Smoked cauliflower is, as they say, having a moment. Cauliflower “steaks,” cauliflower wings, and cauliflower burnt ends are appearing with regularity on Texas barbecue joint menus, overshadowing, I think unfairly, their cousin the cabbage. Both plants are of the Brassica oleracea species (as are broccoli, brussels sprouts, and a whole host of greens), but only one has a long history in Texas barbecue. Cabbage-based coleslaw is a member of the traditional trio of Texas barbecue sides, along with pinto beans and potato salad. Plus, at least at my grocery, a head of green cabbage is less than half the price of a head of cauliflower.
If your local barbecue joint has a hot line of homemade sides, chances are it serves a variation of stewed cabbage. When a pitmaster is looking for a new vegetable to add to the menu, why not reach for the one that’s cheaper and already on the order sheet? And does it have to be a side? Thickly sliced steaks of cabbage make for a fine vegetarian main course.
I’ve experimented with smoking various cabbage shapes: whole heads, wedges, and cabbage steaks that were both thick and thin. I learned that the thicker steaks are easiest to cook evenly, but setting the cabbage directly on the grates of the smoker becomes precarious as leaves get tender. Instead, I set them in an 18-by-13-inch sheet pan, wrapped completely in foil. (I would normally use a disposable aluminum foil tray in my smoker, but I didn’t want the smoke to have to dip down past the tall sides of a deeper pan.) With a steady breeze of hot oak smoke over the surface of the cabbage, the steaks grew properly brown and took on some of that smoke flavor.
After they spent a few hours in the smoker and a shorter spell in the oven, I had slabs of smoked cabbage worthy to be served as a main course, or as the best side dish at the table.
Smoked Cabbage Steaks
1 large head of cabbage
¼ cup olive oil, divided
barbecue rub (pitmaster’s choice)
- Prepare a shallow sheet pan for the smoker—use a disposable one, or cover one from your kitchen in foil. Brush the foil with about one third of the olive oil.
- To carve the steaks: Wash the cabbage and remove just the outer leaves. If necessary, trim the hard stem to flatten the base of cabbage. Set the cabbage on its base (core side down) and cut the rounded edges off the sides. Save the raw cabbage for a future dish (maybe slaw). From what remains, cut the head of cabbage into steaks, each about an inch and a half thick, retaining a bit of the core in each, which helps give them some structure. (One large head of cabbage breaks down into three or four steaks.) Transfer the steaks to the prepared shallow pan.
- Drizzle remaining olive oil over the the cabbage, and coat the surface with your favorite barbecue rub. (I prefer one with some sugar to help with browning.) Season generously.
Smoke the cabbage steaks for two to three hours at 275–300 degrees. The smoke time depends on the heat of your smoker and the density of the cabbage. Green cabbage is less dense than red, so it catches more smoke and cooks more quickly.
Once the layers start to separate, the surface has browned from the smoke, and the outer leaves have gotten tender, it’s time to cover the whole pan tightly with foil to finish cooking. You can leave it in the smoker, or transfer it to a 300-degree oven to save wood. The covered cabbage steaks should be tender after about an hour. Serve them whole as a main course, or cut into wedges to share as a side.