Summer barbecues are super fun and tasty and just because you're vegan doesn't mean you can't participate. Follow the tips below to throw an excellent summer vegan barbecue.
Image by Flickr User sporkist
Start with a clean grill
If you're a newer vegan and you've grilled meat on your grill in the past, make sure you clean that grill. There's no reason to buy a new grill as you can clean the mess up with a few steps. First heat up your grill. The heat makes it easier to clean. Make sure the lid is down as it heats up. Once hot, open the lid and use a long-handled stiff brush to clean the grates. Using mitts, remove the grates and also scrub down the inside of the grill.
If you're dealing with hard to remove, stuck on grease, sprinkle some salt into the grill and keep scrubbing. Salt acts like an abrasive cleaner, only without harsh chemicals. If your grates aren't coming clean, try using a pressure washer on them. If all else fails, you may need to use a commercial over cleaner, but remember oven cleaners are one of the most toxic cleaners around, so use gloves.
Obviously, there are different sorts of grills so here are some tips on cleaning the various types. Also, make it part of your BBQ to clean the grill each and every time after cooking. This will help alleviate some major messes.
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Choosing a new grill
If you don't already own a grill, or your old one needs to be replaced, try to choose an eco-friendly grill. You're already grilling vegan (ethically), so why not go a step further with a green grill. You’ve got a ton of choices, such as gas grills (propane or natural gas), charcoal grills, wood fire grills or just cooking over an open fire, solar cookers and electric grills.
Solar cooking is hands down the most eco-friendly outdoor cooking choice but a solar cooker won’t grill food as well as other grills. You can also make a homemade solar cooker and save some money. A solar cooker is also good to take along to someone else's BBQ, especially if they're meat eaters as their grill is going to be covered in meat.
A natural gas grill is likely the second best option because it's closer to greenhouse gas (GHG) neutrality than other grills. Gas grills give off far less smoke than other grills but has problems because you're fueling it with petroleum or natural gas, both non-renewable fossil fuels.
Charcoal and wood grills aren't that great for the planet. In fact, the EPA says charcoal grills are a direct contributor to ground-level ozone issues, plus the typical charcoal grill can release double the carbon into the area as a gas grill. A positive is that lump charcoal is made from renewable resources.
The least eco-friendly grill is electric. These grills create high emissions both in terms of grill production and cooking energy. Lastly, always research before you buy. Read reviews and see what other people think.
NOTE: If you're in a mixed diet home... If part of your family is vegan and part is omni, be sure to always cook vegan on one side of your grill and meats on the other. Use a bit of bright duct tape to mark a little line on your grill to avoid cross-contamination. You can also purchase two grills, but that's more expensive obviously.
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Practice food safety
Just because you're grilling vegan, doesn't mean you're safe from harmful bacteria and foodborne illness. Follow these tips for a safer barbecue:
- Wash all fruits and veggies very well before eating or grilling.
- When transferring BBQ food to a new location, say a park, be sure to keep it super cold to minimize bacterial growth. A well-insulated cooler with extra ice or ice packs to keep the food at 40 °F or below will work. Pack up food for transfer right before leaving home.
- Once you get to your BBQ spot, place your cooler in a shady spot and don't keep opening the lid. Only take food out of the cooler once you're ready to grill or eat.
- Always pack beverages and food in different coolers, as people open drink coolers over and over.
- Use clean utensils and platters and use a tablecloth on your picnic table.
- Double check that there's clean water available at your BBQ spot. If not, take some water along if you'll need it to cook with.
- Once you cook your food and eat, pack it up quickly in containers and place it back in the cooler. If you're away from home for more than 2 more hours, discard it.
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Planning your menu
- Include lots of fresh veggies and fruits. Both can be grilled or eaten fresh.
- If grilling vegan mock meats, make sure you can grill them. Some mock meats will not stand up to the grill so before you buy, read the back of the package for cooking tips.
- Soak corn on the cob in water for 20 minutes before grilling so the husks won't burn.
- Choose side dishes that won't go bad if they're out of a fridge for too long.
- If you're grilling tofu always use firm and press it to get the excess water out. Tofu actually works much better on skewers than on the grill directly.
- If using bottled BBQ sauce, read the label carefully. Many contain honey and / or caramel.
- If using wooden skewers, soak them for an hour before you start grilling.
- Because you need to keep your mind on food safety and the grill for the main meal, plan a simple dessert that doesn't need much thought. Cookies, fruit tarts or root beer floats made onsite are good options.
Don't forget to bring...
- Plates and eating utensils plus serving utensils, a tablecloth and cups.
- A decent pan or foil to cook small fruits and veggies on (otherwise they may fall through the grates).
- Baby wipes or a stack of washcloths that can be dampened - good for cleaning up sticky faces and hands.
- Containers and foil for leftovers.
- Matches and other stuff you may need to get your grill cooking.
- Tongs, metal spatula, basting brush, forks and other utensils to cook with.
- Some fun outdoor games.
- A blanket or two to spread on the ground to sit on.
- A camera to capture the fun.
- Sunscreen and bug repellent.
- Plenty of water to drink.
- A small first aid kit.
- A few garbage bags - one for trash and one for recyclable goods.
Image by Flickr User vastateparksstaff
Quick tips for better vegan BBQ experience
- If going to a BBQ hosted by someone else who is for sure an omni, you may want to bring a small, inexpensive, tabletop grill so your food is for sure grilled up vegan, with no meat residue. Also, bring food you can eat.
- Try to choose reusable plates and utensils if you can, which is more eco-friendly than a bunch of paper plates. If you don't want to carry real dishes, choose recycled picnic ware.
- If you need to mark your BBQ spot so that others can find you, don't use balloons. Did you know that balloons can cause problems for animals (they may try to eat them and choke). Plus, once popped, balloons don’t biodegrade they just sit there creating trash. Use recycled streamers or paper instead.
- Never feed the wildlife! Feeding animals is fun and cute, but feeding wild animals on purpose is not very vegan. It makes wildlife more dependent on humans than they should be, may make them ill and has a negative impact on our natural habitats.
- Get moving with a Frisbee or other fun game. Since you're outside, be adventurous. Go for a hike, swim (safely) in the lake and explore nature.
- Leave nothing behind. Trash is bad for animals and the planet. Leave your BBQ area as clean as it was when you arrived. When the BBQ is over, put out all fires, pack up and haul out all your picnic trash, including food. Human leftovers are no good for animals.
- Make sure to separate your recyclables and compost items from the trash.