Alright it's probably not what The Neely's had in mind when they developed this recipe but I think tempeh makes an excellent stand in for ribs. Is it on a bone? No (and yuck anyways) but it is easy to pick up each one and delicious when covered in BBQ sauce after being smoked with some hickory wood chips!
It all started with the thought "I wanna smoke something in that BBQ" so I went out and found a smoker box (HomeSense strangely) and some hickory smoke chips (Home Hardware) and then went searching through Food Network's website for something that I wanted to try to veganize. I browsed through and found that The Neely's (recipe here) had exactly what I was looking for. The switch to tempeh was an easy one for me since I have made BBQ sauced tempeh sticks before inside and always thought they made a good replacement for ribs. I cut mine into little riblet sticks by halving the whole cake of tempeh then cutting into one inch wide pieces. I mixed up the dry rub and (warning) it makes a lot that you will not need unless you are making a bunch of tempeh riblets. I used two packages of tempeh and still have a large ziploc bag full of the rub up in the cupboard. It will keep so not a bad thing at all but if you are planning on just making this once maybe scale it down to a 1/4 of the recipe. They suggest rubbing it on the ribs and leaving it for 8 hours or more. I didn't have that kind of time so I just rubbed it on the tempeh and let it sit at room temperature for 45 minutes to an hour and found it worked just fine.
I made 1/2 the sauce only because ketchup is a precious commodity in our house and I didn't want to use up most of a bottle. It was just enough for the two packages of tempeh with a little left over for dipping. It is a good but not great sauce in my opinion. It needs a little something...a little oomph! While we were eating the tempeh riblets I grabbed the bottle of Carolina-Style BBQ sauce from Vegan Diner that I keep on hand and gave them a few squirts, it really helped up the flavours.
As for the smoking process, I soaked the hickory chips for an hour in some water then loaded them into the little smoker box I bought. It is V shaped so it fits on top of the heat deflector plate inside the grill. I put it in there and started up the grill. Once it had heated up, I turned the two burners off on the side that didn't have the smoker box and put the dry rubbed tempeh pieces on the cool side. I turned the smoker box side down to medium-low as well (they suggest around 250 so use that built in thermometer to find which temperature setting works for you). After about 15 minutes I flipped the tempeh riblets over and then brushed a little bit of olive oil on each one. Since tempeh doesn't have a lot of fat in it I figured they needed a little something to keep them moist. After another 15 minutes, I flipped them again and basted that side with olive oil as well. By this point the chips in the smoker box had given all they had so I decided to turn that side off and turn the heat on the side with the tempeh riblets to get them a little browned on the outside. I used med-high heat and once they were nicely grilled, I slathered them with the BBQ sauce and let it get caramelized a bit. I took them off and put some more sauce over each before serving as well. I served them up with some roasted potatoes and grilled corn on the cob and they were quickly eaten up with lots of MMMs around the table! You could definitely taste the smoky flavour in them so I would definitely venture into smoking on the grill again. It's so much faster to smoke tempeh as well, definitely no need for three hours on there which makes it great for a quicker supper option.