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The Afro-Vegan Guide To Hosting A Bomb Vegan Cookout

Updated: Jul 2

Cookout season is in full swing, but as a vegan you may often feel like an afterthought at these fun summer events when it comes to the food. While plant-based eating is becoming more normalized, finding ample vegan options at a gathering that is traditionally very meat-centric, is rare. So, maybe you can relate to this experience. You’re tired of sitting on the sidelines and are ready to  move to the center stage and host a vegan cookout of your own. Well you’re in luck! We’ve put together a guide to take the guesswork out of hosting a delicious vegan cookout that will leave everyone feeling satisfied.

Together, we’ll explore:

  • Easy “accidentally vegan” options

  • Tips for incorporating savory flavors into you plant-based options

  • Show stopping vegan recipes that will make your cookout delicious and memorable

  • Sustainable alternatives that will help to reduce waste and lessen the environmental impact of your celebration.

So, let’s get started!

“Accidentally Vegan” Options that Make Hosting Easy

At a traditional cookout, the aroma of BBQ and smoky flavors usually takes center stage. Many classic dishes served at these gatherings can surprisingly be made vegan-friendly. While you’re striving to create a vegan cookout menu, the range of vegetables, grains, and legumes naturally included in the menu often provides a variety of options for your attendees.

  • Side dishes like collard greens, seasoned with just vegetable broth instead of meat, offer a savory, satisfying bite. 

  • Potato salad, when made without eggs or mayo, becomes a creamy, tangy dish that's completely plant-based. 

  • Not to be overlooked are the delectable grilled vegetables and fresh salads, which add a vibrant, healthful element to the spread.

  • Fresh fruit like a fruit salad or sliced watermelon is a refreshing way to stay hydrated and nourished on a hot summer day.

  • Baked beans, a staple, can easily be prepared without any meat, turning them into a sweet, hearty option that aligns with vegan principles. If you’re going to purchase a canned option, look for the vegetarian label on the front.

  • Coleslaw and pasta salad made with vegan mayo and without meat or cheese are easy vegan options.

  •  Sweet tea and freshly squeezed lemonade are already vegan and staple beverages at most cookouts.

These vegan-friendly dishes highlight the inherent versatility of traditional Black cuisines. By simply tweaking a few ingredients, many cookout favorites can cater to diverse dietary preferences without sacrificing flavor or authenticity. So don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t eat good at the vegan cookout this summer!

No Meat, No Problem! Incorporating Savory Flavors into Plant-Based Alternatives

No matter what the components of your dish are, everyone can agree that one of the most important features of a dish is its flavor! There is a myth that plant-based dishes have no taste or flavor when, in reality, plants are primarily responsible for bringing flavor to the many dishes we crave so much! 

By focusing on a few key flavoring components, you can easily create plant-based dishes that will satisfy the most robust of palates!

Herbs & Spices: Here’s just a few suggestions to sprinkle some flavorful magic into your dish to make your tastebuds come alive

  • Popularly known for use with fatty meats like pork, lamb, and even turkey, because of its ability to aid in digestion, Sage is also good for mellowing out strong flavors while lending a soft, earthy note. 

  • When making hearty dishes like chilies and soups, Smoked Paprika or Smoked Salt can give your dish the smoky note it needs!

  • Seeking to add a hint of cheesy flavor? Add Nutritional Yeast to your soups or pasta dishes. It’s also great on popcorn!

  • Creating a plant-based egg substitute? Black Salt is a good spice to keep on hand to achieve that egg-like flavor. It even has a strong egg-like scent!

Broths & Bouillons: Whether you seek to add a hint of flavor to a soup or entree base or you desire a concentrated richness in taste on which to build the flavor profile of your dish, broths and bouillons have just what you need. With so many flavor varieties like (not) beef, (not) chicken, curry, etc., you will have no problem establishing a hearty foundation upon which to build your dish. Quick tip: Using bouillons or broths to parboil items like jackfruit and mushrooms helps achieve the savory flavor you will want to achieve when making hearty entrees like ribs or pulled bbq sandwiches!

Sauces & Marinades: The following liquids are very helpful in layering the flavors of your dishes, helping to bring out a rich, umami taste to your palette.

  • Liquid Smoke is a great flavor substitute in certain dishes (such as greens, string beans, etc) where you may normally use animal products to boost the flavor of your dishes. It’s also great for marinades and bbq sauces as it provides a deep, smoky depth and, with varieties such as hickory, mesquite, pecan, etc, the flavors they can add to your dish are out of this world!

  • In the mood for a stir-fry or creating a savory marinade? Use Soy Sauce or its gluten-free counterpart, Tamari, to achieve the robust, umami flavor profiles you seek. Also, while vegan Worcestershire sauces are widely available in stores, if you desire to make your own, you can also use either of these as a base. For a milder, low sodium alternative, you can try Liquid Aminos made from either soy or coconut.  

Vegan Showstoppers: Recipes that will Shine in Your Cookout Spread

Crafting the perfect cooking menu is a thing of art and a labor of love. These days there are so many vegan recipes available online that you can incorporate into your cookout offerings, but going from site to site to find what you’re looking for can be a chore. To lighten your load just a little, we’ve compiled some of our favorite cookout friendly recipes from the Afro-Vegan Society website to get you started! 

