Jul 9, 2010

Authentic Smoked Seitan

In a former life I was a barbecue fanatic.  I dragged my vegetarian husband to shacks in the middle of nowhere – from North Carolina to Mississippi – just to eat barbecue.  He happily picked at his plate of fries while I quite literally pigged out.  (No wonder I married him.)

When health concerns led me to stop eating meat, I assumed that my barbecue days were over. But with my Authentic Smoked Seitan, I’ve finally found a reason to fire up my smoker.

I can hear you skeptics now.  Smoked wheat gluten?  Believe it, people. This stuff looks and tastes like Texas brisket – or as close as a vegetarian version can come, anyway.  With a nice crusty exterior, it’s even got the “burnt ends” of authentic barbecue. At a 4th of July party, the guests – including meat eaters – were practically clawing at each other to eat the seitan, even before it hit the table.

I used a dry rub, leaving out the salt because the seitan itself is quite salty.  For the sauce, I chose a traditional Lexington, NC vinegar sauce.  A South Carolina mustard-based sauce also works well here.  The recipe looks long and involved, but it’s actually quite simple.  And if you don’t have a real smoker, you can smoke right in a Weber grill.

Step 1:  Make Seitan

1 ½ cups vital wheat gluten*
¼ cup nutritional yeast flakes*
1 cup + 2 tablespoons. ice water
1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce or tamari
1 tablespoon ketchup
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons paprika
¼ teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon chili powder

Liquid for simmering:

10 cups extremely cold water
1/3 cups low-sodium soy sauce or tamari

Combine gluten and nutritional yeast in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together water, soy sauce, ketchup, garlic, lemon zest and spices.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and combine. Knead dough in the bowl for about 3 minutes until you have a spongy dough (this will look and feel like the most disgusting food ever). Excess liquid will accumulate in the bottom of the bowl, and that’s fine – just leave it in the bowl.  Let rest for a few minutes, then shape into a log about 7 or 8 inches long. Cut into 3 pieces.

Put the cold water and soy sauce in a large saucepan and gently put the pieces of dough in the liquid. Partially cover the pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for one hour, turning the pieces occasionally.  Let it cool for ten minutes, then remove the seitan. As soon as it’s cool enough to handle, squeeze out all the liquid you can, being careful not to break the hunks of seitan.  Wrap each piece in plastic wrap or place in a zip lock bag and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

* Vital wheat gluten and nutritional yeast are available at any health food store or markets like Whole Foods.

Step 2:  Rub and smoke

Dry rub:

3 T. paprika
1 T. black pepper
1 T. sugar
1 T. chili powder
2 t. garlic powder
2 t. onion powder
1 t. cayenne pepper
½ t. dry mustard powder

Start a fire in your smoker.  Soak wood chips (preferably hickory) for 45 minutes or more. Coat the seitan pieces in the dry rub mixture and put it on a grill basket or right on the grate. Throw some wood chips on the hot coals and close the  cover. Smoke for 1 ½ hours, adding more soaked wood chips occasionally.   If your smoker has a thermometer, keep the temperature at about 225.

Step 3:  Sauce and eat

Barbecue sauce:

1 c. water
1 c. cider vinegar
2/3 c. ketchup
1 T. sugar
½ t. red pepper flakes
½ t. freshly ground pepper
1 t. salt

Whisk the sauce ingredients together until sugar dissolves. Let the smoked seitan cool for 5 minutes, then slice, drizzle with sauce and serve plain or on buns.  (Note: It’s best served right after you smoke it – if you reheat it in an oven later, the edges will lose the crispiness.)

See more recipes: Entrees, Vegan


  • Pam

    This looks so awesome. We must fire up the smoker during our week in Maine.

  • Kim Flournoy

    I’m a vegan, and just stumbled across your site. These recipes look delicious! I’ve bookmarked pretty much all of them and am looking forward to trying them. Thanks so much!

  • Glad to have you! I’m not quite a vegan, but the vast majority of my recipes are. Hope you enjoy them.

  • Nicole

    OMG! Thank you Cathy. This was FANTASTIC!!!
    This was phenomenal. Thank you VERY much for sharing this recipe! You have a following!
    For those trying it for the first time:
    1- do all measurements exactly
    2-i’m not a bbq person and maybe it goes without saying but you have to cook the bbq sauce. I did not know that but I figured it out. Otherwise it’s water. I also added Kuzu root to thicken it.
    3-it’s a spicy recipe. If you want to tone it down, change it accordingly. (omit black pepper, cayenne etc).

