It’s almost summer, and there’s no better way to celebrate our favorite season than with our favorite barbecued dishes. But really, we’ll take a slab of barbecued seitan any day of the year. Despite the skeptics, plant-based pitmasters around the country have transformed this meat-heavy culture into one of inclusivity and compassion. Whether you’re in California, Idaho, or Colorado, you can find a satisfying vegan meat to take you back to your hometown roots (but without the animal cruelty). To get in the spirit of summer, we’re ordering from these nine vegan eateries across the country.
What is vegan barbecue?
Usually, in the US, barbecue refers to different meats that have been cooked with wood smoke, although methods, as well as seasonings and sauces, vary from state to state. In South Carolina, for example, you’re more likely to find whole hog barbecue served with a mustard-based sauce, notes Eater, while Kentucky is renowned for its mutton barbecue, which is often served with Worcestershire-based sauce.
The Jackfruit Company
Clearly, neither of these options is vegan. But more than ever, restaurants and eateries are applying signature barbecue cooking techniques, seasonings, and sauces to vegan meats instead. Plant-based meats, like vegan chicken, burgers, and sausages, are popular alternatives, as well as more whole food options, like jackfruit or tofu.
Is vegan barbecue healthy?
Because it’s heavy on smoked meat, traditional barbecue isn’t often considered a health food. This is because this method of cooking, which involves preparing food at high temperatures and producing a lot of smoke, is linked with higher cancer risk. “Both smoke and high-temperature cooking of certain meats are known to be carcinogenic,” notes Healthline. The ingredients themselves are also linked to a higher risk of cancer. Processed meat, for example, is labeled as a Group 1 Carcinogen by the World Health Organization, while red meat is Group 2.
When it comes to vegan barbecue, it’s important to recognize that it is still not a health food as such, but research does suggest it is healthier than the alternative. In 2021, for example, one study focused on barbecues in the UK suggested that vegan barbecue food was 43 percent healthier than meat. This is largely because the ingredients often used, like jackfruit and falafel, are usually lower in calories.
The Best Vegan BBQ Joints Across America
Let’s be honest, if you’re craving barbecue, you’re likely not looking to load up on nutrition, and that’s ok. After all, some meals are just about gathering with friends and indulging in great-tasting ingredients. So if you’re after a delicious vegan barbecue meal in the US, and you don’t feel like having a go at cooking it yourself, here are some of the best joints to try across the US.
1 Southern Fried Vegan
This California-based pop-up travels the country bringing mouthwatering, plant-based barbecue eats to hungry vegans and omnivores alike. From San Diego to Sacramento and across the US, Southern Fried Vegan serves classic fan favorites including slow-smoked barbecue pork, barbecue beans and brisket, fried chicken, and savory mac-and-cheese. Keep up with this traveling eatery’s event page to find out when they’re coming to your city!
2 Homegrown Smoker
Portland is a vegan oasis and this plant-powered joint specializing in barbecue (and comfort food favorites!) proves it. From smoky barbecue burgers to chewy wings drenched in sauce, this mainstay has been slinging its vegan barbecue classics for over a decade.
This longstanding barbecue joint isn’t all vegan, but it makes a concerted effort to appease its plant-based patrons. Since opening the first of its seven Denver locations in 1998, the menu has expanded to include vegan eats from tofu to the Impossible Burger. Order a plate or two, crack open a cold one, and enjoy!
4 Compton Vegan
Los Angeles, CA
Get your fix for vegan ribs at this LA-based eatery, served alongside baked beans, collard greens, and mac and cheese. While not exactly a raw kale salad, the food at Compton Vegan is designed to provide the community with healthier alternatives to familiar food. So dig into those barbecue jackfruit ribs and save the smoothie for another day. Make sure to order ahead, they’re known for selling out fast!
5 Sandwiches by BBQ4LIFE
Idaho may not be the first place to look for vegan eats, but this food-truck-turned-brick-and-mortar has given us a reason to consider this state for its vegan-friendly options. Dig your teeth into a smoked tempeh sandwich slathered in barbecue sauce complete with vegan potato salad. Whatever your pick, you can’t go wrong.
6 The Southern V
This family restaurant is all about giving its customers the best Southern-style plant-based dining experience in Nashville, so it makes sense it has plenty of barbecue on the menu. Try the Cookout Burger, which is loaded with dill pickles, BBQ sauce, and cheddar cheeze, or the coleslaw-heavy BBQ Jackfruit Sammich.
7 Grass VBQ
Stone Mountain, GA
The clue is in the name, but this is the place to go for vegan barbecue food in Stone Mountain, GA. All of its meats are made on-site and smoked for around five hours before serving. Soak up the flavor of the south by ordering menu items like the Clucker, which features smoked Daring vegan chicken, or the Groveway, which is loaded with smoked organic jackfruit.
8 Monk’s Meats
City slickers can get a taste of authentic (plant-based) barbecue thanks to this vegan smokehouse. You’ll find a variety of ready-to-eat meals, including the eatery’s signature Maple Brown Butter Seitan Brisket. Order up for an epic, summer-time meal.
9 Pure Grit
New York, NY
This brand-new, all-vegan barbecue joint is bringing Texan flavors to the Big Apple. The woman-owned eatery offers vegan and gluten-free smoked barbecue mains such as pulled eggplant and tofu and classic sides such as baked beans, mac and cheese, and creamy potato salad. Come for the barbecue, stay for the Impossible burger sandwiched between cornbread waffles—heavenly!