How to Turn Tofu Into a Summer Grilling Staple

By Patty Catalano
Patty Catalano
Patty Catalano
July 16, 2021 Updated: July 16, 2021

If there’s a food that’s not improved by grilling, I’ve yet to find it. The open flame and sizzling grill grates add flavor, complexity, and gorgeous grill marks to meat, veggies, fruit, and tofu (what we’re talking about today!).

With just a few smart steps—including dredging the planks in a simple spice rub and finishing them with a punchy herb sauce—tofu can be one of the most flavorful foods to come off the grill. Here, I’ll show you how to how to turn tofu into a summer grilling staple.

What’s the Best Type of Tofu for Grilling?

Tofu comes in a variety of textures, and not all of them can hold up on the grill. For grilling, you’ll want to opt for non-silken (or regular), extra-firm tofu. The soft texture of silken tofu is great for adding creaminess to soups and shakes, but it’s too soft for the grill.

Since much of the water has already been pressed out of extra-firm tofu, you only need to press the slabs for about 15 minutes, which will make them easier to maneuver on the grill. Dusting them with a spice mix adds flavor and absorbs any lingering moisture. Moisture is the enemy of grill marks, so the spice-mix toss is extra insurance that the tofu will come off the grill with beautiful caramelized stripes.

How Do You Keep Tofu From Sticking to the Grill?

Even extra-firm tofu is rather delicate, but these simple steps will help make sure it doesn’t stick.

1. Clean your grill grates: Clean grill grates are your best defense against sticking. Scrub the grates well once the grill has preheated—any food bits or residue from past grilling sessions will burn off easily with the high heat and some elbow grease.

2. Think thick: When grilling tofu, go for 1/2-inch-thick slabs, which make for a hearty serving and are easier to maneuver on the grill. Thin slices can fall through the grates, or rip when flipped.

3. Leave it alone: It’s tempting to poke and prod, but it’s best to leave the tofu pieces alone until the grill marks form. The tofu will release easily from the grill when it’s ready—no need to use force.

4. Flip with a fish spatula: A fish spatula has a thin metal edge that can easily slip under the tofu, making flipping a cinch. Tongs are another good option, because they allow you to firmly grip each plank.

Flavoring the Tofu

Tofu is a blank canvas, so you can flavor it up with any spice mix, marinade, or sauce. Here I took a two-step approach to maximize its flavor potential.

1. Pre-grill spice rub: Sprinkling all sides of the pressed and sliced tofu slabs with an all-purpose spice rub—salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika, and ground coriander—gives the tofu a hint of smokiness and a ton of flavor. Serve it on its own or on salads, grain bowls, or sandwiches.

2. Post-grill sauce: While the tofu is still warm from the grill, you’ll spoon an herby vinaigrette on top. The tofu will absorb the fruity flavor of the olive oil, the tart lemon juice, and fresh herbs, infusing the tofu with flavor from the outside-in. A mini food processor makes quick work of assembling the marinade, but if you don’t have one, you can just chop the herbs by hand and then whisk the sauce together.

Spiced Grilled Tofu With Herby Sauce

Serves 2 to 4

For the Tofu

  • 1 (14- to 16-ounce) package extra-firm tofu
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the Fresh Herb Sauce

  • 1/2 cup packed fresh basil or parsley leaves or a combination, plus more for garnish if desired
  • 1 medium lemon, plus more wedges for garnish if desired
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Vegetable oil, for the grill

Prepare the tofu: Line a rimmed baking sheet with a few layers of paper towels. Drain the tofu and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices, then arrange in a single layer on the towels.

Cover the tofu with another few layers of paper towels and a second baking sheet. Weigh it down with a heavy object such as a skillet, saucepan, or large can. Let drain at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the grill and prepare the seasoning and herb sauce.

Prepare an outdoor grill for direct, medium-high heat (about 400 degrees F).

Make the seasoning blend: Place the garlic powder, kosher salt, paprika, ground coriander, and black pepper in a medium bowl and stir to combine.

Prepare the herb sauce: Place the fresh herb leaves in a mini food processor. Juice the lemon until you have 2 tablespoons juice and add to the food processor. Add kosher salt and black pepper and pulse until the herbs are finely chopped, 10 to 12 pulses. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil and process until combined and emulsified. (Alternatively, make this by hand: Finely chop the herbs, then add to a jar with the lemon juice, salt, pepper, and oil, and shake to combine.)

When the grill is ready, scrape the grates clean if needed. Oil the grill grates with a paper towel dipped in vegetable oil. Coat all sides of tofu slices lightly and evenly with the spice mixture, brushing off any excess. Place the tofu on the grill, cover, and cook until dark grill marks appear, about 3 minutes. Flip the tofu with a thin metal spatula such as a fish spatula. Cover and grill until dark grill marks appear on the second side, about 3 minutes more.

Transfer the tofu with the thin metal spatula to a serving platter. Drizzle the hot tofu with the herb sauce and more chopped herbs, if desired.

Recipe Notes

Refrigerate leftover tofu in an airtight container for up to three days.

The herb sauce can be refrigerated separately for up to one week.

Patty Catalano is a contributor to TheKitchn.com, a nationally known blog for people who love food and home cooking. Submit any comments or questions to editorial@thekitchn.com. Copyright 2021 Apartment Therapy. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Patty Catalano
Patty Catalano