BBQ Legend Chris Lilly Shares His Favorite Grilled Vegetable Recipe - Exclusive

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If you're into barbecue, you likely hold Chris Lilly's name in high esteem. He is the pitmaster at Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, the almost century-old mecca of smoked meat that gifted the world with Alabama white barbecue sauce. He's also a barbecue competition veteran with a full trophy case that includes five Memphis In May Grand Championship wins and 17 World BBQ Championships, among many other accolades (via Charleston Wine and Food)

Lilly built his reputation on meat, particularly Southern-style barbecue. However, that style of cooking is only one facet of his culinary expertise. The legendary pitmaster can grill up just about any kind of food, and he incorporates a wide variety of influences into his recipes. 

In a traditional, meat-centric barbecue menu, vegetables are supporting players. Lilly loves making side dishes like grilled potato salad and grilled corn with black beans. In an exclusive interview, he also shared the perfect idea for a grilled vegetable dish that could stand on its own as a main course.

Chris Lilly's favorite vegetarian entree to grill

If you're trying to find a vegetarian dish that delivers the savory flavors and meaty texture of good barbecue, without actually containing meat, grilled portobello mushrooms are the way to go. The umami taste and satisfying chew of mushrooms makes them a great alternative to meat in a variety of contexts, from mushroom burgers to our own vegetarian mushroom meatloaf recipe.

Chris Lilly likes to grill whole portobello caps and stuff them with seasonings and cheese to make an irresistible vegetarian menu item. The secret to this recipe is the technique for building the fire: Lilly recommends piling your charcoal to one side of your grill so half of the grill is hot enough to char food while the other half gently bakes food over indirect heat. He starts by charring the mushroom over the hot side of the grill, then moves it to the cooler side and fills the cap with toppings. First, he adds diced tomato, onion, and garlic, then tops everything with a flattened disk of fresh mozzarella. Cooking the stuffed mushroom with the lid on allows the toppings to heat up and gently browns and crisps the top of the cheese. The overall effect is sort of like bruschetta or pizza, but with a mushroom as the base instead of bread.

To serve this dish, Lilly recommends plating the mushroom on top of a simple arugula salad and drizzling it with a reduction of equal parts balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. In his words, the combination is "absolutely phenomenal."

To taste Chris Lilly's cooking, you can go to Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, which also ships meat and sauce nationally. His books, "Big Bob Gibson's BBQ Book" and "Fire and Smoke," are available on Amazon.