Expert Recipe: The Best Grilled Tofu Recipe

Published on 06/07/2023 · 8 min readGrilling isn't just for meat eaters! Elevate your grilling game with our Kitchen Expert Leo Cocchiara's perfectly crafted grilled tofu recipe.
Leo Cocchiara, Kitchen Expert
By Kitchen Expert Leo Cocchiara

Photo by Arina P. Habich

1. Stats

  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cooking Time: 20 minutes
  • Serving Size: 2-3
  • Featured Gear: A sharp chef or Santoku knife, basting brush, stockpot or enameled cast iron Dutch oven, sheet pan with drip rack, and grill.

2. Introduction to Grilled Tofu

Dish

Grilled Tofu is an incredibly easy, healthy, and delicious way to enjoy tofu and incorporate a vegetarian protein into your backyard barbecues! Whether you’re experienced with the protein or just trying it for the first time, it’s easy to prep for the grill, customize it to your taste, and serve your diners an attractive plate.

In this recipe, I prepare the tofu using a technique called reverse osmosis, aka boiling it in salty water. No need to press, no wet paper towels, just an easy way to get the inside of the tofu flavorful and the texture nice and toothsome! I used a homemade marinade on mine, but you can also use simple BBQ sauce for a delicious BBQ tofu.

This preparation is great for pairing simple veggies and side dishes, like asparagus, corn on the cob, rice, salad, macaroni, and just about any dish you can think of instead of an animal protein. For example, I pair mine with veggie skewers featuring mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, zucchini, and summer squash.

Personal

We have a lot of vegans and vegetarians in our family and friend group, and one thing that has always been hard for them is getting through the summer barbecues on just side dishes and watermelon. The vegans need protein too! This recipe is a hit every time, and even meat lovers can't help but try a tofu slice on their plate!

3. What You’ll Need

  1. Stockpot or enamel cast iron pot: I use my Lodge Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven. I like my Dutch oven because the rounded bottom makes it easy to scoop out the tofu without breaking it. Ensure it’s enameled because raw cast iron is not good for boiling.
  2. Santoku or chef’s knife: You’ll want a sharp knife to make clean cuts without tearing the tofu. For this recipe, I used my Shun Premier Santoku knife.
  3. Basting brush: I like silicone brushes for marinades because they allow me to easily coat and recoat the tofu as it’s grilling without the brush soaking it all up.
  4. Small bowl for your marinade: A bowl is a convenient vessel to mix your marinade in and baste from. In this recipe, I prefer to baste my tofu with a brush rather than shaking it in a bag. Tofu is a delicate protein, and shaking it can cause it to break. Another option is to boil the tofu and let it rest in the marinade in the fridge overnight to allow it to soak up the flavor. Still, this method requires double the marinade amount to cover the protein effectively.
  5. Grill: Grilling your tofu can enhance this dish by giving it a smoky flavor and attractive grill lines! As you will see, I use a gas grill, but you can cook it on a charcoal grill.
  6. Baking sheet with a cooling rack: If you don’t have access to a grill, this recipe can be made in the oven using a baking sheet and cooling rack. Using a baking sheet and a cooling rack in the oven allows hot air to circulate around the entire piece of tofu, giving it a nice cook on both sides, similar to how it’s heated on the grill. A baking sheet and cooling rack make it easy to marinate and carry the tofu before and after cooking without transferring your marinade off the protein. Lastly, it's also great for cooking your tofu in the oven instead of on the grill.

4. Ingredients

  • 1 Extra-Firm Tofu
  • 4C water
  • 1T of salt

Marinade ingredients:

  • 1T maple syrup
  • 1T olive oil
  • 2 minced garlic cloves or 1T garlic powder
  • 1/2 lime or lemon or 2T of lime juice or lemon juice
  • 1/4C soy sauce or liquid aminos for extra nutrients
  • 1tsp red pepper flakes or sriracha sauce (spice to taste)

5. Directions

A bowl of marinade. Photo by Tania Melnyczuk

Step 1: Prepare Your Marinade

Mix your maple syrup, olive oil, garlic, lime juice, soy sauce, and pepper flakes in a small bowl. Feel free to adjust the proportions to taste. We’re going for a sweet, salty, spicy, and tangy balance!