Satisfying Sides

Sides aren't meant to be an afterthought at the cookout. When done right, they provide the perfect balance of flavors, textures, and colors to make your plate complete. Whether you're craving crunchy, chewy, or creamy textures, or flavors that range from savory and zesty to tangy and sweet, this collection of vegan sides will make your spread shine! Go ahead, whip up our BBQ Baked Beans, Zesty Potato Salad, Rainbow Coleslaw, and Vegan Macaroni & Cheese for yourself.

Mighty Mains

Having a good selection of appetizing main dishes is sure to make your vegan cookout a success. There is a real art to developing savory flavors and hearty textures in plant-based ingredients. While this process requires some loving attentiveness, the best vegan recipes are often the simplest to prepare! Our Baked Vegan Ribs, Black Bean Beet Burgers, and Chili Cheese Carrot Dawgs are crowd-pleasing main dishes that will not disappoint!

Spectacular Sweets

For some people, the dessert table is the highlight of any food-centered gathering. There's a common misconception that vegan desserts don't taste as good, when in fact, they can be even more delicious and decadent than their conventional counterparts, without all of the congesting and cholesterol-rich animal based ingredients. Prepare to surprise and satisfy your cookout guests with these tasty sweet treats: Peach Cobbler , Banana Pudding, and Red Velvet Brownies.

These options are a few of our crowd favorites and we think you’ll love them too. Best of all, because these, and all vegan recipes, contain no animal products, the risk of contracting foodborne illness from these dishes is significantly reduced as long as you take basic precautions to maintain food-safe temperatures while they’re being served. This includes vegan desserts which are often presumed to be temperamental. Because they contain no dairy or eggs, they actually hold up quite well in cookout settings.

Simple Swaps to Make Your Cookout More Sustainable

Often when we think of cookouts we focus on all the fun parts of the day we’ll have together. No one wants to think about the cleanup, much less help do it! Managing and reducing the amount of waste we generate though, is not just a good way to speed up the cleanup process, but it’s really the best way to support our communities, neighborhoods, and the planet we call home. Here are some things to consider for a sustainable, straightforward waste management plan.

(Clean) Foil is recyclable and cost effective - consider using aluminum foil products to wrap, transport, and serve your dishes. A quick, thorough rinse makes them easy to recycle if your local program has foil on their list. Bonus - using recycled foil products is even better because it requires less natural resources to produce. 

Parchment Paper is your friend - it’s not just for baking! Unbleached, unwaxed parchment paper is both easy to toss in your compost and an affordable alternative to plastic wrap. However, conventional parchment paper, just like wax paper, is not sustainable or compostable because it often uses virgin wood and non-biodegradable products and processes. 

Compostable plates, cups and utensils make cleanup a breeze - though it’s best to use real plates, cups and utensils, using compostables is the next best thing. As long as these products aren’t coated or mixed with plastic, you can throw them all in the compost with your parchment paper and food scraps. But, recognize that biodegradable does not always mean compostable. Though biodegradable items break down naturally, they may not be made of organic matter which returns to the soil as nutrients. And, these products absolutely do not go in the recycling bin. 

Scrape those scraps into a paper bag - large sturdy paper bags - like outdoor paper leaf trash bags - are not only big and cheaper than plastic, they’re compostable too! Composting your table scraps and utensils, etc. will be that much quicker if you use these, just throw everything in the bag and throw the bag in the compost. It will also help reduce confusion for your guests if you plan on making most things they touch go into one container. 

Use your local programs to your advantage - many areas in the U.S. have both municipal recycling and compost programs. Check your area’s programs to see what’s available. Many larger cities have apps you can use to find commercial recycling and compost nearby if you don’t have a compost bin or larger recycling at home.

Products to consider: 

  • If You Care - this brand has sustainable, certified compostable, PFAS free, fully tested products from dish washing gloves to parchment paper and fire lighters. All are fairly reasonably priced.

  • Reli - has great large and small trash bags made from recycled plastic at an affordable price. 

  • Eco Soul , Ecovita, & Repurpose - are two great companies to find sturdy, attractive, compostable tableware. 

  • Preserve - interested in using reusable tableware but not sure if you want to use your everyday plates, etc.? Try using preserve products. They turn yogurt cups, take-out containers and ocean plastic into durable products that truly last. 

It’s Hosting Time!

So there you have it! We’ve covered how to make your vegan cookout simple, flavorful, show-stopping and sustainable. All that’s left to do is plan your gathering, invite your guest list, and have an amazing time. Hosting a vegan cookout can be a wonderful way to create a welcoming space for vegans to come together and enjoy the foods of the season, while also introducing friends and family who aren't vegan yet to the wonders of plant-based food. There’s something so satisfying about watching someone go from skeptical, to pleasantly surprised, to going back for seconds and asking for the recipes when they try vegan dishes for the first time. 

In the comments, let us know if you’ve ever hosted a vegan cookout and what’s your favorite vegan dish to bring to the cookout.

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