Vegan BBQ joints popping up around the country
It takes just two words to elicit laughter from some BBQ folks: vegan BBQ.
That's the reaction Chef Mick Brown sometimes gets when he explains his passion for promoting vegan, vegetarian and healthier BBQ food. It is hard for some in the meat-centric trade of barbecue to conceptualize an outdoor cook without a single bite of steak or heaping pile of pulled pork. To many, BBQ means meat, but Mick wants to challenge that notion; he believes eating veggies can save your life.
“They basically laugh at the concept. That’s the attitude I get from some people,” the California chef said about vegan BBQ. “(But) I’m finding, surprisingly, people are really receptive to it when you discuss it with them seriously.”
As a diabetic whose weight has fluctuated, Mick finds motivation to help others from his own health struggles.
Mick is challenging BBQ restaurants and caterers to add a healthier — not fried — vegetable or vegan option to their menus by 2020 as part of his recent #BBQProject2020 campaign. Using the #BBQProject2020 hashtag on social media is meant to let others know the establishment has made a stride to make their menu healthier.
The chef was part of a presentation during the NBBQA’s 2018 I Am BBQ Conference called “Making BBQ Healthy and Authentic.” After he grilled up some vegan BBQ for attendees, the extras were served with lunch that day. The crowd devoured them.
“I’m finding the key is letting people taste it," Mick said about persuading others to eat more veggies at BBQ. "If you make the vegetables as hearty and good-tasting as the meat, people will want to eat them more.”
VEGAN BBQ, A GROWING TREND
Though you might not personally know anybody serving “vegan BBQ,” there are a restaurants and food carts around the country doing just that. In Portland, Ore., home to a number of vegan-friendly restaurants, there’s Homegrown Smokers which is getting local acclaim for their “tempeh ribs” and smoked “soy curls.” There’s even a vegan BBQ place smack-dab in the center of a celebrated BBQ Mecca. BBQ Revolution in Austin, Texas, makes their “No Bull Brisket” from a “wheat roast” that includes peanut butter.
You might have already heard of the meat-free “Impossible Burger” which has been getting lots of attention for tasting — as some people proclaim — just like meat. The patty is made of wheat and potato proteins.
But it’s not meat substitutes that Mick is pushing. He wants people to eat whole, not processed, foods. His personal favorite vegetables to grill are bell peppers and onions. With some fire, smoke and robust seasoning, Mick said a vegetable starts to taste closer to what most people imagine as “BBQ.”
“We don’t need tons of meat to enjoy BBQ, we can have meats and veggies,” he said, adding that it’s less the meat that’s the problem with health, but more in the carbohydrate- and fat-heavy traditional BBQ sides. “If all you do is grill meats and veggies, you’ll be fine.”
LESS MEAT EATING PREDICTED
As word has spread of his healthy, but still flavorful, vegan barbecue and cuisine, Mick got invites to cook for all sorts of celebrities, including catering a “Vegan BBQ Thanksgiving” for musician Redfoo, best known for his mega-hit “Party Rock Anthem” with his group LMFAO.
For that meal he served a smoked sweet potato/carrot mash with fresh mint and a mix of smoked greens.
Mick was also crowned Grill Master Champion on an episode of the Food Network show “Cutthroat Kitchen,” hosted by Alton Brown, a culinary idol of his.
Alton Brown, a master of cooking meat and all sorts of foods, penned an article for Wired magazine on “the end of meat as we know it.” In that 2013 story, Brown explains that the future will likely be much less meat-centric, due to overpopulation and evolving food culture. There’s all sorts of science food being cooked up to mimic the tastes, smells and physical sensations of actual meat, he reported.
“Meat is largely water. But when we taste it, we're mostly sensing fat and protein. Proteins are simply long chains of amino acids,” he said in the article. "Plants build aminos as well, but carnivores love meat so much because its proteins — unlike plants — are relatively easy to access and digest (once you catch the animal). What's more, meat gives us all the "essential" amino acids our bodies can't produce, a trick that almost no plant can pull off, which is why vegetarians must carefully combine foods — like nuts and grains — to stay well nourished.
“Replicating the flavor of animal flesh is just a matter of gathering certain amino acids, especially the yummiest acid of all, glutamic acid, the key component of monosodium glutamate, or MSG.”
Even with the option to mimic meat using plant protein, Alton Brown concludes, he’s not ready to shutter the butcher shops.
“Plenty of people live just fine on veggies and grains. We could just lay off the real meat, right? Not bloody likely,” he wrote.