If they are being honest, one of the things many vegans miss is the good old British barbecue. Clearly anyone who has committed to a plant-based diet can’t indulge in the usual meat-based fare that a barbecue generally offers, but there are certainly plenty of alternatives that mean a vegan-friendly barbecue can be rewarding and delicious. Although there are lots of options for what to cook on a vegan barbecue, what about the vegan credentials of barbecue sauce?
Thankfully for those on a plant-based diet, there are already loads of very tasty vegan-friendly condiments out there and more get released all the time. When it comes to barbecue sauce, though, it’s impossible to be definitive and it is very much a case of checking the ingredients. In other words, as with many foods, drinks and products featured in the Is It Vegan? of our site, some are vegan and some are not.
Although that might not seem all that helpful, we hope some of the information coming up will be, including a rundown of what barbecue sauce is, and details of the vegan credentials (or otherwise) of the most popular barbecue sauces in the UK.
What Is Barbecue Sauce & What Is It Made From?
Barbecue sauce comes in many different guises and – like most sauces and condiments – there is no set recipe, even broadly speaking, to which all brands stick. In reality, the term ‘barbecue sauce’ can refer to a wide variety of sauces (and even relishes, in the eyes of some) with the common theme being that it tends to be a little spicier than your average ketchup, and as well as some kind of tomato or ketchup base and vinegar, barbecue sauces will usually contain various spices, and often some kind of sweetener such as sugar, molasses or even maple syrup.
Smoke flavourings are also often added to barbecue sauces; these are produced by obtaining smoke vapours (made by heating wood chips or sawdust from beech, oak or another wood) and dissolving the vapours in water, which can then be added to the sauce.
There are also plenty of geographical variations, with various versions from the southern states of the USA, including Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina and Kansas; there are also barbecue sauces originating from Caribbean and Korean cuisines, to name just a couple.
Barbecue sauce – as the name suggests – can be used simply as a sauce, perhaps to dollop over your favourite vegan-friendly sausages or burgers. It can usually be used as a marinade too, and though this would traditionally be as a marinade for meat, vegans can use it as a marinade for whatever vegetables they fancy, perhaps before they roast them over the barbecue as veggie kebabs.
What Could Stop Barbecue Sauce from Being Vegan?
Vegans should watch out for sauces that contain honey as a sweetener as honey is not vegan. This is often stated on the label (as with ‘Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey Barbecue Sauce’) as the inclusion of honey is seen as a selling point. Another non-vegan ingredient to watch out for is fish paste or sauce that is used to add an umami flavour, and saltiness, to sauces. Incidentally, one condiment that scuppers its vegan credentials by adding a fish-derived ingredient – in this case anchovies – is Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce.
To give an idea of the type of ingredients that pop up in your typical barbecue sauce, here are the ingredients of one of the top vegan-friendly barbecue sauces around, Dr Will’s.
Ingredients of Dr Will’s Barbecue Sauce
Tomatoes, Date Paste, Water, Tomato Paste, Red Peppers, Apple Vinegar, Onion, Naturally Smoked Water, Dijon Mustard (Water, Mustard Seeds, Spirit Vinegar, Salt), Spices, Garlic Puree, Smoked Powder (Hickory, Oakwood), Salt, Apples, Concentrate (Radish, Carrot)
While this example is based on a barbecue sauce brand that seeks to only include natural ingredients, it gives an idea of the variety of ingredients that often go into such sauces.
Which Barbecue Sauces Are Vegan (And Which Are Not)?
Vegans will be heartened to read that the vast majority of barbecue sauces available in the UK at present are indeed fine for vegans to consume.
BBQ Sauces Commonly Found in the UK
|Sauce||Notes||Is it Vegan?|
|Reggae Reggae Sauce||Put some music in your food with this exceptional vegan-friendly Caribbean barbecue sauce, invented by the inimitable Levi Roots (aka Keith Valentine Graham).||Yes|
|Red’s Kansas City BBQ Sauce||This mild, tangy Kansas-style barbecue sauce is one of the tastiest vegan options around.||Yes|
|HP Honey Barbecue Sauce||The clue is in the name here… you’ve guessed it, it contains honey!||No|
|HP Classic BBQ Sauce||While there are no obviously non-vegan ingredients present, retailers mark this as ‘suitable for vegetarians’ (rather than vegans) suggesting there’s something in the rather vague ‘flavourings’ that is derived from animals. That said, they may just be treading overly cautiously.||No (probably)|
|Dr Will’s Barbecue Sauce||This vegan-friendly sauce includes only natural ingredients and even uses date paste to sweeten it instead of sugar.||Yes|
|Stokes Original Barbecue Sauce||Contains honey and honey powder.||No|
|Heinz Classic Barbecue Sauce||As with the HP Classic above, most retailers mark this as vegetarian rather than vegan. Although with nothing obviously vegan among the ingredients, some people on a plant-based diet might be happy enough to get involved.||No (probably)|
|Heinz Sweet Barbecue Sauce||As above.||No (probably)|
|Tesco Smoky BBQ Sauce||Tesco’s good-value own-brand option is vegan friendly, although it contains a lot more sugar than some other alternative sauces (such as Dr Will’s).||Yes|
As you can see, while there are some sauces that are obviously vegan and some that obviously aren’t, there are a handful that don’t make it too clear either way. We’ve contacted the manufacturers in question for definitive answers on whether their ‘flavourings’ contain animal ingredients or not, and we’ll update this article when we hear back. In the meantime, though, we’d recommend going for one of the definitely vegan options, with Reggae Reggae and Dr Will’s out two preferred options.
Barbecue Sauce Conclusions
Usually when checking the ingredients of a food product it is easy enough to figure out if something is vegan or not. This is not always the case when it comes to barbecue sauce. Some of them are marked as ‘suitable for vegetarians’ while not making it clear what stops them also being ‘suitable for vegans’.
It is possible they refrain from labelling these products as vegan because they are produced in environments that handle non-vegan (but vegetarian) ingredients, such as honey. But the good news is, there are plenty of barbecue sauces that are certainly suitable for vegans, so stick to those and you can’t go far wrong.