Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Other White Meat Is... Well, It's Not Even Meat

KCBS events typically don't permit sampling, but a few years ago I participated at a non-KCBS competition where we were allowed – in fact, encouraged – to hand out samples.

At one point this really drunk chick in a cowboy hat came up to our cook site and inquired about my beans by asking if they had any meat in them.  I politely responded that they included chunks of brisket, and I reminded her in a very courteous manner that she was standing among 1200 flesh-eaters whose sole purpose was to devour mass quantities of meat.

Her mind corrupted by intoxicants, she tried to give me a guilt trip by replying, "Well, ya really oughta think about having some meatless stuff cuz some of the people here are vegetarian." I mumbled an insincere apology with a clenched jaw, and then she stumbled off, presumably to darken some other team's cook site with her super-annoying personality.

Before one becomes a BBQ team captain, it's a good idea to affirm one's love for eating meat. It just goes with the territory, right? That being said, the ol' Goofus has a deep respect for those who have chosen to eat a plant-based diet. In fact, one of my long-time friends is a vegan. He is also journalist who recently reported on a major brouhaha over at a leading vegan publication.

What happened is that the staff at VegNews were caught doctoring up pictures of meat in an attempt to pass them off as being meatless. They even used Photoshop to remove the bones from a stock photo of BBQ ribs. How appalling!

This story got me thinking (which is dangerous) about how I could twist the knife in the bellies of the lazy editors at VegNews without taking an indiscriminate jab at my vegan friends. The answer was quite simple. I set out to create some vegan-approved BBQ ribs of my own. If I could go meatless, then why couldn't the folks at VegNews comply?

I found a vegan ribs recipe to use as a guideline, but I tweaked it so that I could prepare the faux ribs outside on the grill (with real hickory smoke) rather than in the oven (with liquid smoke). This new version featured one of my many homemade sauces (K.C. Red, of course), and I even used some oversized skewers that I picked up at the local international market to replicate the 'food handle' function of the otherwise vegan-unfriendly bones (no Photoshop required). I'll admit that inserting a skewer makes the final product look like a satay, but you can't tell me that omitting the skewer improves the resemblance to real ribs. Using the skewers just makes for better finger food.

Although I had never purchased nutritional yeast or tahini in my life, they were among the ingredients that made these meatless ribs possible. This experiment was very successful considering it was the first time that I had ever tried this recipe. Oh, sure, the bottom sides got a little more done that I would have preferred, but that did not diminish their savory BBQ flavor.

Will I prepare them again? Yes, absolutely... and I even have a few ideas about how to make them better the next time around. But for now I will take some measure of pride in proving that I can please a vegan palate with my 'que. There's a new Flickr photo set to highlight the results, so take that, VegNews! I may not have given your slacker editors any bones to suck, but they can suck it nonetheless.


  1. Awesome post! And inspiring to see how an omnivore can embrace a vegan concept better than a vegan publication. Right on.

  2. These look so yummy! I'm a vegan (and VegNews subscriber) who still loves her BBQ, thanks for posting this!

  3. What tweaks did you make to the recipe you used as a starting point? Obviously, you deleted the liquid smoke and actually smoked the ribs on the grill, got that. Did you prepare differently? The source recipe is stretched as a slab into an oven pan and baked; did you form separate ribs with the skewers, or did you first cook as a slab and then cut them apart for grilling?

    And have you returned to this with your ideas about how to make them better? If so, what improvements have you made?