You don’t need to be a vegan to enjoy a cookout free of animal products.

Guacamole-filled grilled potatoes are delicious and easy to make. Emma Ambrosi / For the Duluth News Tribune

What better way to savor late summer than with a cookout? Fire up the grill, chill some drinks and invite friends and neighbors to join you. That’s exactly what I did recently when my brother Jeff was up for a visit from Indiana.

Jeff, by the way, has been a vegetarian for more than 30 years. Grilling menus tend to focus on meat, but my cookout spread would be entirely vegan. My guests knew this in advance, and everyone still came, had a good time and loved the food! Which brings up a point about vegan food: You don’t have to be a vegan to enjoy it.

Check out cookbooks like “Grilling Vegan Style” by John Schlimm, “VBQ: the Ultimate Vegan Barbecue” by Nadine Horn and Jorg Mayer, and “Great Vegan BBQ Without a Grill” by Linda and Alex Meyer — all available from the Duluth Public Library. They are packed with ideas for plant-based dishes that are “seared, skewered, and smoking hot!” as the cover of “VBQ” says. An online search for “vegan grilling” brings up enough sites and recipes to keep you at the grill until the snow flies, making food that will please plant-eaters and meat-eaters alike.

These are just a few of the vegan “meats” available for grilling. Emma Ambrosi / For the Duluth News Tribune

Meatless grilling and cookouts were the topic of conversation at a meeting of the Vegan Cookbook Club. Here are some tips from the group.

Tending the vegan grill: just heat through and get some nice sear marks — don’t overcook. Emma Ambrosi / For the Duluth News Tribune

Vegan Meats

With dozens of meatless “meats” on the market, including brats, Italian sausages, hot dogs, burgers and beefy or chicken-like chunks for skewers — it’s super simple to make a swap. Some products favored by Vegan Cookbook Club members include Tofurky beer brats and Italian sausages, Field Roast veggie dogs, Amy’s sonoma burgers, Hilary’s spicy Thai burgers, Beyond burgers, and Gardein ultimate beefless burgers, but there are many others. Try them and see what you and your family like. Remember that plant-based sausages and burgers are usually pre-cooked, so they should not stay on the grill for long, just enough to heat through and get some nice sear marks. (Read the labels — some “veggie” brands such as Morningstar use eggs as a binder and are not vegan.)

Veggies on the grill

Diversify your cookout by adding a bunch of veggies to the grill. Most vegetables, and even some fruits, are grill-friendly if you use the appropriate technique.

Directly on the grate: new potatoes (parboil them if desired for quicker grilling), carrots (can also be parboiled), zucchini halves, eggplant halves, portobello mushrooms, corn on the cob, large pineapple slices, large asparagus spears, large firm tomato halves.

On skewers or in a grill basket or foil: soft veggies such as onions, peppers, summer squash, mushrooms, pineapple chunks, Brussels sprouts, cherry tomatoes, bok choy halves, cauliflorets, broccoli florets.

For my backyard cookout, I grilled five different types of vegan franks and sausages, Gardein vegan burgers, carrot hot dogs and guacamole-filled potatoes. This last item was the only “fussy” dish, and it turned out to be easier than I expected.

On the side, I served radish roses (we had a lot of radishes in our garden this year) plus hummus tortilla pinwheels and watermelon mint salad, using recipes from the Vegan Cookbook Club.

So what are you waiting for? Plan a plant-based cookout! Amaze your friends and neighbors, build community, help save the planet, and have fun doing it!

Guacamole-filled Potatoes

These look and taste fancy but are surprisingly easy to make. If you prefer, you can substitute ready-made guacamole. Slightly adapted from “VBQ: the Ultimate Vegan Barbecue by Nadine Horn and Jorg Mayer “

Makes 12 potato halves

6 medium potatoes
1 avocado
1 red chile or jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
Juice of one lime
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil

Do ahead: Boil potatoes with skins on until tender — about 20 minutes — and let cool until safe to handle. Cut each potato in half and scoop out most but not all of the flesh, leaving the skins intact. Use a fork to combine the potato flesh with avocado flesh, chopped chile, lime juice and salt, cover and refrigerate. Put the avocado pits in the mixture to keep it from oxidizing.

When ready to grill: Grill the potato halves, cut side down, for 3-5 minutes until golden brown. Remove potatoes from grill, fill each one with guacamole mixture, and return them to the grill, filled side up, for another 3 minutes.

Carrot hot dogs on the grill. Emma Ambrosi / For the Duluth News Tribune

Carrot Hot Dogs

In my July 2017 column, I shared a recipe for Carrot Hot Dogs. That column generated more surprised positive comments than any other I have written. People who tried the carrot hot dogs loved them, and they were the hit of my backyard cookout. So, in case you missed it, here’s how to make hot dogs out of carrots. Put that on your grill and smoke it!

4 medium carrots, scrubbed or peeled, ends cut off

Marinade ingredients:

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons liquid smoke
1 teaspoon maple syrup

Do ahead: Simmer carrots in a pan of water until just fork tender, about 10 minutes. Drain the carrots. Combine marinade ingredients in a baking dish that will hold the carrots in a single layer. Add the drained carrots and turn to coat all sides. Cover and allow carrots to marinate in the fridge for at least two hours, or up to three days, turning the carrots occasionally.

When ready to grill: Remove carrots from marinade and heat on the grill or in a frying pan on the stovetop. Serve with the usual hot dog condiments: ketchup, mustard, pickle relish, sauerkraut.

Veggie Pinwheels

From Angel Johnson

Large whole wheat tortillas
Fresh spinach
Thinly-sliced bell peppers and zucchini
Shredded carrot

Spread each tortilla with a thick layer of hummus. Add vegetables, covering the surface evenly. Roll up the tortilla tightly and cut into thick slices.

Mint Watermelon Balls

From Sue Baker

Seedless watermelons are reputed to be less flavorful that the old-fashioned varieties with black seeds, and I have found this to be true, but seedless watermelons are so much more convenient that I sometimes buy them anyway. The following recipe is phenomenal with a really tasty watermelon, but it can also perk up a melon that is underwhelming, if you happen to get one.

Chopped fresh mint
Juice and zest of one lime

Scoop the watermelon into balls or cut into chunks. In a bowl, combine watermelon with chopped mint and lime juice and zest. Allow to rest for an hour to combine the flavors.

Did you know?

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Many people are inspired to go vegan after watching documentaries about industrial animal agriculture, its treatment of animals and its effect on the environment. Some of the most-watched are “Cowspiracy,” “What the Health,” “Food Inc.” and “Earthlings.” “What the Health” and “Food, Inc.” can be checked out from the Duluth Public Library and all are available through Netflix.

Bonnie Ambrosi lives in Duluth and is an organizer of The Vegan Cookbook Club which meets at 11:30 a.m. on the first Thursday of every month at Mount Royal Branch Library. Contact Ambrosi at

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