Healthy protein packed lentils in a unique sweet and smoky tomato-free sauce. These BBQ Lentils are a stick to your ribs comfort meal.
If you like BBQ sauce, you are going to love this recipe! Perfect on a sandwich bun (topped with coleslaw perhaps!), in a pita, as a dip with corn chips, over polenta or baked potatoes, or as the star of the plate next to creamy vegan mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli.
Ingredients you need
Ingredient notes and substitutions
Lentils ~ This sauce would be delicious with chickpeas or white beans if you prefer. You could even use store-bought vegan ground “beef”, like Gardein or Beyond Beef.
Learn all about lentils and get more delicious vegan lentil recipes here.
Carrots ~ As a tomato sauce substitute, I use puréed carrots. Carrots might sound like a strange ingredient, especially as the base of the sauce, but they give it a wonderful sweetness and creaminess.
You could use 2 cups of peeled and chopped sweet potatoes as a substitute, which would keep the sauce nightshade free.
If you prefer to use traditional tomatoes, you’ll need about ¾ cup to 1 cup of tomato sauce.
Garlic ~ If you don’t have fresh garlic, bottled minced garlic will work. Use 1 teaspoon for every clove.
Apple cider vinegar ~ This is a vinegar based sauce, so you are meant to taste it in the final dish. If you are not a huge fan of vinegar, start with just 2 tablespoons and add more to taste. It’s hard to neutralize the flavor after the fact.
White vinegar or even balsamic vinegar will work, as well.
Molasses ~ I suggest using regular dark molasses, not blackstrap which can be too bitter.
If you don’t have molasses, add some brown sugar or coconut sugar.
Pure maple syrup ~ Do not sub with pancake syrup! If you don’t have pure maple syrup, try agave or honey if you’re not vegan.
Mustard powder ~ liquid yellow mustard will work as a sub
Liquid smoke ~ This is where the smoky flavor comes from.
Smoked paprika can be used instead (but is not nightshade free).
Chili powder ~ leave this out if you need a truly nightshade free sauce. You can add a bit of cumin for a savory flavor instead.
How to make the recipe
Please scroll down to the recipe card for exact ingredient measurements and instructions.
Cook the lentils in water until tender, but not mushy.
Purée the sauce in a blender until smooth.
Combine the lentils and sauce and stir well to combine.
Pro tips for success
~ Pick over the lentils the remove any small rocks or pebbles.
~ Rinse the lentils well under cold water to wash off any dust or debris.
~ Use canned lentils or steamed lentils (usually found in the produce section of grocery stores) to make this recipe even quicker.
~ If you are sensitive the the sharp flavors of vinegar, start with just 2 tablespoons and add more to taste.
~ If you need to avoid all nightshades, omit the chili powder!
~ Blend the sauce well until perfectly smooth.
~ If the sauce is too thick and not totally smooth, add water 1 tablespoon at a time until the desired consistency is reached.
~ If the sauce is too thin, simmer it uncovered for several minutes until the desired consistency is reached.
~ Serve these saucy lentils on a burger bun, sloppy joe style, or make them the star of the plate on their own with a couple of sides.
~ Perfect side dishes to complete the meal:
- Baked potato or mashed potatoes
- Steamed or roasted vegetables (broccoli, green beans, Brussels sprouts, etc)
- Corn on the cob
- Vegan Mac and Cheese
- Vegan Pasta Salad
- Vegan Cornbread
- Herb Roasted Potato Salad
- Sweet Potato Fries
Originally this recipe came about because I didn’t have any tomato products in my pantry at the time. As it turns out, this is a delicious recipe that can be enjoyed by even those who follow a nightshade free diet, but will be loved by even those who don’t.
Traditional BBQ sauce is made from a base of tomato sauce, tomato paste, and/or ketchup. For this tomato-free version, I use puréed carrots instead of tomatoes along with traditional spices and seasoning typically found in BBQ sauce.
Nightshades are a family of plants that include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and potatoes.
There is a possibility that they may contribute to inflammation and auto-immune disease, such as IBD (or leaky gut syndrome) and arthritis. [source]
Most people, however, do not need to stay away from nightshade vegetables and, in fact, will benefit from their many nutrients. Please consult your health care provider if you have concerns.
More vegan BBQ recipes
- Sloppy BBQ Chickpea Sandwiches
- BBQ Hawaiian Tofu Bowls
- BBQ Kidney Bean Burger
- BBQ Jackfruit Tacos
- BBQ Jackfruit Sandwiches
- Mexican Sloppy Joes
I hope you love this recipe as much as we do! If you tried it, please use the rating system in the recipe card and leave a comment below with your feedback.
