The best plant-based BBQ ideas to transform your summer cookouts

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Cookouts and backyard parties are a highlight of summer. Whether you are vegetarian, looking to explore healthier options or want to have foods for all your guests, these plant-based dishes are a great addition to your next summer cookout.

Skewers of vegetables and chunks of meat are grilling over hot coals on a barbecue, with a corn on the cob in the background.
Want to bring more plant-based dishes to your BBQs? From grilled tofu to salads, find recipe inspiration for your summer cookout. Photo credit: Depositphotos.

A plant-based diet focuses on vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains as the bulk of most meals. While those keeping to plant-based diets might eat meat, eggs and dairy products on occasion, navigating cookouts can be a challenge. Traditional cookouts often feature hamburgers, hotdogs, brats and other carnivorous options. Side dishes that are heavy on dairy, meat and processed food may limit plant-based options further.

If you are looking to transform your summer BBQs with healthy and flavorful dishes, try plant-based options. From recipes to replace cookout favorites to inspiration for new dishes, get started with plant-based cooking.

The rise in plant-based eating

Plant-based eating has become more popular in recent years. Gallup estimates that approximately 5% of Americans are vegetarians or vegans. Americans are also eating plant-based meals more often. As of 2023, almost 70% of people have tried a plant-based meat or dairy alternative, according to a study from Saputo Dairy USA.

Cutting back on meat, dairy and processed foods has a number of benefits. Forks and Knives notes that plant-based diets are high in vitamins and minerals and lower in calories and cholesterol. Eating plant-based foods can be cheaper and better for the environment as well.

If this is your first time experimenting with plant-based eating, summer is a great time to start. Fresh veggies and fruit are especially tasty this time of year. Grilled, fresh or mixed into dishes, fruits and vegetables are the perfect summer ingredients. These plant-based dishes are the best way to showcase them.

Plant-based recipes for cookout staples

From brats and burgers to potato salad and baked beans, there are dozens of dishes to look forward to at a summer BBQ. Whatever your favorite, there is a flavorful plant-based alternative. These menu ideas are healthy, nutrient-dense and filling. Because these recipes rely on fresh, in-season produce and whole foods, they bring vibrant flavors to a cookout.

Plant-based alternatives to your favorite grilling recipes

Grilling can make plant-based recipes the centerpiece of your cookout. Grilled tofu, grilled tempeh and black bean burgers are high-protein alternatives to beef. Portobello mushroom steaks or cauliflower steaks are hearty and healthy. Marinated and seasoned, these vegetarian grilling options are packed with flavor.

With the growing popularity of plant-based foods in recent years, meat alternative options have multiplied. Plant-based hamburgers, hot dogs, sausages and chicken offer cookout substitutions with a taste and texture nearly identical to their meat equivalents. These are a convenient and delicious option to grill up for yourself and your plant-based guests.

Meat-free main dishes and sides for cookouts

Fruit and veggie skewers make an amazing plant-based main dish for a BBQ. Add bell peppers, squash, mushrooms, onions, pineapple and other favorites to skewers. Tofu, tempeh or seitan can offer additional protein.

Summer produce is always a great addition to any cookout menu. The perfect salad melds fruits, veggies, protein and dressing. On the grill, roast okra, corn, asparagus spears, peaches or any other fruit or veggie your family enjoys.

Potato salad, macaroni salad and coleslaw are easy to recreate with vegan ingredients by swapping in vegan mayonnaise. Vegan baked beans leave out the bacon and use a generous dash of smoked paprika for a delectable smokey flavor.

Snacks provide a small bite while waiting for food to finish on the grill. Vegan deviled eggs, veggies with hummus, watermelon slices and chips and salsa are great plant-friendly options. While traditional salsa is always a good choice, mango salsa is an alternative pairing for chips that is packed with summer flavor.

Best condiments for a plant-based BBQ

No cookout is complete without the right condiments. Ketchup, mustard and relish are the usual staples. Pick up your favorite or even try a homemade version.

For more variety, make your own hot sauce with red jalapenos. Naturally plant-based, homemade hot sauce can bring a spicy tang to all of your dishes. Vegan BBQ sauce and vegan Thousand Island sauce can add extra flavor to mains and sides.

Hosting the ultimate plant-based cookout

Preparing to host a cookout centered around plant-based dishes takes some planning. Like any backyard BBQ, you’ll need outdoor seating and tables, yard games and propane for the grill. You’ll also want a spread of mouthwatering dishes.

As you plan your menu, bring together a variety of plant-based recipes. Shruthi Baskaran-Makanju of Urban Farmie explains, “Hosting a plant-based BBQ is all about celebrating fresh, flavorful, seasonal ingredients! Think vibrant grilled veggies like corn or asparagus, hearty plant-based proteins like black bean burgers or smoky tofu steaks and comforting side dishes! It’s a delicious way to enjoy the summer while embracing sustainable and healthy eating.”

Involving your friends and family in food prep is a great way to try more recipes and delegate the work. Make your BBQ a potluck and have every guest bring a plant-based dish to share for an unforgettable cookout.

Plan a plant-based cookout this summer

Summer cookouts are an opportunity to enjoy nice weather, time with friends and good food. This summer, host a cookout with a plant-based menu or bring a new dish to a potluck. In addition to being healthy and sustainable, plant-based ingredients bring bright, delicious flavors that will be the highlight of your next cookout.

Kristen Wood is a photographer, food writer and creator of MOON and spoon and yum. She is also the author of Vegetarian Family Cookbook, Fermented Hot Sauce Cookbook and Hot Sauce Cookbook for Beginners. Her work has been featured in various online and print publications, including NBC, Tasting Table, Elle, Martha Stewart, Forbes, Chicago Sun-Times and more.

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