How to Grill Tofu
When cooked correctly, grilled tofu makes a delicious, flavorful meal. The outside is browned and slightly crispy, and the inside is slightly juicy, with an almost a meaty texture. Unfortunately, tofu isn’t the easiest thing to grill. A lot of small mishaps along the way can ruin your tofu grilling experience. Luckily, as long as you know what pitfalls to watch out for, you can avoid them completely.
Part 1Preparing the Tofu
Tofu tends to fall apart easily when grilled. The firmer the tofu, the better it will hold together on your grill. Choose firm or extra firm tofu for the best grilling results. After grilling, firm tofu will have a slightly softer texture than the extra firm. Choose firm or extra firm tofu, depending on your personal texture preference.
Make sure you get the non-silken variety. Silken tofu has a softer texture that doesn’t hold up well on the grill. The porousness of the non-silken variety also holds flavor in better.
Slice the tofu into fairly thick pieces that are approximately 1/3 inch thick (for best results, don't slice it any more than 1/2 inch thick). Leave the tofu in the largest slabs possible, since those are easiest to work with. The slices will look rectangular. When grilled, a thick slice will result in a dense slab of tofu that is brown and lightly crispy on the outside, with a juicy core.
Lay the slices out on several paper towels. Use more paper towels to gently press on top of the tofu, which will push out and soak up the excess moisture inside. Tofu doesn’t grill well if the moisture isn’t removed, resulting in an unappetizing mushy core. Press out as much moisture as you can from the slabs.
You can also press the moisture out using a piece of muslin, which is a more traditional way to prep tofu. However, using paper towels is usually the easiest and most efficient way to get the job done.
There are many different kinds of marinades out there to choose from. Included here is a very simple marinade recipe you can try out. Whisk together all of the marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Place the tofu pieces in one at a time, tossing to coat both sides, then leave the slices in the marinade. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes (you can leave it in there for up to 1 day). Reserve the leftover marinade – you will be using it again after the tofu is grilled.
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil; ¼ cup soy sauce; 2 tablespoons mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine); 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar; 1 tablespoon minced or grated fresh ginger; 1 pound firm non-silken tofu.
Part 2Grilling the Tofu
Before you cook anything on the grill, it must be cleaned. Any leftover food or char on the grate will negatively affect the flavor, since tofu tends to soak up any flavor it comes into contact with. Grills are easiest to clean when the grates are hot, so preheat your grill first. Leave the lid on for about 10 minutes so that it gets nice and hot inside.
Use a heavy-duty grill brush to scrub down the grates on both sides, making sure it looks spotless before proceeding. The hotter and cleaner the grill grate, the nicer the seared grill marks will turn out on the tofu. These marks will also help to hold the tofu together.
Put a few tablespoons of oil into a bowl. Crumple up several paper towels and drop them in, allowing them to soak up the oil. Use a pair of tongs to grab one of the soaked towels from the bowl and rub it all over the preheated grill grates. The oil will smoke – let it do so for about 40 seconds, then rub the grates with another oil-soaked towel.
Repeat this 1 or 2 more times so that the grate has a good coating built up on it. Another option is to generously coat the grill grate with non-stick cooking spray. If you go this route, both the grill grate and both sides of the tofu need to be coated with the spray.
Using tongs, place the tofu slices on the edges of the barbecue grill, where it's hot but not directly over flames or heat. Arrange the other slices from the outer edge to the middle, in a single layer. Cooking tofu over low and indirect heat in this manner will result in the best flavor, and the tofu will brown to just the right amount of crispness.
Grilling times vary depending on the thickness of your slices and how hot your grill gets. This can range anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes per side, so you’ll need to watch it carefully. After about 2 minutes on the grill, turn the tofu slices 90 degrees (from 12 o’clock to 2 o’clock).
This will create nice cross-hatch seared marks on the tofu. Allow the slices to cook a few more minutes, until you see the sides turning brown.
Tofu is ready to turn when you can lift up a corner and it doesn’t stick to the grate. If there’s any resistance, the slice isn’t quite ready yet. When ready, carefully flip each slice over using tongs. The cooked surface will look slightly crisp and golden brown.
Once turned, repeat the same process that you followed on the first side. Don't forget to turn the slices 90 degrees about halfway through to get those grill marks.
Part 3Finishing and Serving the Tofu
Examine the slices to make sure they look evenly cooked on both sides. The outer crust should be crisp and brown. Slide a knife carefully into the center of a slice to see how it looks. It should be tender and slightly juicy, with an almost meaty texture.
Use tongs to remove the grilled tofu slices from the grate. Lay them out side by side on a serving platter.
Brush the tofu slices with the leftover marinade you reserved during preparation. Flip the slices over and brush marinade on the other side. This will greatly enhance the flavor. If you like, add a small amount of oil to the reserved marinade before applying it to the tofu. The oil will further enhance the surface texture.
Tofu cools down relatively quickly, so get the slices on the table as quickly as you can for the tastiest results. If there is any leftover marinade, serve that along with the tofu. Diners who enjoy very flavorful tofu can brush on a little more marinade right before they eat it. Traditionally, grilled tofu is also served with soy sauce.