The Succulent BBQ Recipe That Skips the Meat

January 16, 2018

When I turned vegetarian a few years ago, there was one meat (or meat category?) that I really, really missed: barbecue. Memphis-style ribs, Texas-style brisket, and Alabama-style chicken; if it was smoked and smothered in sauce, I was all for it. My favorite barbecue dish was, hands down, pulled pork sandwiches: specifically ones piled high with juicy, smoky meat and topped with a zippy slaw and an embarrassment of pickles. To me, they were the epitome of meatiness—and, sadly, I had sworn off them.

Recently, however, I read about the magic, meat-mimicking properties of jackfruit, and soon began seeing it popping up in a myriad of dishes on trendy menus everywhere. Jackfruit tikka masala! Jackfruit biryani! And, most appealing to me, barbecue pulled jackfruit.

Is barbecue jackfruit exactly the same as pulled pork? No, of course not. But, in my humble opinion, it is the closest that non-meat-eaters can get to pulled pork. When cooked down with barbecue sauce, young, green jackfruit has a similar texture and flavor to the tender, juice-dripping sandwiches I still crave; it's sweet and spicy and vinegar-y and kissed with chili. Barbecue pulled jackfruit is a feast that requires neither a 6-hour cooking time nor an outdoor smoker, one that's a lot more low-maintenance than pulled pork—and it's vegan to boot.

Saucy, barbecue goodness. Photo by Julia Gartland

Here's how to make it:

Shop the Story

First, mix up a quick DIY barbecue seasoning featuring paprika, chile pepper, cayenne, and cumin. Drain some canned jackfruit (get the stuff in water, not brine!) and then add it to the bowl with the seasonings.

Next, heat a drizzle of oil in a large saucepan and cook a sliced onion just shy of caramelized. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, then toss in your seasoned jackfruit. Heat it until it gets a little color and you can just start to break it up with the back of a spoon (don't worry, it won't break down totally yet). Add a cup of barbecue sauce (use your favorite brand, or head to the recipe link for one of our favorites) and stir to combine. Cook the mixture for a few minutes so that the jackfruit softens completely, then use two forks to break it up, pulling it apart into threads.

All that's left to do is to decide how you want to serve it! Here are a few of our favorite ways to eat barbecue pulled jackfruit:

  • Layer it on a bun (or thick piece of Texas toast), then top it with more barbecue sauce, avocado, coleslaw, and pickles.

  • Serve it over rice, nestled between black beans and salsa and crunchy, thinly-sliced cabbage.

  • Use it as a filling for a burrito, alongside rice and corn salsa and some roasted vegetables.

  • Spoon some on top of cornbread, paired with collard greens.

  • Sandwich it between two slices of bread, top with cheddar (or vegan cheese), and toss it in a pan for a crunchy, oozy griddled sandwich.

  • If you're feeling especially over-the-top, toss some on a big batch of nachos.

What's the favorite thing to do with jackfruit? Give us some inspiration in the comments!

Listen Now

Join The Sandwich Universe co-hosts (and longtime BFFs) Molly Baz and Declan Bond as they dive deep into beloved, iconic sandwiches.

Listen Now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • HalfPint
  • Catherine Lamb
    Catherine Lamb
A kitchen scientist and dog-lover. Someday I want to have you over for dinner.


HalfPint January 16, 2018
As a proud Viet gal, I'm familiar with jackfruit as a sweet and wonderfully stringy fruit. If you are using canned jackfruit, it's really sweet. Even fresh ripe jackfruit is really sweet. How do you mitigate the sweetness when using it as a savory meat substitute? Just curious :)
Catherine L. January 16, 2018
I believe that young green jackfruit isn't sweet since it's not yet ripe, and that's the stuff that's used as imitation meat! I didn't try any of it plain before coating it in sauce and spices, but it's definitely savory. :)