These BBQ soy curls are baked or air fried to achieve a crispy texture on the outside, while remaining chewy on the inside. Made with a homemade date-sweetened BBQ sauce, they’re a whole foods, plant-based protein that can be so versatile! They’re perfect for serving on a bun, in tacos or bowls, or as part of a barbecue spread.
Here I am again, with another simple vegan protein.
But oh, how I love a soy curl.
Soy curls are nutritious, versatile, and wholesome. They’re less expensive than many store-bought vegan chick’n options. And, since you can season and flavor them yourself, they’ll give you endless opportunities to get creative.
This recipe is not creative, really. On the contrary, it’s a simple, vegan spin on a classic summer cookout staple, BBQ chicken.
But classics stand the test of time for a reason, right? I make these soy curls often, and if I like and use them as much as I do, there’s a chance that one of you will, too.
First things first: what the heck are soy curls?
That’s actually an easy question to answer: soy curls are actually soy beans. They’re non-GMO soy beans that are soaked, stirred, cooked, and dehydrated at low temperatures.
The product that results is light and dry.
When you soak soy curls in boiling water or broth, they plump up considerably. At this point, they can be drained of liquid and pressed a little to remove the extra moisture.
Prepared this way, soy curls have a texture that’s sort of similar to chicken in its chewiness. The color is similar to that of white chicken meat, too.
Rehydrated soy curls can be seasoned further or added to chili, soup, tacos, burritos, salads, and more. They become a vegan “chick’n” that’s made from a single ingredient, inexpensive, and nutrient dense.
I really only started cooking with soy curls regularly after I wrote Power Plates, so sadly, there aren’t any soy curl recipes in that book. But I’m happy to say that The Vegan Week features a few soy curl recipes. Creating them has only solidified my love of this versatile protein.
Soy curls boast the same nutrition benefits as other soy foods do—namely, plentiful plant protein. A serving of soy curls has 11 grams of protein, which is a solid contribution to any plant-based meal.
Protein needs are highly individual—they vary according to age, activity level, health demands, and other factors. But I encourage most of my nutrition clients to aim for at least 15-20 grams per meal. 11 grams will take you a good part of the way.
Soy curls provide about 10% of the recommended daily allowance of iron for premenopausal women and 25% of the recommended daily allowance of iron for men of all ages and postmenopausal women.
On top of this, soy curls are rich in fiber—6 grams, or about 20% of the RDA per serving. This is good news for digestive regularity, and high-fiber foods usually help people to feel satisfied after meals.
I buy soy curls directly from their maker, Butler Foods. Butler Foods is an independent, family-owned business in Oregon, and the company is responsible for the goodness that is the soy curl.
Shipping from the Butler site does cost some money, but soy curls are themselves very economical (about 50 cents per serving of protein). I order 6 bags at a time and store them in my pantry. I like to support the company.
You can also purchase soy curls on Amazon, and you can find them at some health food stores and grocers that specialize in vegan products.
BBQ soy curls aren’t a new food for me. I’ve always enjoyed the taste of soy curls when they’re coated in BBQ sauce.
What makes this recipe a little new for me is the texture of these soy curls.
To make a recipe like this in the past, I would simply season and rehydrate soy curls, coat them in BBQ sauce, and eat them. Now I take the extra step of baking or air frying them.
Baking the soy curls results in crispy, browning edges. The centers of the soy curls remain chewy, but I think the soy curls are even more chicken-like, thanks to the time they spend drying out in the oven.
Here’s a little more detail on how to make it happen.
From start to finish, making the BBQ soy curls is so simple.
First, you’ll season and rehydrate the curls.
I go over all of the instructions for that process in my soy curl chicken recipe, and this recipe builds on that one. The whole process of seasoning and rehydrating the curls should take about 15 minutes.
Next, you’ll coat the soy curls with BBQ sauce.
Finally, you’ll either bake the soy curls for twenty-five minutes, or you’ll air fry them for 10-12 minutes.
At this point, you can enjoy the curls as part of any meal that calls for a BBQ-themed vegan protein. (On a burger bun with a tangy slaw is one good idea.)
You can also store the soy curls till you’re ready to enjoy them (more on storage below).
I’ve got nothing against a good jar of store-bought BBQ sauce. But in my effort to figure out a homemade BBQ sauce that could be sweetened with whole foods, I made a date BBQ sauce—and it was a game changer.
Dates give the sauce all of the characteristic sweetness that you associate with BBQ sauce. But they also give it depth of flavor that I don’t think commercial BBQ sauce achieves.
So, that sauce is my first choice for use in this recipe. However, you’re more than welcome to substitute your favorite store-bought BBQ sauce in its place.
Yes, stovetop is another option for the recipe. I prefer an oven or air fryer here for the crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside texture.
With that said, stovetop cooking can be a convenient option. It will also give you soy curls that are a little saucy, yet still darkening and crisping at the surface. If you want a more saucy soy curl, this option is great!
The soy curls can be stored in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to five days or frozen for up to six weeks. This makes them a really nice option for weekly vegan meal prep, if that’s your thing.
Unfortunately, the BBQ soy curls will lose some of those pleasantly crispy edges during storage. But you can re-crisp them by spreading them on a baking sheet in a single layer and reheating in a 350F oven for 10-15 minutes.
You can also pop them into the air fryer and air fry them for 3-5 minutes at 400F.
I don’t always turn cooked soy curls into a “recipe,” per se.
A lot of the time I just use them the same way I might have used cut chicken breast pieces before I became vegan: in salads, sandwiches, or wraps.
But if you’re eager to experiment with soy curl recipes, here’s a few of my favorites from this blog:
I’m already envisioning a summer full of these BBQ soy curls. They’ll end up on buns or toast, in bowls with rice or cornbread, maybe in quesadillas or tacos. Perhaps I’ll even throw together some kind of casserole that features them.
No matter what, they’ll be easy, satisfying, and nutritious.
Hope you’ll find a couple of uses for them, too. Enjoy!