Barbecue Jackfruit – Vegetarian Pulled Pork

My hometown (and home for most of my life) is the barbecue capital of the world (warning: dead pig). Despite the fact that I haven’t actually dined on swine in nearly 15 years, I still consider myself an expert. It just comes from growing up in Memphis. Though I wasn’t much of a fan of meat even as a kid, I always liked barbecue. Perfectly moist, smoky (but not too smoky) and with a bit of char.

I gave up barbecue—where I come from, barbecue is pulled pork—when I gave up all the other critters, though I admit that I still love the smell that wafts from restaurants as I drive by. Really, it’s the fire and the charcoal, not the meat that I smell. But recently, I was able to add barbecue back to my plate thanks to the discovery of young green jackfruit in brine.

Make sure you get "young green jackfruit in brine" NOT "jackfruit in syrup."
Make sure you get "young green jackfruit in brine" NOT "jackfruit in syrup."

Apparently, some folks have known about this “vegetable meat” for quite some time, but it was only brought to my attention last year when Riffs Fine Street Food blew my mind with their vegetarian version of Korean barbecue tacos. I had to ask several times if it was really vegetarian. The texture was so close to what I remembered. It is bizarre. But it’s important to note that it has to be “young green jackfruit in brine.” Do not mistakenly get jackfruit in syrup (which is easier to find in the Asian/international groceries; in Nashville, I've had the best luck finding the jackfruit in brine at Interasian).

My buddies at Riffs showed me how to make the Korean style barbecue, but you can also make it with your favorite homemade or storebought barbecue sauce. If you want to add some Korean flavor, the key is sagyejeol ssamjang, a thick seasoned soybean paste (in the green box). Otherwise, just use your favorite barbecue sauce. I like to add a little honey to the sauce we have to a) make it sweeter and b) help it to be sticky and get a better char when it cooks. But it’s not necessary.

The real trick, though is getting the texture right. That’s why there is a second step to this process—baking it in the oven. You don’t have to do it to eat the barbeuce, but the texture is not going to be quite right. If you follow the recipe, it will be easy to fool even the pickiest barbecue aficianado into thinking they’re eating real pork. (Maybe.)

More great news: the young jackfruit is is low-calorie and and low fat. Unfortunately, it is also (according to the label) low protein. So this is definitely more of a treat than the base of a nutritious meal. Much like pork barbecue.

Special note: be sure to check the label on any barbecue sauce you use; many contain Worcestershire sauce and/or other non-vegetarian ingredients.

Look at that char!
Look at that char!

Barbecue Jackfruit - Vegetarian Pulled Pork
serves 2-4

1 20 ounce can young green jackfruit in brine
½ cup barbecue sauce
¼ cup honey or maple syrup (optional)

Drain the water from the can and rinse and drain the jackfruit in a large collander several times (see comments; this is very important). Squeeze each piece to remove as much water as possible. Transfer the bowl to a clean workspace or mat and pull apart all the pieces into shreds, removing and disposing of the seeds  (they look like beige, flat grapes).

Place the jackfruit in a large skillet over medium heat and cook out more of the water. After about 10 minutes or so, mix in the sauce (add more to taste or add more after it’s cooked) and honey/syrup (if using). Stir occasionally and simmer for about another 10 minutes or so.

Then place the jackfruit on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 350F for 20-30 minutes or until you see some char on the tips. Check it to make sure it’s as dry as you prefer and cook longer, if necessary.

Serve on your favorite bun, slider, taco, topped with slaw…however you’d eat pulled pork!



15 thoughts on “Barbecue Jackfruit – Vegetarian Pulled Pork

  1. i remember your reaction when trying this for the first time, and i'll admit - it's a meaty non-meat. maybe i'll make it & see if my carnivorous husband is fooled. i wonder if jackfruit sloppy joes are possible? because that would be fantastic.

  2. This is so intriguing! I've heard of jackfruit, but had no idea the texture was so meat-like. Even the pic looks like pulled pork. Nifty! I wonder, is the meat-like texture off-putting to certain vegetarians? When I was a vegetarian, I ate some chik'n nuggets that were actually *so* much like chicken that I didn't like them. Now, I think they're great, but at the time they were too meat-ish for me. I'm rambling, but you get my point!

    1. Post author

      That's a good question. Personally, I'm only put off by the veg*n "meats" that are too much like meat I didn't like to begin with. For example, even when I ate meat, I hated the texture of sausage and ground beef (including most hamburgers). So veg*n burgers that are too much like ground beef really gross me out. But this stuff, not dogs and a few others don't bother me at all.

  3. abbey

    Did you only rinse it once from the can? The first time I didn't get the brine off enough and, whew, vinegar! The sauce just couldn't mask it. I need to try it again but I will probably rinse and drain it multiple times.

    1. Post author

      No, I definitely rinsed and rinsed and rinsed. I'll make a change to the directions to make that more clear--thank you!

  4. So very intrigued by this. Familiar with jackfruit from growing up in Hong Kong, but can't remember ever having eaten it! Will probably keep an eye out for Riffs' or the sliders from Stone Fox to give 'em a go before I try them at home. I'm amazed by truly how meat-y they look in the photo!

  5. OH YUM!! I can't believe it's so easy. I was never a big BBQ fan either growing up, but I love BBQ sauce. The tip on baking it is something I'd never think of. I may have to actually try this! Thanks for posting!

  6. Wow! This is so amazing to me. As a severe BBQ lover, especially the BBQ from your hometown, I'm so intrigued by this dish. It looks amazing and amazingly like meat!! I'd totally try this!

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  8. Would u be able to buy big chunk and let in vineger for a day or so then cook it as u say also put into oven ,when cooked ,freeze some?

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