BBQ Tempeh

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This vegan BBQ tempeh is the BEST way to enjoy tempeh. The tempeh gets pan-fried until golden and crispy and then coated in a sweet but tangy and smoky BBQ sauce. And takes just 20 minutes!
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 10 mins
Total Time: 20 mins
5 from 10 votes

Maybe it’s the whole summertime thing, but I have been on a big BBQ sauce kick lately. In the last month alone, I’ve made BBQ grilled tofu, BBQ jackfruit sandwiches, and BBQ tempeh. I think it’s because I finally cracked the code for an incredible vegan BBQ sauce and I’m just so excited to use it (and to share it with you all)!

closeup photo of barbecue glazed tempeh in frying pan

Why you’ll love this BBQ Tempeh

Classic BBQ flavor. This BBQ sauce tastes just like they would in your BBQ sauce dreams. It’s sweet but tangy, smoky, and a little spicy. To nail that classic BBQ flavor, I did repeated side-by-side taste-tests of my BBQ sauce vs. a well-known, vegan-friendly BBQ sauce until it felt like mine (a) hit all the same flavor profiles and (b) tasted even a little better!

Makes tempeh fun. It’s so nutritious (it’s fermented, as well as high in protein and fiber), but it can be bitter in taste and crumbly in texture. This recipe avoids both of those things and will get you to fall in love with tempeh. From a taste perspective, any natural bitterness from tempeh is masked from the flavors of the BBQ sauce. And texture-wise, the method of pan-frying the tempeh ensures it gets crispy and golden, which minimizes its natural crumbly texture.

Quick and simple. From start to finish, you can get this tempeh done in 20 minutes. The BBQ sauce just requires you to whisk all the ingredients together – that’s it!

BBQ Vegan Tempeh Bowl

How to make vegan BBQ Tempeh

Gather your ingredients.

flatlay of ingredients for BBQ tempeh on blue board with ingredient names

Slice the tempeh into 1/2″ inch pieces, crosswise; flip each piece on its side and slice lengthwise to make thinner.

Optionally, steam the tempeh for 10 minutes. This helps remove tempeh’s slight bitter taste, but since it gets coated in a flavor-packed BBQ sauce, I find this step unnecessary.

tempeh strips in steamer basket

Make the BBQ sauce. Whisk together the ketchup, soy sauce, vinegar, maple syrup, molasses, vegan Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, and BBQ sauces.

Heat a 12-inch nonstick frying pan over medium heat with oil. Once very hot, add the tempeh in a single layer and cook for 3 ½ to 4 ½ minutes.

tempeh strips in frying pan

Before flipping, spray top side of tempeh with cooking spray or brush with more oil.

brushing oil on tempeh in frying pan

Cook on second side for 2 ½ to 3 ½ until both sides are nicely golden brown.

golden brown tempeh being cooked in frying pan

Transfer tempeh to a layer of paper towels to absorb excess oil.

golden brown tempeh on paper towels

Pour BBQ sauce into the pan and simmer for 1-2 minutes. Add the tempeh back in and coat it in the BBQ sauce.

Cook briefly to warm through and until tempeh is saucy.

bbq tempeh in frying pan

How to serve this BBQ Glazed Tempeh

This BBQ tempeh is the perfect protein for summer cookouts, and is excellent paired with classic summer side dishes like potato salad, macaroni salad, and pasta salad.

I actually photographed this BBQ tempeh and my Herbed Potato Salad on the same day and the combo was electric. For a creamy yet healthy pasta salad pairing, try the Tahini and Greens Pasta Salad (first recipe in this blog post).

Other fun summer combinations to pair with include grilled corn and cornbread. For colder weather pairings, pair it with this Crispy Baked Mac and Cheese or Miso Butter Mashed Potatoes for some serious comfort food.

How to make a BBQ Tempeh Bowl

This BBQ tempeh is great in a grain bowl or salad. Here, I paired it brown rice, crisp romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, charred corn, pickled red cabbage, avocado, and a vegan ranch dressing. So colorful, fun, and hearty yet healthy. I don’t measure and just eyeball everything.

