Smoked Barbecue Jackfruit
I'm now enjoying my fifth summer here in Durham, which also marks the amount of time I've been more consciously cooking vegetarian recipes at The Meatwave. That fateful move had a rather unexpected outcome of my meatless constituency rising dramatically, and I've become a lot more adept at vegetarian grilling since then. I've realized recently that in doing that, I've fallen into a predicable pattern of picking up some extra-firm tofu and just marinading it in whatever sauce I already have going for other meat dishes. This has undoubtedly resulted in some rather tasty concoctions, and also allows my vegetarian guests have an experience similar to the meat-eaters, but it's also kind of left me in a rut where I'm not considering all the possibilities out there to make things more unique and even more delicious. So when I was planning my large Carne-val celebration this year, where pulled pork is often on the menu, I didn't go straight for the tofu (which I've done before) and instead looked to smoked and pulled jackfruit to deliver up a great barbecue experience that every Meatwaver could enjoy.
While vegetarian recipe development has become a thing for me, vegan cooking is still not something I've really tackled or thought much about. When compiling this recipe though, I realized that if I had omitted the mayonnaise from this mostly vinegar-based slaw, the entire thing would have been vegan as well. So with one minor modification—and that mayo is not critical at all—this could be an even more universally enjoyable recipe that makes no compromises.
I had never cooked jackfruit before, and when researching recipes, I didn't really see any that treated pulled jackfruit like true barbecue. Most just put jackfruit and barbecue sauce in a pan together, simmered, and pulled, but to me, you're loosing a lot of barbecue equation there and selling the dish short. For one, why not deliver the one-two punch of a sauce and rub. So I began mine off with my standard pork rub I use for butts and ribs.
Then I made a barbecue sauce, using a simple, yet effective recipe I developed a couple years ago. Chipotles in adobo are really the powerhouse in this sauce, giving the sweet ketchup base a strong spicy and smoky contrast without needing as many ingredients as I normally put into a sauce. I had originally used Worcestershire in my recipe to provide the savory undertones, but since Worcestershire includes fish, I subbed out soy sauce, which did the job nicely.
Now on to the jackfruit, and from what I can tell, you're going to want to make your life easy and buy this stuff canned if cooking it en-mass. My local Asian grocery has an entire wall of canned jackfruit and I picked the young jackfruit packed in water so I'd be starting out with the most natural flavor possible, considering it was canned. The other options were jackfruit packed in brine—which I assume would just add some extra saltiness to the party—and packed in syrup, which sounds like it would be better suited for sweet over savory applications, but I haven't tried it, so can't really say for sure.
After draining and rinsing the jackfruit, I tried drying it lightly with a paper towel, but some pieces started to fall apart, so ended up abandoning that effort part way through. I then seasoned it liberally with the barbecue rub and took it out to the smoker that I have running at 225°F.
I split my cooking up into three stages. The first stage was to impart some smokiness in the fruit by smoking it. I worried how much smoke the fruit would absorb, and overly smoky isn't a good thing. This lead me to use apple wood, which imparts a light, almost sweet flavor. I let the jackfruit smoke first for thirty minutes so it would pick up a decent amount of smoke.
Once done, I transferred the fruit to a foil tray and added in the barbecue sauce and apple juice to thin it out. I then covered the tray and put it back in the smoker for another thirty minutes. This stage is the only part that most barbecue jackfruit recipes include—a braise to tenderize and cook the fruit so it can easily be shredded.
After the fruit was nice and tender, I removed the foil top from the tray and let it continue to smoke until the sauce thickened slightly. I do this with ribs and burnt ends, so why not with jackfruit? I figured it could only make things even more delicious.
It took about 20 minutes of extra cooking for the sauce to thicken up a bit, at which time I removed the tray and let it rest for about five minutes so it wouldn't be overly hot when trying to shred it. I then took two forks and pulled the fruit apart, and by the time I was done, unless you had your face right in the tray, you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between this pulled jackfruit and pulled pork from the looks alone.
I was pretty astounded by the flavor and texture too—it not only looked like the usual pulled barbecue, it tasted like it too. Yeah, yeah, it wasn't meaty in the classic sense of the word, but it did have so much of what makes barbecue so great. The fruit was tender and hearty with an excellent light smokiness and all the barbecue sauce and rub complexity you want out of something coming out of a smoker. When piled into a bun with slaw, it made for one very fulfilling sandwich that I imagine almost all folks could get behind—whether vegetarian or not. Now that I've found how great jackfruit is as a meat stand-in, I probably now run the risk of relying on it too heavily like I have with tofu, but I guess as long as I'm churning out delicious eats, is that really a bad thing?
Smoked Barbecue Jackfruit
- Yield 16 servings
- Prep 45 Minutes
- Cook 1 Hour 15 Minutes
- Total 2 Hours
- For the Coleslaw
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
- 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large head green cabbage (about 3 1/2 pounds), finely shredded on a mandoline or by hand and chopped fine
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and finely grated
- 1/3 cup kosher salt
- For the Rub
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup turbinado sugar
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon celery salt
- 2 teaspoons granulated garlic
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 2 teaspoons mustard powder
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- For the Sauce
- 2 cups ketchup
- 2/3 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons of barbecue rub
- 2 tablespoons yellow mustard
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon chopped chipotles in adobo
- 1 tablespoon adobo sauce from can of chipotles in adobo
- 4 20oz cans jackfruit in water, drained and rinsed
- 2 fist-sized chunks of medium smoking wood, such as apple or cherry
- 3/4 cup apple juice
- 16 potato rolls
- To make the slaw: Whisk together vinegar, 1/3 cup sugar, vinegar, mayonnaise, celery seeds, and black pepper in small bowl. Set aside. Place cabbage and carrot in a large bowl, sprinkle with remaining 2/3 cup sugar and salt, and toss to combine. Let stand five minutes, then transfer to a large colander and rinse thoroughly under cold running water. Transfer cabbage 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. Pour dressing over cabbage and toss to coat. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt, pepper, and/or sugar. Transfer to an airtight container and store in refrigerator until ready to use.
- To make the rub: In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, salt, paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne pepper. Set aside.
- To make the sauce: In a small saucepan set over medium-high heat, whisk together ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar, molasses, soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of the barbecue rub, yellow mustard, lemon juice, chopped chipotles, and adobo sauce. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Place jackfruit in a large bowl and season liberally with barbecue rub, tossing to coat jackfruit evenly. Fire up a smoker or grill to 225°F, adding chunks of smoking wood when at temperature. When the wood is ignited and producing smoke, transfer jackfruit to smoker, cover, and smoke for 20-30 minutes.
- Transfer jackfruit to a foil tray and add in barbecue sauce and apple juice. Toss to coat. Cover tray with foil, place in smoker, and cook for 30 minutes more. Remove foil from tray and gently toss jackfruit. Cover smoker and continue to cook until sauce thickens slightly, about 15 minutes. Remove tray from smoker and let cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Using two forks, shred jackfruit. Pile jackfruit into buns and top with coleslaw. Serve immediately.