Step 2: Cut and Boil the Tofu

Tablespoon of salt. Photo by Jason Tuinstra

Instead of pressing the tofu, we’re going to use a process called reverse osmosis. Reverse osmosis is when we boil the tofu in salty water to draw out the bland water in which the tofu is packaged and replace it with that saltier water. This creates a desirable texture and imbibes the tofu with flavor.

For cutting your tofu into portions, use a sharp knife bigger than the tofu block for clean, smooth cuts. I use my Shun Premier Santoku knife for this recipe for precise cuts.

The Shun Premier 7” Santoku Knife. Photo by Leo Cocchiara

Cut your tofu block in half from the side as if you had a sandwich and were running the knife between the two pieces of bread. This should leave you with two pieces of tofu the same size as the original block, just thinner. Then cut your two pieces into thirds, giving you six total rectangles.

Cutting tofu. Photo by Leo Cocchiara

In your stock pot or enameled cast iron, bring the 4 cups water and 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil, gently drop in the tofu, and boil for five minutes. As noted earlier, this process is called reverse osmosis. It displaces the normally bland water that tofu is packaged in and replaces it with salty water, giving it a pleasant umami flavor and texture that will hold its shape better for grilling. Once the tofu has boiled for five minutes, gently scoop it out of the pot using a slotted spoon or spatula and place it on the cooling rack on the baking tray.

Step 3: Grill That Tofu!

Tofu, boiled and ready for the grill. Photo by Leo Cocchiara

Preheat your grill and make sure your grill grates are clean and well seasoned. I typically shoot for 450°F on mine, but not all grills are identical. We’re going for a medium-high heat to give you some attractive grill lines. Also, a clean, hot, seasoned grate will help keep the tofu from sticking. While waiting for the grill to preheat, generously brush the marinade on the top and sides of the tofu.

Tofu and veggies skewers prepped and ready to grill. Photo by Leo Cocchiara

Once the grill is heated, place the tofu marinade side down on the grill and then go ahead and marinate the other side until fully coated. Close the grill and cook for 5-7 minutes or until nice grill marks line the tofu.

Tofu and veggie skewers on the grill. Photo by Leo Cocchiara

Once you are satisfied with the color and texture, carefully flip the tofu and repeat the cooking time. Feel free to brush some extra marinade on there. When satisfied with the color and texture on the other side, remove from the grill and back onto the cooling rack until ready to serve. Serve with your favorite side dish, and enjoy!

6. Tips & Substitutions

  • Instead of making your marinade, use prepackaged options, BBQ sauce, or other favorites for basting. Tofu is versatile to various flavors, so you tailor it to your taste. Say you want to do more of an Asian flavor profile in your marinade. Substitute the olive oil for sesame oil.
  • When doubling the recipe, avoid over-salting your water while boiling the tofu. You can always add more sodium to the marinade, but it's hard to correct if you over-salt the water when boiling.
  • Tofu can be fragile to handle. Use a light touch when transferring from the pot and the grill to help keep the shape intact. This method works best with thicker slices of tofu.
  • Tofu comes in different levels of firmness. The more firm, the more protein it has. Make sure to use an extra firm or super protein variety of tofu for this recipe. A soft or silken tofu will crumble.
  • You can use this method of preparing and flavoring tofu for cooking in the oven! Using the same baking sheet and cooling rack to bake at 425°F for 15 minutes is a great way to achieve similar results, with minimal fat and a great flavor!

7. Final Thoughts on My Grilled Tofu Recipe

My recipe is an easy way to develop lots of flavor with the minimal technique required! It’s an inclusive protein for the vegan and vegetarians in your life, without adding a lot of extra steps to your backyard barbecues, and it’s a great segway into diversifying your proteins outside of meat. Plus, this is an ideal prep method for meal-prepping large quantities, with low fat, and is easy to track macros on, making it great for calorie-counting people.

Many people are turned off or intimidated by tofu simply because they’re not sure how to prepare it in a way that brings out its best qualities. Grilling is an effective method to give tofu a great texture and enhance flavor without adding a lot of fat, so again, it’s perfect for those looking to save on calories!

While this recipe can be executed even in the most basic kitchens, having the right tools for the job will always make learning a new skill much easier and more exciting to master. So, if you want to try this, learn more plant-based protein recipes, and ensure you have the tools for the job, chat with me or one of my fellow Kitchen Experts here on Curated, and we’ll set you up for success!

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