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 35 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, simply 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 35 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!

Calories: 229kcal | Carbohydrates: 7g | Protein: 14g | Fat: 17g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 9g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Sodium: 8mg | Potassium: 312mg | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 1IU | Calcium: 84mg | Iron: 2mg

Vegan BBQ Sauce

5 from 10 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 2 to 3 weeks.
  • 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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55 comments on BBQ Tempeh

  1. Patricia

    Is it okay to make this in advance and heat in crockpot?

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Patricia, it will lose its crispy texture. If you want to make ahead, you can prepare the BBQ sauce and fry the tempeh beforehand and quickly heat up tempeh on the stovetop before coating in sauce and serving. Enjoy!

  2. Dustin

    5 stars
    Delicious and easy to make! I’ve been looking for ways to start incorporating tempeh into our dinners and making a bbq sandwich was a family pleaser. It is definitely getting added to the recipe book.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Wonderful! Thanks for sharing Dustin, we are so glad to hear you love the BBQ tempeh :)

  3. Victoria

    5 stars
    I found the salad with the bbq tempeh, pickled cabbage, tomatoes avocado and charred corn just so delectable—served it to my kids and grandkids and they devoured it! What a beautiful and healthy dish, just magnificent! Thank you for all your wonderful recipes!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Victoria, So glad to hear everyone loved this recipe! You’re very welcome for all of the recipes :)

  4. Belinda

    Hi Nisha,
    Can I use blackstrap molasses for the BBQ sauce?

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Belinda, blackstrap molasses is quite bitter, so it wouldn’t be my preferred choice. If you can’t find regular molasses, maybe start with half the amount, taste, and adjust accordingly. You might need to add more maple syrup or vinegar to tame the bitterness.

  5. Tricia Sullivan

    5 stars
    Very easy and quick to make, great taste!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Awesome, Tricia. Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to review!

  6. Joey

    Excited to try this. Given its better availability, would HP sauce be a good substitute for vegan Worcestershire sauce?

  7. Victorianna

    5 stars
    I forgot how long it’s been since I’ve had a sandwich. So good and so easy. Perfect for me to make quickly as a college student in between classes

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Victorianna, So glad to hear you love this recipe!

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