Friday, February 3, 2012

Memphis-Style Dry-Rub BBQ Tofu

Memphis BBQ (including BBQ tofu) is unique for a myriad of reasons; chief among them is the dry rub we apply before the stuff makes its way to the grill. The concept seems strange, but think of it as just a dry marinade. The dry rub punches up the flavor, and it also keeps the tofu from sticking to the grill grates.

Making a dry rub is easy -- and there's no real rhyme or reason to it. I've been told stories of people emptying the contents of their spice cabinet into a large jar to create their "signature" rub. My own spicy dry rub usually contains a few key ingredients in equal measure. I promise you that if you try it once, you will never BBQ without a dry rub again. Next thing you know, I reckon you'll be speaking in a mighty fine Southern accent, too. 

This is an easy recipe to make for a crowd. Just plan for one block of tofu to feed two people; you can adjust the recipe accordingly. This is wonderful and easy to eat served as a sandwich, but you can also thread 4-5 slices of tofu onto a few bamboo skewers and create fun-to-eat "ribs" that everyone will love.

BBQ Tofu Sandwiches
(serves 6-8)
1 tablespoon canola oil (to oil your grill grates)
2 blocks extra-firm tofu (drained and dried)
4 tablespoons dry rub (recipe follows)
1-2 cups BBQ sauce (my recipe follows or use a good-quality bottle of spicy sauce)
6-8 slices smoked gouda
6-8 whole wheat buns
Purple Cabbage Slaw (recipe follows)
sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)

Tofu can be tricky to grill because it stubbornly sticks to the grill. A well-oiled grill plus the dry rub will help keep the tofu intact. Cut each block into 8 equal pieces and lay them flat on a sheet pan. Generously sprinkle the dry rub, salt, and pepper over the tofu slices. Turn slices over and repeat. Turn your gas grill on high; allow it to preheat for 10-15 minutes. (This is imperative. If the grill is not hot, your tofu will stick.) 

Using a folded paper towel and tongs, oil the grill grates just before placing the tofu on the grill. Place the tofu on the grill and leave it alone for 4 minutes. Turn the tofu using your tongs, and allow it to cook another 4 minutes. Remove tofu from the direct heat and onto the upper rack of your grill, which you have lined with foil. Reduce the heat to medium. Using a basting brush, brush both sides of tofu with BBQ sauce. Add sauce every 10 minutes of so until you're ready to serve. The longer you leave it on the grill, the more of a crunchy crust it will have. 
Assemble the sandwiches by placing two (or three or four) tofu squares on a bun along with a slice of smoked gouda cheese. Top that with some purple cabbage slaw.

Memphis-Style Dry Rub
Measure 1 teaspoon each of chipotle powder, sweet paprika, smoked paprika, garlic powder, salt, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, brown sugar, and oregano; place all ingredients into a small container with a lid. 

Chipotle BBQ Sauce

(This is a bold, spicy, smoky BBQ sauce when you taste it on its own, but it evens out and is perfect when applied to tofu or mushrooms.)

1 tablespoon butter
2 cups chopped onion ( about 1 medium one)
1/4 cup chopped garlic (about 6 cloves)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons Jack Daniel's whiskey
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
3-4 ounces chipotle peppers from a can (about 1/2 can)
1/2 cup water
1  24-ounce bottle of organic ketchup
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon vegetarian Worcestershire
1 tablespoon mustard
6-8 dashes liquid smoke

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter and start to sweat the onion and garlic. Using a wooden spoon, keep the mixture moving so as to not burn the garlic. Once the onion is translucent, add the garlic powder, thyme, and black pepper. Deglaze the pan with the Jack Daniel's, and cook until all liquid has evaporated. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the brown sugar, vinegar, chipotle peppers, water, ketchup, soy sauce, Worcestershire, mustard, and liquid smoke. Simmer uncovered for an hour; stir occasionally to keep from scorching. (This will make about six cups of BBQ sauce. You will only need one cup for this recipes, but this recipe freezes well.)

Purple Cabbage Slaw
1 head of red cabbage (about 4 cups, finely shredded)
2 carrots (grated)
3 scallions (sliced)
1/2 lemon (juiced)
1/4 cup mayo
1 tablespoon of olive oil
squeeze of honey
sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. If you like it a little sour, add more lemon. If you like it sweet, add more honey.


  1. Awesome! Be warned the BBQ sauce is HOTTT when you first make it, but for some reason it calms down, so if you like it mild back off of the chipotle peppers.

  2. OK I made this. First, I rarely cook tofu, and when I do I am pretty terrified about how I might ruin it. I did use a cast iron grill pan vs an outdoor grill for this. It is imperative to leave it alone for that 4 minutes, no doubt! I had a casualty. The rub worked really well, added great flavor, and it was an easy way to get the tofu where I wanted it, texturally speaking. Hands down my favorite thing was the BBQ sauce. It took more water than I thought as it cooked down - i did not add all of the water in the beginning, and instead added as it cooked out. I dont know if I did something wrong, but after blending, my sauce had a consistency more like baby food than smooth, liquidy sauce. Regardless, it was very good. Overall, prepared as instruced and paired with good quality cheese & bread, this made an incredible sandwich. The leftover tofu and slaw made a good choopped salad the next day, too. * re: the slaw - I liked the more-tart, less-sweet (didn't add additional honey) as I think the tart really compliments the smoky heat in the BBQ sauce. It was so good.

  3. Great. I'll add the note about the sauce. "an incredible sandwich" I love that!!!