Be sure to sign up for my FREE Newsletter to be the first to get my NEW recipes! You can also follow me on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.
For even more easy family recipes, be sure to check out my cookbook, The Meatless Monday Family Cookbook!
Sweet and Smoky BBQ Lentils
- 1 cup dry brown or green lentils
- 5 cups water
- 2 carrots peeled and rough chopped
- ½ large sweet onion peeled and rough chopped
- 2 garlic cloves peeled
- enough water to cover veggies in pot
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons molasses not blackstrap
- 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons yellow mustard powder
- 2 teaspoons liquid smoke
- ¼ teaspoon chili powder omit if nightshade free!
- ⅛ teaspoon ground ginger
- ⅛ teaspoon ground clove
- Add lentils and water to pot. Simmer about 25 minutes until tender, but not mushy. Check them often and make sure to take them off heat and drain as soon as they are tender. Pour back into the pot and set aside.
- Meanwhile, in another pot, add carrots, onion and garlic, cover with water by an inch or two and simmer until tender…about 15 to 20 minutes. (It may take a few minutes more or less depending on how small or large you cut the veggies).
- When veggies are tender, drain and add to high speed blender along with vinegar, molasses, maple syrup, mustard powder, liquid smoke, chili powder, ginger and clove. Purée until smooth.
- Pour the sauce over the cooked lentils and stir to combine.
- If your sauce is too thin, simmer the lentils in the sauce uncovered for a few minutes to thicken up. Or, alternately, if your sauce is too thick, you can add a tablespoon or two of water and mix.
Nutrition values are calculated using online calculators and are estimates only. Please verify using your own data.
I made this today, subbing balsamic vinegar for apple cider vinegar and using young skinny carrots for extra sweetness. It was amazing! Thank you!! I made them into “bbq nachos” with crispy corn tortillas and a little shredded cheese.
It is cool when we can make this for party. Love the taste. I will try this for my husand and friends.
Jenn S. says
This is so good and so easy to make! The only change I made to the recipe was that I cut the mustard powder down to only 3/4tsp. It was a little too strong for us. If you have a pressure cooker you can cook lentils with water in bottom, place trivet add potatoes on trivet, then put vegetables for sauce in a steamer basket on top of potatoes. High pressure 5min with 10min NPR. So easy!!
Jenn S. says
I’m so glad you liked it, Rachel! And I’m so excited for the pressure cooker tip! LOVE that it can be made all together – totally trying that next time! Thank you!
I found your blog from a friend and I am really enjoying reading it.
Great recipe by the way,
It looks delicious and easy to make.
I am going to try to cook them on Sunday for my family.
Jenn S. says
Hi, Kendrick. Welcome, glad you have you here! Let me know if you have any questions or if there are any recipes you’d like to see veganized. I hope you like these BBQ Lentils. Let me know how they turn out. Enjoy!
Mary M. Martinez says
Made this today for supper tomorrow. The smell is so awesome & the taste is so so good..thanks this is a keeper for sure..
Jenn S. says
Thank you, Mary! I actually am planning to make it again this week as well. I’m happy to hear you loved it! Thanks for stopping by to let me know!
I made these last night and they were delicious! Since I’m the only veggie in the family I am going to repurpose them tonight..maybe as a sandwich… I’m sure they’ll be fabulous no matter how I eat them! Thanks for the recipe!
Jenn S. says
Thanks, Christine! That’s one of the recipes I keep meaning to re-do the pics for. I’m so glad you liked them! They would be awesome as a sandwich! Kind of like a BBQ Sloppy Joe.
I put 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, as written, and it was way too much, in my opinion it ruined the recipe..
Jenn S. says
Hi, Annabelle. Sorry, the taste wasn’t what you were looking for. I am definitely a huge fan of vinegar…one of my favorite flavors.
Can I keep it in fridge for a couple of days? Thanks for the recipe!
Jenn S. says
Yes, it will keep in the fridge for several days. I imagine they would also freeze well. Glad you enjoyed it!
Jen @ Driftwood Gardens says
I just made this recipe and it is delicious! This is one of those recipes that is going to become a staple around here – healthy, inexpensive and tasty. Thank you for sharing!
Jenn S. says
Glad you liked it! Thanks for letting me know!