  • Nicole – congratulations, I think you are the first person to actually make this recipe since I posted it! I had thought about cooking the sauce, but a lot of the recipes for Lexington, NC-style barbecue sauce are uncooked, so I was being a traditionalist I guess. It’s supposed to be super thin. However, I also made a cooked, mustard based sauce which was thick and delicious. You might want to try that next time. I used this recipe as a guide, but left out the butter. http://bbq.about.com/od/barbecuesaucerecipes/r/bl80905a.htm

  • Jose c.

    This is an awesome recipe! Since becoming vegan (I too was a BBQ eating machine, being from Texas) I’ve hardly touched my Weber. This is a perfect reason to bring out the mesquite chips once again. I have been grilling lime/chilli marinated though. Slicing them, and making tacos. I call them fakejitas!

  • Jose c.

    Sorry, meant lime/chilling marinated seitan :)

  • Oh, I was just going to ask what you meant :) Send me your recipe and I’ll give it a try!

  • Nicole

    Thanks for the info on the lexington sauce. I really had NO idea. I have never been that big into BBQ so, I was/am clueless. I am making another batch of the smoked seitan today and will try your mustard sauce. I can’t thank you enough for this. My spouse is a meat eating Texan so… this is a great middle ground.

  • nicole

    I tried to mustard sauce and it was great. Thanks!
    I will be trying my 3rd batch of your seitan tomorrow (sunday of labor day weekend).
    Will be forgoing the rub, still smoking it and trying a friends BBQ sauce from Kentucky.. Am looking forward to it.

    Have you ever eaten the seitan without smoking it?

    Thx again.

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    Hey Beach,
    I wish I were eating your friend’s BBQ sauce from Kentucky, I bet it’s great! I do eat the seitan without smoking it. Today I’m making setian kabobs with mushrooms, onions and peppers, and am just going to brush sauce on them as they quickly grill. I’m planning to do a lot more seitan recipes this fall, too – so stay tuned.

  • Jett

    Rub makes make way more than is necessary in my opinion. I only used 1/2 of it, more spicy than I wanted even then but not inedible (and I usually like spicy). I appreciated the crunchy pieces. The seitan flavor is just about right, but it’s was not quite as firm as I would have liked. Then again, I wanted it to have the tenderness of a slow cooked brisket, so may experiment a bit more. I’d be inclined to add tofu and/or peanut butter to the main gluten recipe. Perhaps I should have squeezed still more liquid out, though I thought I squeezed it a lot. The firmness after squeezing is pretty much what I got from the end product. I sort of expected it to loose some moisture, but it really didn’t. In the end, this is closer to the right feel for the gluten for barbecue than the typical commercial gluten out there, but not quite 100% yet.

    I cooked in the oven at 225, on a grate over a pan, no water, did a very light coating of liquid smoke (1 tsp total, rolled the gluten in it before the rub). Perhaps a real smoker changes the texture or effect of the rub.

    Thanks for posting-I’ll let you know if I get closer to what is perfect in my opinion on the next batch. Been veggie for over a year now. I got married at a barbecue joint, so this was appreciated.

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    Wow, thanks for the thoughtful comments on the seitan, Jett. I think the smoking really changed the texture (not to mention the flavor) a lot, so try that next time if you can. You can do it in a regular Weber grill with a cover, just put the coals off to the side (see the link in the recipe, with instructions). Let me know if you try again!

  • Jett

    Almost forgot-I used my own favorite BBQ sauce, after cooking. Stubbs Original. It has natural flavor, so may not be vegetarian, but no other obvious veggie killers. Texas barbecue tends to rely more on the flavors of meat alone, rather than rubs, so I may not be used to your style of barbecue. We do get crusts on the meat, however, so replicating this is important.

