Maple-Barbecue Tofu Sandwiches
Armed with a maple barbecue sauce and paired rub for dressing up ribs, I wanted to use those two things on a vegetarian-friendly dish as well. My latest go-to for achieving this is using smoked jackfruit, which, when seasoned, smoked, and sauced, makes for a great stand-in for pulled pork. I had already done that though earlier in The Meatwave season with smoked mojo jackfruit, so turned to my next most common option, tofu. I had made barbecue tofu once before, and to be totally honest, this recipe isn't all the different than the original, but this one is more purpose built around that maple barbecue sauce, using a distinct rub and coleslaw designed to all work together harmoniously.
The rub and sauce are both covered territory on this site since they first showed up in the recipe for the ribs. What's is unique here is the coleslaw, and when thinking about the best flavoring to work with a primarily sweet, maple-based sauce, I thought a contrasting sharp and tart profile was called for. To start that out, I opted to add Granny Smith apples into the coleslaw mix that also included the standard cabbage and carrot. All of these were seasoned heavily with salt and sugar to help extract moisture before being washed and dried, leaving a ideally crisp-tender seasoned base to start the slaw off on the right foot.
Then for the dressing, I doubled down on mustard with both regular Dijon and whole grain. To that I added vinegar, mayo, brown sugar, honey, and celery seeds to hit all the additional sweet and tangy notes I thought would pair well with the barbecue sauce.
Moving on to that sauce and rub, I won't go too in depth on those since you can read all the details and thought that went into them in the ribs post, but there's a couple things worth reiterating. First, this sauce was designed to be mainly sweet, but still deliver on a full barbecue complexity. That's why there's multiple sugars, which includes syrup used in amount that gives a hint of maple flavor without it being dominating.
Second is that the rub is also designed to be primarily sweet too and is more or less complimentary to the sauce. So there's isn't a lot of contrast or heat to be had here, instead the rub is meant to boost the flavor of the sauce even more, which is exactly how it worked on the ribs, so I made a good assumption it would do the same with the tofu.
And for that tofu, from my experience, it's best to choose the extra-firm variety for optimal performance on the grill. It's also helpful to place the sliced tofu between paper towels and press down gently to extract extra moisture because this will allow the exterior of the tofu brown more effectively when cooking. Wanting to make my tofu stretch further, I had cut mine into half-inch slices lengthwise, which got me six pieces per block, but if I were to make these again, I'd cut the tofu once widthwise and once lengthwise to create four pieces that better fill up a bun.
I used a two-step cooking process to get the tofu well browned while still having a good amount of moisture inside. This began over indirect heat, with all of the coals arranged on side of the charcoal grate, and cooking for about fifteen minutes, brushing on sauce a couple times during this period.
Next, the tofu was brushed one more time with sauce before being moved directly over the coals. This is where the slices picked up the most of their color when the sauce caramelized in spots here and there.
Once the tofu was all done, I transferred the slices to a plate and used the now empty grill to toast the buns. This is a step I advocate for over and over again because I feel like that over-processed, grocery store bread gets new life once it's all nice and toasty
The finally assembly consisted of one slice of tofu on each bun, topped with a helping of coleslaw and couple pieces of bread and butter pickles. While this recipe isn't all that different from my last barbecue tofu one, I felt these sandwiches definitely tasted more thought out. Starting with the barbecue tofu, which delivered a really delicious layered sweetness that was helped out when contrasted by the more sharp and tart pickles and slaw. The mustard flavor was really key here, proving to be a great match to the maple in the sauce. The slaw and pickles also lent a needed crunch, and I especially loved the whole grain mustard that added a nice textural element to the slaw. In a way, these sandwiches were actually more in tune to my preferences than those ribs that used the same sauce and rub because I'm attracted to things that have a sharpness and/or heat to them, and I got all that in this recipe, while the ribs really just delivered on the sweetness without the benefits you got with the entire sandwich here.
Maple-Barbecue Tofu Sandwiches
- Yield 8 servings
- Prep 1 Hour
- Cook 20 Minutes
- Total 1 Hour 20 Minutes
- For the Coleslaw
- 1/2 large head green cabbage (about 1 3/4 pounds), finely shredded on a mandoline or by hand
- 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and grated on the large holes of a box grater
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and grated on the large holes of a box grater
- 1/3 cup sugar, plus more to taste
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons whole grain Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/4 teaspoon celery seeds
- Freshly ground black pepper
- For the Barbecue Sauce
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup diced yellow onion (about 1/2 a medium onion)
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic (about1 medium clove)
- 3/4 cup ketchup
- 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 1/4 cup apple cider
- 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder
- For the Rub
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon turbinado sugar
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon mustard powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 14 oz packages extra-firm tofu, drained, rinsed, and cut into 4 1/2-inch thick slices
- 8 potato buns
- 16-24 slices bread and butter pickles
- To make the coleslaw: Combine cabbage, apples, and carrot in a large bowl. Add in the sugar and salt; toss to combine. Let stand 5 minutes. Transfer to a large colander and rinse thoroughly under cold running water. Transfer vegetables to a salad spinner and spin dry. Alternatively, transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet lined with a triple layer of paper towels or a clean kitchen towel and blot mixture dry with more towels. Return to large bowl.
- In a small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, vinegar, whole grain Dijon mustard, Dijon mustard, brown sugar, honey, and celery seeds.. Pour dressing over vegetables and toss to coat. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt, pepper, and/or sugar. Transfer coleslaw to an airtight container and store in refrigerator until ready to use.
- To make the sauce: Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and browned around the edges, about 7 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in ketchup, brown sugar, maple syrup, apple cider, vinegar, molasses, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt, black pepper, and chipotle powder. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until slightly thickened, 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Puree sauce with an immersion blender, or transfer sauce to the jar of a standard blender, and process until smooth. Transfer to an airtight container and store in refrigerator until ready to use.
- To make the rub: In a small bowl, mix together paprika, brown sugar, turbinado sugar, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, mustard powder, onion powder, chipotle powder, and cumin.
- Line a work surface or sheet pan with paper towels. Lay tofu slices in a single layer on paper towel and lay another layer of paper on top. Press gently on tofu to squeeze out excess moisture. Season tofu all over with barbecue rub.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place tofu on cool side of grill, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Flip tofu and brush with barbecue sauce; cover and cook for 5 minutes more. Flip tofu again and brush with barbecue sauce; cover grill and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Brush tofu with sauce all over and move to hot side of grill. Cook, flipping occasionally, until tofu develops grill marks and light charring on both sides, about 5 minutes more. Transfer tofu to a plate or cutting board.
- Place buns on hot side of grill and cook until lightly toasted, about 30 seconds. Transfer buns to plates, place 1 tofu slice in each bun and top with coleslaw and pickle slices. Serve immediately.