How to Make BBQ Jackfruit Sandwiches

Tabitha Brown says make sure you add extra garlic powder, because that’s your business.

I remember my grandmother telling me that the best meals aren’t made by following recipes and the only measuring cups you need are your eyes and your gut instinct. I’ve applied this cooking technique to many dishes since then and have seldom been disappointed.

But recently, I have found myself craving meat dishes less and begun seeking out ways to make my plant- and fruit-based meals taste just as savory without having to follow 40-step recipes.

I discovered the key way to making meatless meals actually taste good is by using the cousin of the beloved fig: jackfruit. This low-cal and low-sodium tropical fruit is magical in its own right, as when you cook it out on the stove, it looks just like pulled chicken or pork. And tastes like it too if you use the right blend of seasonings and sauces. 

While you can make a variety of things with jackfruit, including “burgers,” “ribs,” and even curry, I wanted to attempt to recreate a dish that seemed fool-proof for my limited skills with it. 

“The thing about jackfruit is that you have to cook it a certain way to make sure that it’s pleasing to the pallet.”

I knew I had to enlist the help of well known TikTok star, actress, and everyone’s favorite vegan, Tabitha Brown. I initially discovered that I could use jackfruit to create faux BBQ sandwiches through one of Brown’s tutorials on her Instagram page and I was intrigued and amazed at how easy the process was.

Over a laughter-filled Zoom call, Brown walked me through how she makes her jackfruit BBQ sandwiches, while also plugging in some of her favorite seasonings made by small businesses around the country that I quickly jotted down for future reference. Because that’s my business.

Ingredients for a BBQ jackfruit sandwich

The first step in making a successful jackfruit BBQ sandwich is of course getting your hands on the right type of jackfruit. The last thing you want is to take home a giant green fruit and break your hands trying to open it (been there, almost did that).

“The thing about jackfruit is that you have to cook it a certain way to make sure that it’s pleasing to the pallet, child, because the first time I had jackfruit, it was terrible because it wasn’t cooked properly,” Brown told me.

As opposed to the pre-cooked packaged jackfruit or a whole unsliced jackfruit, Brown said to get canned jackfruit from Trader Joe’s or your local Asian market. Make sure it’s canned young green jackfruit in water, not brine.

The only other goodies you’ll need specifically to make your jackfruit are the seasonings to throw in your skillet. Brown uses grape seed oil, garlic powder, salt-free spice, vinegar, maple syrup, coconut aminos and barbecue sauce, so to not deter away from her expertise, I grabbed the same things from my local supermarket.

If you’re looking to support small businesses however and have some time to wait for shipping, some of the salt-free seasoning companies Brown uses include Cooking With Green and LadyVCollections.

Since the point of a jackfruit BBQ sandwich is to make it look and taste as close to the real thing as possible, the right thing to do it is also make some coleslaw to top it with.

“I love a quick coleslaw. Get some shredded cabbage or if you want it more traditional, something with shredded cabbage and shredded carrots,” Brown said. “You can buy the bag that already comes with both of them shredded if you want to, because that’s your business.”

And to wrap up all the jackfruit goodness, you can choose either a regular bread bun or go for a collard wrap if you’re upping your veggie intake.

tabitha brown
Courtesy of Tabitha Brown

How to make a BBQ jackfruit sandwich

The best part about cooking is getting your hands dirty and really putting TLC into your dish. This is especially true for canned jackfruit because since the pieces sit in a pool of water, you’ll need to pour the water out first and then drain each piece. Think of it as grape-stomping, but with your hands, and jackfruit, instead of grapes.

Remember how I said measured recipes aren’t really a thing in my family? Brown said her cooking style is the same way so she doesn’t really measure how much of each ingredient she uses for jackfruit BBQ sandwiches.

“I cook from the spirit. I don’t really believe in cooking from recipes all the time,” Brown said. “I just think that if you got to have a recipe every time you cook, you don't trust yourself. And I trust myself, so I like to have fun in the kitchen.”

With Brown’s encouragement to cook from the spirit, I sent up a prayer and asked for hers to guide me through creating the sandwich.

I began by quickly rinsing the jackfruit pieces with water from my sink since they’d been sitting in the can. Then I got to work on following Brown’s directions to squeeze the excess water out with my hands and added them to my skillet with a little tablespoons of grape seed oil. Unripe jackfruit has a sweet smell, vastly different from ripe jackfruit which would probably make you reconsider filling your home with its fumes.

A few moments after dropping the fruit in the skillet with the grape seed oil, I then added garlic powder, organic all-purpose salt-free spice, vinegar, maple syrup, and coconut aminos.

While I sautéed the jackfruit and seasonings in the pain, I used a fork to shred it a bit to mimic the texture of pulled meat and continued to cook it down until it became a little crispy on the edges. Shortly after, I added in my store-bought BBQ sauce (stay tuned for a homemade sauce in the future?) and let it continue to cook for about 15 minutes so it would soak up all the flavors. You’ll be able to tell when it’s ready to plate because as the texture of the jackfruit changes, so does the color.

Once I was pleased with how my jackfruit looked (and tasted), I placed a generous scoop of it on my potato bun. For the coleslaw, I mixed together two cups of shredded cabbage, some vegan mayo, a dash of sugar, lemon juice, vinegar, salt and pepper and added a helping of it to the top of the jackfruit.

And then, everything was ready to eat! The overall process took roughly 30-40 minutes and makes a great lazy afternoon lunch to enjoy at your next picnic or cookout.

BBQ Jackfruit Sandwich Recipe

• 2 cans of unripe jackfruit
• ½ cup of grape seed oil
• Garlic powder
• Salt-free spice
• ¼ cup of apple cider vinegar
• 2 tablespoons maple syrup
• Liquid or coconut aminos
• Barbecue sauce
• Bread bun or collard wrap

1. Drain the jackfruit by squeezing all the water out of each piece,
2. In a skillet, add grapeseed oil and jackfruit.
3. Add garlic powder. (As much as you want because that's your business.)
4. Add the multi-spice seasoning. (Also, as much as you want.)
5. Add the vinegar.
6. Add a splash of lemon juice.
7. Add a little maple syrup.
8. Add a pinch of salt.
9. Cook on medium to high heat for 10-15 minutes stirring and tossing until it begins to brown.
10. Once it begins to brown, then add your BBQ sauce and sauté for another 5 mins or so, and then it should be ready to enjoy on a bun or collard wrap.

Cole Slaw Recipe

• ½ of a finely Chopped cabbage
• ½ cup of mayo(add more if you like it extra creamy)
• A few splashes of lemon juice
• 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar
• 2 tablespoons of sugar
• A sprinkle of garlic powder
• Salt and pepper

Combine and mix all ingredients together in a bowl and enjoy on top of your BBQ jackfruit sandwich.

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Kristen Adaway is a former staff writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter