Best-Ever Tofu BBQ

July  7, 2020
Photo by Kelly Pawlik
Author Notes

Do you like it on a bun?
or frisbee style? So much fun.
Are you vegan? That's so nice.
It's animal-friendly over rice.

Don't have to be a vegan,
vegetarian or hippie
One taste of Tofu BBQ
and you'll say yippee!

—Kelly, founder of City Soup

I’m going to claim this surprisingly delightful recipe for Fredericksburg, Virginia, where it’s surely more popular than anywhere else on earth.

In its first step toward immortality, it appeared on the menu of Laszlo’s Weenie World, a once-a-year restaurant set up for the Virginia State Frisbee Tournament. Between events, tournament participants eagerly spooned it onto burger buns and topped it with homemade coleslaw before scarfing it down. It always sold out quickly, and then wasn’t seen again until the following April. I always arrived too late to try it, but it didn’t seem to me like I was missing a whole lot.

Then, one mid-1990s winter, a friend made it for a dinner party. Sitting in a battered Crock-Pot on the counter, it didn’t look like much, but its reputation sparked my curiosity. So, I grabbed a spoon and served myself my first tofu BBQ sandwich. I made my way to the couch and, while balancing my plate on my lap, took a bite.

It was fantastic! The slices of tofu were chewy and thick, with a hint of…was that caramelized peanut butter? The spicy, sweet sauce had a tingly hit of acid and salt. The coleslaw added a cool, crunchy counterpoint. It was perfect.

So when my buddy Jen and I opened our [former] restaurant in 1998, we thought it was an obvious choice for the menu. Our friends were skeptical. “It’s too labor-intensive!” they said, or, “I know it’s delicious, but no one’s going to order it. It sounds awful.” Onto the menu it went anyway, and we became tofu BBQ evangelists. During our first few weeks of operation, we handed out samples to dozens of customers, regardless of their eating preferences, and omnivores and vegetarians alike gobbled it up. Soon we were ordering five-gallon buckets of tofu from a commune near Charlottesville, freezing it in borrowed space in the walk-in of a rotisserie chicken place, before bringing it back to our kitchen to make dozens of servings every week.

Now, in addition to its annual appearance at Laszlo’s, my friend Kelly makes it for her soup delivery business, but only once a year. Locals have to order early—100 quarts isn’t enough to meet demand.

This easy recipe feeds a crowd and keeps like a dream. Serve it over rice, on a bun, or in a tortilla with cheese. Store the sauce and tofu separately for maximum flexibility—the baked tofu is great on salads or on its own, and the sauce is great on chicken, or anywhere you need a BBQ kick. Say yippee!

Lightly adapted from Wendy Louise Hagler’s Tofu Cookery. —kim place-gateau

  • Prep time 49 hours
  • Cook time 1 hour 35 minutes
  • Serves 10
  • Marinated Tofu
  • 4 blocks extra-firm tofu
  • 1 1/3 cups peanut butter
  • 1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • BBQ Sauce
  • 1 splash vegetable oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
  • 1 28-oz can of tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons yellow mustard
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 teaspoons dried parsley
  • 1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to sauté the onions and garlic
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice or white vinegar
In This Recipe
  1. Marinated Tofu
  2. Freeze the tofu for at least 2 days. Then, thaw it—defrosting in the microwave works fine if you're in a hurry—and squeeze all the water you can out of it. If you have microwaved it, be careful, because the water in the middle of the tofu will be very hot. If you’re pressed for time, Trader Joe's extra firm tofu can be used without freezing it first. But it’s still better to freeze it if you can!
  3. Cut each block of tofu into about 10 slices (slice the short way across) and then line the slices up in a couple of jelly roll pans, or whatever shallow baking pans you have.
  4. Next, make the marinade by whisking together the peanut butter, vegetable oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika in a large bowl. Pour it over the tofu in the jelly roll pan.
  5. Marinate the tofu for about an hour. I like to stick it in the oven to get it out of the way, and then turn the oven on when it’s time to bake it. This does require some adjustment in baking time, of course, but it’s mighty convenient in a small kitchen.
  6. Toward the end of the tofu's marinating time, heat the oven to 350°F.
  7. Bake the tofu at for about 25 minutes, then flip and bake for another 25 minutes, checking again at about 15 minutes to see if it's at all burning. While the tofu is baking, make the BBQ sauce (recipe below).
  8. Once the tofu is baked and the sauce is done, serve the tofu with the sauce! It's great over rice, or in a tortilla with a traditional homemade coleslaw and cheddar cheese, or on buns with slaw. There’s really no bad way to serve it.
  1. BBQ Sauce
  2. In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, heat a splash of vegetable oil until it shimmers, then sauté the onion and the garlic with a pinch of salt until translucent, 4 to 6 minutes.
  3. Turn down the heat to low, and then add the rest of the ingredients to the pan: the tomato sauce, brown sugar, mustard, allspice, parsley, tamari, molasses, salt, red pepper flakes, and lemon juice.
  4. Stir the contents of the pan often while simmering on a low flame for about 45 minutes, partially covered.

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