For the charred corn, simple shave kernels from fresh ears of corn. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat with a bit of olive oil. Once hot, add the corn kernels and cook for 3-5 minutes until charred in spots, tossing just once or twice to get a nice char on them.

For the pickled cabbage, I used this recipe from Jessica in the Kitchen’s blog.

For the vegan ranch dressing, I recommend the Just Ranch dressing (same makers of Just Egg). But I also plan to share my vegan hemp ranch dressing soon!

Other toppings to consider adding to your bowl: crushed tortilla chips or pita chips, your favorite salsa or the pico de gallo recipe in this post, pickled jalapeños or red onions, or black/pinto beans for more protein.

woman's hands holding white bowl of bbq tempeh bowl

BBQ Tempeh Sandwich

Possibly my favorite way to serve this BBQ tempeh is in a sandwich. Here, I slathered some vegan mayo on a nice baguette, layered it with the BBQ tempeh, bibb lettuce, and a quick carrot-cabbage slaw. For the slaw, I just mixed together shredded red cabbage and carrots with a generous squeeze of lime juice, salt, and pepper.

PS: my favorite brands for vegan mayo include Just Mayo, Sir Kensington, and Follow Your Heart Vegenaise).

P.P.S. This sandwich was outrageously good. You could also make it on a burger bun for a more casual cookout dish.

bbq glazed tempeh sandwich on parchment paper

Tips for making this recipe

Be sure to use a vegan-friendly Worcestershire sauce. Traditionally, the sauce contains anchovies, but several brands are vegan. I have used Annie’s vegan Worcestershire sauce and the Whole Foods 365 vegan Worcestershire sauce with great results, and know that the Kroeger store brand is also vegan.

Interested in making this gluten-free? First, buy a tempeh variety that is gluten-free (some contain wheat; I use Lightlife’s original tempeh).

Second, for the BBQ sauce, use tamari (gluten-free soy sauce) instead of soy sauce. Also, omit the vegan Worcestershire sauce (most vegan Worcestershire sauces contain wheat). There is, however, at least one vegan and gluten-free Worcestershire sauce I’ve seen online.

If you are sensitive to bitter foods, you may consider steaming the tempeh before further cooking it. I typically do this before preparing tempeh, but the bold flavors of the BBQ sauce make it unnecessary in this recipe (at least for my tastebuds).

To ensure the tempeh gets perfectly golden and crispy, you’ll want to:

  1. Ensure there’s a decent amount of oil in the pan and that that the pan and oil are hot before you add the tempeh
  2. Don’t flip the tempeh until it’s seared on the bottom (about 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 minutes).
  3. Before flipping the tempeh, brush the top sides with a bit more oil (or use cooking spray). This ensures the second side gets golden brown all over. If you don’t add the oil, the tempeh instead gets charred in spots and doesn’t get a crispy exterior.
BBQ tempeh bowl with ranch dressing, lettuce, corn and avocado on green surface

That’s all you need to know about this BBQ Tempeh. If you love the recipe, please rate it and review below :)

BBQ Tempeh

5 from 10 votes
This vegan BBQ tempeh is the BEST way to enjoy tempeh. The tempeh gets pan-fried until golden and crispy and then coated in a sweet but tangy and smoky BBQ sauce. And takes just 20 minutes!
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 10 mins
Total Time: 20 mins
Cuisine: American
Diet Vegan
Keyword: BBQ, nut-free, tempeh
Serving size: 3 to 4

Ingredients

  • 1 8-ounce block of tempeh
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil avocado oil, or other neutral-flavored oil for cooking
  • 1/3 batch of Vegan BBQ Sauce (recipe below) (about 1/2 to 2/3 cup BBQ sauce)

