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Tips and techniques for tasty grilled tofu.

Steven Raichlen leads you veggie by veggie to the grill.

Plus, recipes for
Tangerine Teriyaki Tofu and Tofu on Stilts.

Cooking Class

Tofu On The Grill
by Steven Raichlen

Alright. I can hear the "yucks" already. The idea of grilled tofu may not make your typical American barbecue buff salivate. But for millions of Japanese, a cookout just wouldn't be complete without it. Grilled tofu is wildly popular in Japan, served at rough and tumble yakitori parlors, tranquil Zen teahouses, and even at highfalutin restaurants. The traditional "barbecue sauce" for grilled tofu is a creamy, sweet-salty miso sauce, but you can also order it with teriyaki sauce or even umeboshi (pickled plum) sauce.

So why would you want to grill tofu? For starters, it will be a hit with the 18 million or so vegetarians in North America. (There are three in my family alone.) Vegetarians always get short shrift at a barbecue and it's nice to have something specifically for them. It's also surprisingly tasty. Tofu acts like a sponge, soaking up the flavors in the marinade and the taste of the smoke and fire. Besides, soy foods are good for you (something you can't say about ribs or pork shoulders), having been shown to help the body fight everything from heart disease to cancer.

The first of the following recipes offer the yin yang of sweet and salty flavors typical of teriyaki, with an exotic fruity accent provided by fresh tangerine. The marinade does double duty, as you boil it down to make the sauce. The second recipe features the creamy sweetness of a traditional Japanese miso barbecue sauce.

So the next time you're looking for something different to grill, try tofu. Hundreds of millions of Japanese can't be wrong.

Choosing Your Tofu

Tofu comes soft, medium, firm, and extra-firm. You'll need firm or extra-firm for the following recipes. Soft tofu will fall apart on the grill.

Putting On The Squeeze

To further firm up the tofu, I like to press it under a weight to squeeze out some of the water. Place the tofu on a sloping cutting board in your sink. Place a skillet, platter, or other heavy weight on top of it. Press for 30 minutes. This makes the tofu firm and dry enough for grilling.


Double Up On Skewers

Even when pressed, tofu is quite fragile, so I use two skewers to skewer it. The Japanese have a colorful name for this—dengaku—"tofu on stilts." You could even use chopsticks for skewers.

Try Steven Raichlen's Recipes:

Tangerine Teriyaki Tofu
Dengaku—Tofu on Stilts

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  • Star anise is a star-shaped spice with a smoky, licoricey flavor. Look for it in Asian markets and gourmet shops. If tangerines aren't in season, substitute oranges.
  • Tofu can have a tendency to stick to the grill grate. Be sure to brush the hot grate with a stiff wire brush and oil it well before putting on the tofu. To oil the grate, dip a folded paper towel (fold it into a matchbook-size pad) in a small bowl of oil and run it over the bars of the grate, using long handled tongs to hold it.
  • If the exposed part of the bamboo skewers starts to burn, protect them with a sheet of folded foil.
  • Miso is a highly flavorful and nutritious paste made from mashed, cultured (fermented) soy beans. There are many varieties: the one most commonly used for barbecue sauce is white miso.
  • Mirin is a sweet Japanese rice wine. You can find it at Japanese markets and natural foods stores. Or use regular wine sweetened with a little sugar.
  • Dashi is a broth made with dried bonito flakes. You can buy packets of instant dashi at Japanese markets and natural foods stores. If unavailable, use vegetable stock.
  • Black sesame seeds look great and taste even better. Look for them at Asian markets, or use toasted regular sesame seeds. Grill slender vegetables, like asparagus and scallions, lay them side-by-side and skewer crosswise in two places. You'll wind up with what looks like a raft. This makes it easy to turn, say, 5 asparagus stalks at one time, and it keeps them from falling through the spaces between the bars of the grate.

About Steven Raichlen

Steven Raichlen is the author of 20 books, including the IACP/ Julia Child Award-winning Barbecue Bible and the new Barbecue Bible Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades (both published by Workman) and the High-Flavor, Low-Fat Cooking series, which won two James Beard Awards. He recently created a Barbecue University at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. You can reach him at his web site:

He has appeared numerous times on national television, including The Today Show and Good Morning America as well as CNN and The Discovery Channel. Raichlen lives in Coconut Grove, Florida, with his wife Barbara.



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