How To Be A Vegetarian At A Barbecue

Illustration for article titled How To Be A Vegetarian At A Barbecue

It's Memorial Day, which means, among other things, the start of barbecue season. Which, for the non-meat-eating among us, is sort of fraught. Herewith, a few tips on surviving a barbecue as a vegetarian.


Do not underestimate the Gardenburger.

I was a pure vegetarian for about three years, and since then I've been a pescetarian for about five, so I have sampled a lot of fake meats in my day. I have the following controversial opinion: Boca Burgers are gross. To me they have this sort of icky chemical undertone that makes me think of the food we will eat on the giant colony ships after the destruction of the Earth. Gardenburgers, however, are delicious! They are not really trying to be meat, and instead are sort of a tasty blend of veggies and grains. Yum! I am not being paid by the Gardenburger company, but if they want to send me a bunch of free Gardenburgers for this year's barbecue season, I would be pretty psyched. Because even if you try to limit your intake of fake-meat products, a barbecue is a time when it's kind of nice to be able to just swap in your own patty and eat more or less what the carnivores are eating.

Do not overestimate the portobello mushroom.

This is more of a tip for hosts: don't necessarily assume that your vegetarian guests are going to be super psyched about the portobello mushroom caps you are grilling for them in lieu of burgers. Yes, some people love these. But I've spoken to a sizable contingent of vegetarians (myself included) who find a giant slab of mushroom sort of weird. If you're going to offer this as a meat-substitute, marination is key (I suggest olive oil and balsamic, or olive oil, chiles, and soy sauce). Also, consider cutting the mushrooms into slightly smaller pieces to increase surface area and decrease that biting-into-a-huge-chunk-of-fungus feeling.

Bring a delicious side.

When you're a vegetarian, bringing something is always a good call if possible. And barbecues are a great time for delicious side dishes. Potato salad and pasta salad are obvious standbys (and you can make a really good potato salad with veggie bacon, if you swing that way). I also like to make this really easy black bean salad:

One can black beans, rinsed
One can corn, rinsed
One red pepper, chopped
One-half to one green pepper, chopped
One-half to one red onion, chopped
A whole mess of cilantro, chopped


For the dressing:
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lime juice
A whole mess of chili powder (seriously, a lot)

Mix up all the veggies and cilantro, then make the dressing, then pour it over, taste, and pour on more dressing or chili powder if necessary. This is really good and filling and pretty and keeps really well for days in the fridge, and if you bring it to a barbecue you will definitely not go hungry.


A word on drinking.

Remember that what you eat can influence the way alcohol affects you. So if you had a Gardenburger and your friends all had a big stack of hot dogs and ribs, you might get drunk faster than them, even if you're all pounding beers at the same rate. This is especially true if you are drinking during the day and in the heat, things that tend to fuck with your tolerance. A good rule of thumb is that if you find yourself getting in belligerent arguments with your friends over food choices, things that happened when you were eight, or the Wu-Tang Clan, it's time to switch to water. Or just call it a night, and rest up for the next barbecue.


Image via Semjonow Juri/


Another thing about the mushrooms? No protein.

I think mushrooms are delicious, and I love a grilled portobello (my parents made some for us last night at our family cook out—very yummy!) BUT as a substitute for a burger they are sort of lacking. The internet tells me that a hamburger is about 450 calories, with 22 g of protein. A portobello mushroom is 26 calories (that's not counting any marinade you put on it) and 2.5g of protein. It's barely a food item at all, delicious as it is.

So, if you're going to serve portobellos to your vegetarian friends at a cook-out, please make sure there are other things for them to eat, because they are going to be hungry. A bean salad or vegetarian baked beans would work well to fill the void.