Instructions

  • Slice the tempeh crosswise into ½-inch thick strips. Then, place each strip on its side and slice in half lengthwise to make it thinner.
    See the step-by-step photos in the blog for reference.
  • Optional – steam the tempeh. Place the tempeh pieces in a steamer basket fitted in a saucepan with a few inches of water. Bring the water to a boil, cover, and steam the tempeh for 10 minutes.
    Note: I typically steam tempeh to get rid of its characteristic bitter taste, but I find it unnecessary in this recipe, as the BBQ sauce is so bold in flavor.
  • Line a cutting board or plate with a few paper towels.
  • Cook the tempeh. Heat a 12-inch nonstick frying pan over medium heat with 1 ½ tablespoons of the oil. Once the oil is shimmering (it will take a few minutes), arrange the tempeh slices in a single layer.
    Cook for 3 ½ to 4 ½ minutes, until nicely golden brown on the bottom side.
    Brush the top side of each tempeh piece with the remaining oil or spray with cooking spray (I used avocado oil spray), then flip each piece and cook on the second side for 2 ½ to 4 more minutes until seared on the other side. Transfer to the paper towels.
    Turn the heat off and allow the pan to cool down for a few minutes.
  • Make the BBQ sauce (recipe below).
    Note: you do NOT need to simmer the BBQ sauce on the stove for a full 5 minutes, as in step #2 in the recipe card below. You will simmer it for a few minutes in the next step.
  • Return the frying pan to medium-low heat and pour in the BBQ Sauce. Allow the sauce to cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until gently simmering, stirring with a silicone spatula. If the pan is too hot, the sauce will rapidly simmer, so lower the heat a touch.
    Add the tempeh back to the pan, and coat the tempeh in the sauce for a minute or two until very saucy. Enjoy!

Vegan BBQ Sauce

5 from 11 votes
This vegan BBQ sauce is perfectly sweet yet tangy, smoky, and a little spicy. It's simple to make and tastes just like your favorite bottled BBQ sauce. Plus, it's ready in just 10 minutes!
Prep Time: 5 mins
Cook Time: 5 mins
Total Time: 10 mins
Course: Condiment, Sauce
Cuisine: American
Diet Vegan
Keyword: no added oil, nut-free
Serving size: 1.5 to 1.75 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (275-280g) organic ketchup
  • 4 ½ tablespoons (80 mL) maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 tablespoon vegan Worcestershire sauce*
  • 1 tablespoon liquid smoke**

BBQ Spice Blend

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Heaping 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • Heaping 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

Optional Thickening

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons arrowroot powder (or cornstarch)
  • 3 tablespoons cold water

Instructions

  • Add all of the ingredients to a mixing bowl. Whisk well to combine. Taste, adding a pinch of salt or pepper as needed. For more sweetness, add a bit more maple syrup. For more smokiness, add a few drops more of liquid smoke or a few dashes of smoked paprika.
  • Transfer the BBQ sauce to a small frying pan and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring at least once a minute.***
    Take off the heat. Once cool, transfer to an airtight jar and refrigerate. It will thicken as it chills. Store for 7 to 10 days.
  • To thicken the sauce even more, whisk together arrowroot powder and cold water until smooth and no clumps remain. Add the slurry to the simmering sauce (from step 2) and whisk frequently for 1-2 minutes, or until the sauce is thickened. Take off the heat (don't let it keep simmering, or the arrowroot powder can start to congeal).

Notes

*See the “ingredients and substitutions” section in the blog post for vegan-friendly Worcestershire sauce brands. Or, try my homemade blend (included in the blog post). 
** If you don’t have liquid smoke, add more smoked paprika. Start with an additional 1/2 teaspoon and use up to 1 1/2 teaspoons. 
*** If you are making the BBQ Tempeh recipe, you do not need to simmer the sauce for this long. Just 1-2 minutes is fine. 

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26 comments on BBQ Tempeh

  1. Adam

    Am new to vegan cooking and this was the first recipe that I tried while using Tempeh. It was excellent. The barbeque sauce was spot on. Will definitely have this bookmarked as one of the best low effort, high reward recipes.

