Twice as Tasty

Vegan Memphis-Style Barbecue Sauce

When caramelized onto smoked and seared mushrooms, this sauce will be devoured by vegetarians, vegans and gluten-free eaters

By Julie Laing
Photo by Julie Laing.

As the North Flathead Yacht Club prepared to host Thistle Nationals 2023, an organizer contacted me for vegetarian barbecue ideas, asking, “Is there such a thing?” Absolutely yes. The student chefs at Flathead Valley Community College’s barbecue pop-up proved it in April with their smoked and seared portobello mushrooms. They inspired me to create and serve a barbecue mushroom entree during the sailing event, complete with scratch-made sauce for maximum ingredient control.

I designed this Memphis-style barbecue sauce to overcome several food limitations. Instead of butter or lard, sauté the onions and garlic in oil. Instead of often-used Worcestershire sauce, which contains anchovies, mix in gluten-free soy sauce and tamarind. The result is vegan, gluten-free and mouthwatering.

Gluten-free soy sauce and stronger aged tamari are readily available. Tamarind may be harder to find. I buy tamarind pulp in a small block from Mabuhay Oriental Market in Kalispell. It keeps in the refrigerator or freezer for months, and converting it to a concentrated paste is as simple as breaking off a piece, soaking it in boiling water until it can be mashed to the thickness of ketchup and then straining out hard seeds and fibers.

I smoke all of my vegetables on an old Weber kettle grill, using a combination of charcoal and wood chips or a pellet-filled smoke tube. You should fully cook the mushrooms after smoking, so a smoker with a hotter baseline will also work. I recommend smoking whole mushrooms at or below 175°F for 20 minutes, refrigerating them for up to 24 hours so any acrid overtones dissipate and then slicing and searing them, adding the sauce toward the end.

Vegan Memphis-Style Barbecue Sauce

Makes 2-1/2 cups

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 15-ounce can tomato sauce

3/4 cup apple cider vinegar

3 tablespoons molasses

1 tablespoon gluten-free soy sauce

1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate

2 teaspoons prepared mustard

2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

Pinch of ground cloves

1 teaspoon hot sauce, or to taste

1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

In medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for about five minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, until fragrant.

Stir in the tomato sauce, vinegar, molasses, soy sauce, tamarind and prepared mustard. Sprinkle the sauce with the brown sugar, paprika and cloves and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, until slightly thickened. Season to taste with hot sauce and salt, and then let cool to room temperature.

Using an immersion or upright blender or food processor, blend until smooth. If the sauce is too thick, blend in a splash or two of water to thin it. Transfer to a jar and store in the refrigerator for up to a month.

Julie Laing is a Bigfork-based cookbook author and food blogger at TwiceAsTasty.com.