  • Una Carroll

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I want to begin by saying that I too loved all things smoked and barbecued before becoming a vegetarian. Though I did finally learn to smoke tofu, it was not the same as ribs. I do make the Susan’s Seitan Ribz alot, but I was never able to smoke seitan well. Your technique is perfect. Your timing is impeccable. I did not make the sauce, because I had just made a bunch of barbecue sauce so I used that. (However it is already on the Labor Day agenda) I do have to say that I hated the rub. After talking to my sister, I don’t think it was your recipe. I think I just dislike rub. But I rinsed it off and it was mighty fine. Mighty fine, indeed. (I may use just a spinkle next time, because it definitely added “something”.) As I write this, I am having a pulled “pork” sandwich with coleslaw, and potato salad. Finally I have fourth of July leftovers!!!! Not only did it smell good. It looked so good. The meat eaters in my family were gaga. Everybody was walking by asking “What kind of meat is that?” They all loved the flavor (both the rubbers and the rinsers.) Also the texture. Texture is my biggest seitan issue. I was so scared it would be to wet, and get spongy. I followed your directions to the letter, and it was fantastic. I left in the smoker a little longer because we ran out of smoke and had to restart. Did not dry out. It also reheats really well. YOU ARE A GENIUS! Thanks again.

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    Una, I’m so glad you liked the seitan! I didn’t think the rub was all that intense after the seitan cooked, but you’re right, maybe less would be better. I love hearing that the meat eaters were crazy about it, too.

  • Joe

    Ive Only been eating vegan for a couple months. Today I did a crock pot roast seitan and after pulling it out and shredding it a bit, I knew it would be great with BBQ sauce. After eating my sandwich I thought “this would be great on the smoker!”

    Google lead me here. I think this is going to be the key to not driving me stir crazy this summer. I’ve been an avid backyard cooker for years and was beside myself trying to figure out what I would be barbecuing! Can’t wait to try it out!

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    Joe, I’m so glad to have another barbecue fanatic on board. This recipe takes a bit of doing, but it’s totally worth it.

  • Seana

    OK, I was SOOOO impressed by this at your BBQ yesterday that I had to come check out the recipe. But I am somewhat daunted by the smoking procedure … don’t think I have a sophisticated enough grill. This makes me very sad, since this seitan was probably the best fake meat I’ve ever eaten, and damn fine BBQ in its own right. My only recourse: Cathy, will you make it and invite me over again?

  • Seana I did this on a small Weber yesterday! It helps to have a grate with a separator so you can put the coals on one side and the seitan on the other. But really, it wasn’t a fancy grill. However of course I will invite you over again :)

  • liza

    Thank you!!
    I cannot believe the lack of info on vegan smoking…. I really want to try and smoke some vegan sausages, but having searched and searched it seems that no one has done it! (or at least no one has bothered to tell uncle google!)
    This is actually the closest I can find to what I was looking for, although, I usually put rice and beans in my sausage recipe, along with wheat gluten, and I’m not sure if it will be ok to smoke the rice, as it’s a high risk food. I may have to change the ingredients a bit, but at least you have given me some ideas to get started.

  • I’m so happy to see your comment, Liza! Let me know how it comes out. I made this again recently and it struck me as a bit too salty, so I advise going a bit easy on the tamari, etc.

  • Matt

    I made this last night and thought it was great. A little background. Over the last few years, I had perfected the cooking of meats by various methods. I had built a sous vide cooker, and had actually built an electronically regulated ceramic smoker. I live near Lexington, NC, so pork BBQ is a religion around here. Since going to a plant based whole foods diet 9 months ago, my poor smoker has been sitting lonely. I had resigned myself to just nibbling on a few strands of BBQ once or twice a year at friends cookouts. I’ve been eyeing this recipe for months with high hopes. A couple of tips. For those wanting to try this. 1) Start with this recipe as written. It’s a solid foundation. After you do it once, then you know what you’re doing so you can make modifications 2) You can vary the texture of the end product by the amount of time you work the dough and built the gluten matrix. I started with a light knead and had a light and loose end product. It didn’t fall apart, but didn’t quite have the “meaty” tooth feel I was looking for. More like a sponge. Next time I’m going to work it a lot longer and try to build some longer strands of gluten. 3) I substituted smoked paprika in the dough. I wouldn’t recommend this. When I used to cook beef roasts sous vide, I found that the smoked paprika lended a bit of a sour flavor when cooked for a longer period of time. This time I ended up with the same flavor characteristic.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Shani

    About how many servings does this give you? Thinking of doing for memorial day cookout but didn’t know if I should double it. Thanks!

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