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Barbecue: Not Just for Carnivores

Humans have been cooking longer than we've had a written history. How many countless live fire recipes and techniques have been lost to time? What kinds of foods did ancient humans cook over their fires? What extinct species graced their grills? One thing is for certain - barbecue has never been limited to smoked meats. Whether as a side dish or a meat alternative, most barbecue traditions around the world include smoked vegetarian or vegan offerings including beans, corn, potatoes, peppers, and more.

One of our missions as Pit Fiend Barbecue is to challenge preconcieved notions about what barbecue is, or what it should be. Living in a society that largely adheres to a meat-centric diet, the idea of a barbecue without beef or pork may sound implausible or inauthentic. But even without an animal at the center of the plate, the smoky flavors of live fire cooking lend depth and complexity to nearly any dish.

Smoke adheres best to a moist surface, and even better to water-based liquids than to fats & oils. For this reason, fruits and vegetables are ideal candidates for smoking, but also run the risk of taking on too much smoke flavor, or unpleasantly acrid flavors if exposed to the thick, dirty smoke caused by a lack of oxygen in the fire box. Like meat, most vegan and vegetarian barbecue offerings benefit from a dry rub to assist in smoke adhesion. The vast majority of vegetarian barbecue cooks quickly, especially compared to notoriously long cooking meats like brisket and pork butts which can cook for 12 hours or more. By contrast, Pit Fiend Barbecue's jackfruit is on the smoker just 4 hours, and our mushrooms even less time, requiring fewer than two hours of cooking. Not only does this save time for a busy pitmaster, it also requires significantly less fuel to achieve delicious results.

Of course, some plants and fungi are better suited for barbecue than others. Mushrooms, with their spongy, toothy texture, are a great substitute for sliced meats. Young green jackfruit resembles pork or chicken when pulled, both in texture and in flavor. Cauliflower and potatoes bear little textural similarity to meat, but take on smoke flavor in their own unique and delicious ways that cannot be replicated with meat. Their mild flavors allow the natural wood smoke to shine by comparison. Beans and lentils take on smoke flavor quite well, but if using dry legumes, parcook first in a pot of boiling water. This will shorten the overall cooktime, helping the texture to soften more quickly without allowing the beans to become overexposed to smoke. Peppers both hot and sweet are fans of the fire, but the low temperatures and long cook time of smoking yield significantly different results than grilling or roasting under direct, high heat. Instead of blackening and pulling back from the flesh of the fruit, the peppers' skins become soft and wrinkly due to surface evaporation. Though not always associated with barbecue, nuts such as peanuts, pecans, and cashews are a high-protein alternative to meat that benefits considerably from the slow cook time and smoky flavors of barbecue.

While meat will always be an integral and inseparable component of barbecue, it is not the only way to enjoy a well-smoked meal. Bring your vegetarian and vegan friends to Pit Fiend, where all are welcome to feast on giant portobello caps, Yucatan-style jackfruit, curried cauliflower and cashews, or smoked pickled jalapeños. We scour the globe and scrounge through our gardens to find the best fresh produce for smoking, because we believe that barbecue isn't just for carnivores.


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