You’ve got a vegetarian or vegan coming to your barbecue. It happens, after all they’re about 3-5% of the population. You might see this as a major pain in the chef’s hat, or maybe as a culinary challenge. You might just see it as a direct challenge to the fact that you like to eat meat (unless you’re a vegetarian as well, in which case why are you reading this?) Because you want your veggie guests to have a good time and enjoy their food as much as anybody else, you need to know a bit about the subject.

Step One: Know What is a Vegetarian or Vegan?

The Vegetarian Society defines a vegetarian as: “Someone who lives on a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits with, or without, the use of dairy products and eggs. A vegetarian does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or by-products of slaughter.”

The Vegan Society defines a vegan as “someone who eats a plant-based diet, with nothing coming from animals” – so no meat, milk, eggs, cheese or even honey.

However… lots of people have their own personal definition, so just because you know they’re veggie or vegan doesn’t mean you know the specifics of what they can eat. The easy answer is to ask them; they’ll appreciate the thought. Some vegetarians will say “I don’t eat anything with a face” but as you can see the Vegetarian Society definition goes beyond this to include slaughter by-products, e.g. not all cheese is vegetarian (if it contains rennet, it isn’t), also there’s, whey powder, some food colourings, additives or products in alcohol.

Some vegetarians or vegans will offer to bring their own dishes to ensure their strict code is met, don’t be offended by this, just check out what else you can provide, for example they may bring their own burgers or kebabs and you provide the salads and desserts.

Step Two: Plan Ahead

Advance preparation is the key to any great barbecue but is doubly important when you’ve got a mix of meat-eaters and veggies. As well as checking with the vegetarians what to get in (for example, not all vegetarians like Quorn, tofu or substitutes like seitan, designed to feel and taste like meat) plan your quantities to take into account the fact that many carnivores are actually omnivores and will try the veggie options too. A lot of the standard barbecue side dishes are perfectly vegetarian and vegan: salads, jacket potatoes, corn on the cob; it’s all good. Likewise, the chances are that your desserts are all meat-free – just double-check the label for some of the additives.

Step Three: Separate Barbecues

If you grill the nice, freshly-prepared veggie burger or kebab right next to a big, fat juicy steak then a vegetarian or vegan won’t be able to eat it; which rather defeats the point. Make you sure have a separate grill for veggie food and also separate utensils.

Step Four: Cooking Times

Generally veggie barbecue food takes less time to cook than meat or fish. Vegetarian foods don’t generally need to be cooked to a certain temperature like meats do, but other than that the usual rules for avoiding contamination and food poisoning are the same.

What to Cook

Once you have found out what your guests prefer, your options are only limited by your imagination, and of course your barbecue skills. Whilst vegetarians and vegans will be used to enjoying salads and grilled vegetables, remember to cook something filling and hearty for too. If you decide to opt for pre-prepared veggie/vegan burgers check they have either: the Vegetarian Society, Vegan Society or supermarket’s “Veggie friendly” logo on them as appropriate (and don’t forget the vegetarian cheese; not for vegans, though).

Here are some more suggestions.

For vegetarians:

• Marinated halloumi cheese kebabs with Mediterranean vegetables

• Mexican baked tortilla

• Baked potato stuffed with melted cheese and/or refried beans

• Pizza or other breads with toppings (garlic bread with cheese, bruschetta, flatbread, etc.)

• Meat substitutes (veggie burgers, hot dogs, sausages, faux chicken cutlets, bean patties, fake bacon, etc.)

• Grilled eggplant stacks with portabello mushrooms and ricotta cheese

For vegans (all of these are vegetarian as well, obviously)

• Spiced sweet potato slices

• Warm avocado salad with roasted red pepper dressing

• Falafel or chickpea patties (homemade or shop-bought)

• Marinated, thickly sliced tofu (marinate at least one hour and use firm or extra-firm tofu only)

• Stuffed peppers, courgettes or tomatoes

• Spicy Quorn tortilla wrap

• Roast vegetables: sweet potato, potato, carrots, parsnip, mushrooms, aubergine, courgette, asparagus, corn