Korean barbecue tempeh is a quick and flavorful plant-based main dish inspired by the flavors of bulgogi. Ready in 30 minutes, it's perfect for weeknights and is also great tossed on the grill for your next cookout! Pair it with American-style BBQ sauce when you feel like switching things up.
This BBQ tempeh is vegan, easily made gluten-free, and uses pantry ingredients you probably already have on hand!
About Korean BBQ Tempeh
Tempeh can seem like an intimidating ingredient when you're new to plant-based eating. But easy recipes like this, with BIG and bold flavors, are the perfect way to learn to appreciate this amazing food!
You don't need any special equipment to make BBQ tempeh, unless you want to finish it on a grill pan (like I did) or an outdoor grill.
Grill marks do tend to make foods look more appetizing, don't they? And here it's a fun nod toward traditional Korean BBQ methods of cooking meat over a charcoal grill.
But a grill or grill pan aren't necessary! All you really need is a large saute pan, and you'll be digging into this tasty dish in no time.
I think you'll love BBQ tempeh because it's:
- tempeh - any brand of tempeh you like is fine; if you need gluten-free, make sure to choose a tempeh made with 100% soybeans and not one that includes grains.
- soy sauce - for gluten-free choose a certified GF tamari.
- maple syrup - or light brown sugar
- sriracha - gives the marinade a thicker, glaze-like consistency and adds delicious tang.
- ginger root and garlic - fresh is best for the most vibrant flavor.
- rice vinegar - either plain or seasoned rice vinegar are fine. I prefer plain rice vinegar and always keep a bottle on hand. "Seasoned" rice vinegar has sugar added.
- corn starch - thickens the sauce; sub arrowroot if desired.
See the recipe card below for quantities and the full recipe.
- Whisk together the sauce in a bowl and set aside. Cut each block of tempeh in half, and cut each of those pieces into 2 rectangles.
- Place the flat, cut-side of a rectangle on the board so the tempeh is standing up like a wall. Slice straight down through the center to create 2 thin rectangles. Repeat with the remaining tempeh. In total you'll end up with 16 thin rectangles from two packages of tempeh.
- Add about ½ inch water to a large saute pan. Arrange the tempeh strips in the water, overlapping a few if needed so they all fit. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 8 minutes. If there's much water left in the pan, cook uncovered for 1 to 2 minutes or until mostly evaporated.
- Add the sauce and gently toss with the tempeh. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the sauce has thickened.
Serve now or finish on a grill pan or outdoor grill.
Complete all of the steps of preparation through cooking the tempeh and sauce in a saute pan. This allows the sauce to thicken and the flavors to mingle.
If you're grilling soon, just set the tempeh aside until the grill is hot. Or if it's a few hours until party time, let the tempeh cool, place in a storage container, and refrigerate until you're ready to grill.
Once the grill is hot, place the BBQ tempeh directly on the grate and cook for 4 to 5 minutes per side or until you see grill marks on the underside.
To use a grill pan on the stovetop, preheat it over medium heat and spray with oil. Arrange the BBQ tempeh on the pan and cook for about 5 minutes per side, or until you have nice grill marks underneath.
Do I have to steam or simmer tempeh first?
Steaming or simmering tempeh is common because it reduces the naturally bitter flavor. I find it also changes the texture a bit, making it softer and somehow more appealing.
Korean BBQ sauce is flavorful enough that you don't have to steam the tempeh first, but honestly, it does make it better. And it's so easy to do since we're simmering it right in the same saute pan where we'll cook it in the sauce.
There are so many ways to enjoy this Korean BBQ tempeh it's hard to know where to begin! Here are some ideas:
- sandwiches and wraps
- in a bowl with rice and vegetables
- skewered and grilled
- as an appetizer with breads, crackers, and vegan cheese
- crumbled and piled on a bun with coleslaw
- on top of noodles
- and on top of a big green salad!
- tempeh substitutes - pair the Korean BBQ sauce with tofu, seitan, or jackfruit
- American-style BBQ - use your favorite bottled sauce or try this refined sugar-free homemade BBQ sauce
- extra spicy - if you taste the heated sauce and it isn't spicy enough, extra sriracha or other hot chili sauce is an easy way to increase the heat!
- gluten-free - be sure to choose 100% soybean tempeh (some have grains added) and use gluten-free tamari instead of soy sauce.
- oil-free - if you follow an oil-free diet, feel free to omit the sesame oil from the sauce.
How to Store Leftovers
Store leftover tempeh in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
I haven't tried freezing this yet because we always finish it over the course of two or three days! Tempeh is freezer-friendly, though, so there shouldn't be any issues if you'd like to freeze it for later.
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I hope you enjoy this flavorful Korean BBQ tempeh as much as we do! If you try the recipe be sure to leave a comment below and let us know.
Vegan Korean BBQ Tempeh
For the sauce:
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- 2 tablespoons water
- ⅓ cup soy sauce - or gluten-free tamari
- ¼ cup maple syrup - or light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sriracha or other spicy chili sauce
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger root - one large thumb-size piece
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 16 ounces tempeh - that's 2 standard size packages
- In a bowl, whisk together the corn starch and water until dissolved. Add the remaining sauce ingredients and set aside.
- I like to cut the tempeh into pieces that are easy to eat and also thin so there's plenty of surface area for the flavorful sauce to cling to. Refer to the process photos above if needed. Cut each rectangle of tempeh into 4 smaller rectangles. Then, to slice each one in half, place the flat, cut-side on the board so the tempeh is standing up like a wall. From the top slice straight down through the center to create 2 thin pieces. Repeat with the remaining tempeh. In total you'll end up with 16 thin rectangles.
- Add about ½ inch water to a large saute pan. Arrange the tempeh strips in the water, overlapping a few if needed so they all fit. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 8 minutes. If there's much water left in the pan, cook uncovered for 1 to 2 minutes so it evaporates.
- Add the sauce to the pan and gently toss with the tempeh so each piece is coated. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened.
- The tempeh can be served now, or finished on a grill pan or outdoor grill.
- Make sure the grill or grill pan is fully preheated, then cook for 3 to 5 minutes per side, or until you can see grill marks underneath. Serve hot.
Estimated Nutrition (per serving)
Nutrition information is an estimate and will vary depending on the exact amounts and specific products and ingredients used. We calculate this information using the online calculator cronometer.com.