to the pan, add your olive oil. Keep stirring occasionally and allowing the onions to cook
- Only once the onions are pretty golden-brown, add your garlic. Stir and allow the garlic to cook with the onions for about two minutes, or until it starts to get golden-brown too. If your pan is too thin and you get a lot of residue sticking to the bottom that you can’t scrape up, add a little bit of water straight onto the residue to let it de-glaze (those caramelized sugars will just re-coat your onions and make them even more delicious.)
NOTE- do not half-ass the cooking of your onions, take the time to really let them caramelize (more info on this here.) You want them deeply golden-brown, not just flaccid and translucent. Your sautéed onions and garlic are the flavor base of every dish you make with them, so how you cook them will seriously impact the flavor of the dish. I always use this method; it doesn’t necessarily make the total cook time longer because you can use the time the onions are cooking to prep and measure out your other ingredients. I promise, it’s worth it.
- Lower the heat to medium and add the tomato puree and the rest of the ingredients. Cover the pot and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 15-20 minutes
- Puree the sauce with a handheld immersion blender or in a heat-safe blender
- Taste and adjust the sauce to how you like it
While it seems to be the hot new trend in American vegan cooking, jackfruit has actually been used in various South and Southeast Asian culinary traditions for ages. For barbecue, you actually want canned jackfruit rather than fresh. Make sure it’s labeled “young” or “green” jackfruit in brine or water; nothing ripe and nothing in syrup. This unripe jackfruit has a neutral flavor that allows it to be used as a blank canvas. You can find it in most Asian grocery stores and many other international markets as well as Trader Joe’s, and it’s pretty inexpensive; a 20oz can of jackfruit will generally run you about $1.20-2.00.
Two cans will yield enough for about three sandwiches.
- Preheat oven to 375F
- Drain jackfruit into a colander and with your hands, squeeze out as much excess water as you can
- Shred: each piece generally has a top part that’s stringy and easy to separate into shreds, and then a denser bottom part that you can shred with your (clean) fingernails or a knife and fork. There will be little seed pods here and there as well- those are edible and can also be shredded up
- Toss jackfruit with a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper
- Spread jackfruit out onto a baking sheet lined in parchment paper- make sure it’s not too overcrowded
- Place baking sheet in pre-heated oven and bake for about 20-30 minutes, or until beginning to get golden and crispy at the edges. This removes the excess water, giving the jackfruit a better texture and allowing it to soak up more flavor from the sauce. This is the important step that a lot of chefs leave out, and it’s a game-changer.
- Remove jackfruit from oven and mix with BBQ sauce
- ½ medium green cabbage, sliced into thin strips
- ½ red onion, sliced into thin strips
- 2 carrots, grated
- 1 handful cilantro, chopped (optional)
- ½ cup vegan mayo
- ¼ cup mustard
- 1 tsp dill
- 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- Whisk together mustard, mayo, dill, salt, pepper and apple cider vinegar
- Throw the cabbage, carrots, cilantro and red onion into a large mixing bowl and pour the sauce in, mixing thoroughly
Toast up a bun (gluten-free or regular, or no bun/lettuce wrap if you’re paleo), throw some of the jackfruit on there, top it with some slaw. If you have leftover BBQ jackfruit, you can throw it on nachos, in burrito bowls, or my favorite, on top of burgers.