The Ultimate Vegetarian Guide to American Barbecues

ByFrances Hannan

You’re on a beach with sand between your toes, and the sun is setting above an endless ocean. A grill sizzles. Tables stacked with food surround you. Chicken breasts glisten next to juicy sirloin steaks, and your fellow partygoers are already filling up their plates. Suddenly, you’re gripped by panic. This is one of those barbecues. There are no veggie patties in sight, and if you tell the host you don't eat meat, you're likely to be asked, “Well, what about a hot dog?”

Not to fear! Here are five tips to help vegetarians survive — and enjoy — Labor Day weekend.

1. Bring Rations.

There are two ways you can go about this. One is to have a clandestine snack in your bag, or even some veggie burgers that you can slide onto the grill. No one will notice, amid all the other food, and you’ll be glad you did. The other way to bring a vegetarian option is to prepare something to share with the group. I'd recommend going with an easy-to-make grain dish, like quinoa with kale and Parmesan. Just be sure you take enough for yourself before you share, especially if it’s the only veg-friendly dish there.

2. Master the Condiment and Topping Sandwich.

Most vegetarians will end up making one of these at some point. Where there are burgers and hot dogs, there will be buns. And probably tomatoes, and pickles, and mustard. If you’re lucky, there will even be cheese. I suggest grabbing a bun — toast it if you can — and using as many toppings as are available as sandwich filling. Then again, also I order lettuce, tomato, and pickle subs at Subway.

3. Don’t Ask Too Many Questions.

I avoid meat products as much as the next vegetarian, but I also know when to stop looking for evidence. For example, let’s say you find a crushed ramen noodle salad hidden away under a cloth, and mid bite, it occurs to you that the salad may contain remnants of the chicken stock-flavored powder the ramen was packaged with. Do not put your fork down. Do not ask the host. Just munch away. It could be your only chance to do so.

4. Head For the Desserts.

Unless you have a very eccentric host, the dessert trays are likely to be entirely meat free. So take a couple of cookies or a brownie to tide yourself over, and to soak up the Labor Day cocktails you are no doubt drinking.

5. Beat Them At Their Own Game.

Consider hosting your own barbecue, and proving that vegetarians deserve a place at the grill. Some suggestions: char-grilled vegetable kabobs with peppers, mushrooms, and squash, or some smoky bean and spinach sliders. If you’re feeling less creative, get your favorite veggie patties and put out some exciting toppings, like grilled onions and roasted red peppers. If you’re not morally opposed, you can even throw some hot dogs on the grill, because you’re ever the gracious host.