  2. Lin

    Have you tried this with seitan? I have a soy allergy but this looks delicious and would love to try it!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Lin! We have not but I’m sure it would work just fine with seitan!

  3. L

    5 stars
    This was delicious!!! Thank you Nisha. I made them super spicy and served them with yoghurt, crispy chickpeas and salad. Even my dad who eats meat, loved them.

  4. Maneesha

    5 stars
    Great recipe, Nisha! I loved it, and so did my non-vegan husband! We had it as a salad, and lemme say, there were no leftovers!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      We are so happy to hear the recipe went well for you, Maneesha!

  5. Delnora

    This was delicious. I made it for guests last night, and ate some left overs for lunch today. Loved the texture of the tempeh cooked this way. Between this and the sesame tempeh bowl, I’m now a believer!

    I ate it as pictured with romaine, corn, avocado, tomatoes, homemade ranch (I used a silken tofu + cashew base for the ranch), and some pickled red onions and pickled red cabbage I had on hand. I might use just a little less maple syrup in the BBQ sauce next time – bc the Heinz I was using already had too much corn syrup ,probably! Thanks for another great recipe!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Delnora, we’re thrilled to hear you enjoyed this recipe! Next time, would you mind leaving a rating alongside your review? Star ratings are big help to readers who are thinking of making the recipe. Thanks!

  6. Amy

    5 stars
    Family really enjoyed this! Had never tried tempeh. Bought on a whim for the added protein. So excited to find this recipe. Will definitely put this in the rotation. BBQ sauce was excellent as well. Thank you!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Yay, Amy! So glad you love the recipe and thank you for making it!

  7. Kristen

    5 stars
    I never knew tempeh could be so good! You totally changed my mind on it with this recipe. Thank you!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      So glad to be able to change your mind, Kristen! Thanks for trying it!

  8. Kate

    5 stars
    Quick, simple, and delicious. I steamed my tempeh then cooked in a pan with veg broth, and used a store bought sauce. I haven’t experimented too much with tempeh, so thank you for sharing this!!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, Kate!

  9. Maja

    I’ve tried tempeh only once and it tasted like liver. It was so gross, that I don’t want to try it ever again.
    Do you feel this livery flavor in it?

    1. Nisha

      Hi Maja, I’ve never experienced the taste of liver! It does have a characteristic bitter taste, which you can get rid of my steaming it for 10 minutes (in step 2). The BBQ sauce here is so flavorful that it also neutralizes the taste of tempeh. That said, if you really don’t want to try tempeh anymore, the BBQ sauce is fantastic with grilled or baked tofu!

      1. Maja

        :)
        Thank you!

  10. Nancy

    Can this be made without frying the tempeh in oil? Perhaps baking it? Any idea at what temperature and for how long?

    1. Nisha

      Hi Nancy, I typically don’t bake tempeh because it dries it out and absorbs most of the marinade, so you get a much better taste and texture from pan-frying it. That said, you can try cutting into cubes (I think that works better for baking), coat it in some soy sauce or tamari, and bake on a parchment paper lined sheet at 400F for 25ish minutes (or use an air fryer). Then add to the pan with the BBQ sauce and toss to coat.

  11. styx971

    i’ve never found tempeh in my area , would tofu be an ok substitute if crispy enough?

    1. Nisha

      Sure! This would be great with baked or pan-fried tofu. Just be sure to press the tofu to remove excess water. Once you cook it, add the tofu to the BBQ sauce and toss to coat, as explained in the recipe. I’ve also made this will grilled tofu and it’s fantastic!

      1. styx971

        good to know, thanks a ton ^^

  12. Nicola Vila

    5 stars
    Looks delicious! Could you also share your vegan ranch recipe? Please 😁

    1. Nisha

      Thanks Nicola! It will be coming soon ;)

  13. Kai

    5 stars
    Do you have a recipe for the ranch dressing used on the salad? Didn’t find that via search on the web site.

    1. Nisha

      Hi Kai, it’ll be coming soon!

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