Our Favorite Plant-Based Meats, Ranked
Just because they're made from plants doesn't mean they aren't juicy.
We'll admit feeling a little bad for vegans and vegetarians. They endure constant needling from carnivores about whether they eat bacon, whether they like real meat, and why they made such life decisions. But you never hear vegetarians asking carnivores whether they've tried fake meat substitutes. "What about vegan bacon, you like that, right?" is a question that more or less never leaves a vegetarian's mouth. In an effort to understand and gain empathy for the vegetarian's plight, we bought a sampling of the most beloved fake meats, served them up for ourselves, and ranked them all. We sampled each major "meat" and opted for the most basic options of each type; in other words, there are no complex entrees or burritos here. This is how they stacked up.
If you're a hot dog snob, these guys probably won't gonna do it for you. We found that almost every brand of veggie hot dog shares the same taste, but it's good to know that Lightlife recently removed carrageenan from their dogs, resulting in a much healthier, plant-based option.
These plant-based numbers lack the necessary flavor to really make a sandwich sing, let alone be a tasty snack on their own.
These vegan slices have the look, feel, and some of the flavor of America's favorite deli-meat punchline, though there's an overarching blandness that hurts this curiosity in the end. Where is the salt, the deep savoriness, the kind-of-gross-yet-appealing qualities?
The pieces are slightly sweet, a little smoky, and actually pretty good, in a generic jerky sort of way. But they also dissolve into strands as you chew. The flavor is right but the texture is wrong; I guess you can't win them all.
So, the tube makes this product, helpfully subtitled "meatless soy chorizo," look more like sausage than it really is. The casing, you see, is plastic, and the meat gets squeezed out of it like spicy toothpaste, then drops into the pan like a goopy mass of semi-coagulated meat jelly. It's more like ground chorizo than chorizo in sausage form, but that's fine! It tastes OK, like a goopier version of Taco Bell meat, only way spicier. If this made its way into a bag of Doritos, we would be very unlikely to complain. If you're looking for vegetarian-friendly chorizo for scrambled eggs or chilaquiles, this is your best bet.
The flavor in these meatless breakfast items is surprisingly robust. The mushrooms add a nice little meatiness, and there's a lot of interesting depth here. Make no mistake, though: This tastes nothing like sausage, and more like a drier, Thanksgiving stuffing.
Billed as "smoked veggie bacon with a crispy bite," these strips taste closer to the real deal than other similar products, thanks to its smokiness and saltiness. And they are, in fact, crispy, even if we suspect that mostly because they're as thin as card stock. Still, on balance, these taste more like real bacon than any other approximation we've had.
The texture of these oxymoronic orbs is very dense and dry, with none of the spring or juice that defines great meatballs. But their flavor is oddly right and we're surprised to say, they're pretty damn delicious. Simmer them in a nice red sauce and toss them into a hoagie bun, and you're not about to fool anyone, but you're not going to make them upset either. It'd also work well with spaghetti or a generous pour of gravy. This should be your meatless meatball of choice.
Unlike the Boca Burger (see No. 2), this thing gets points for being a little extra burger-y, on account of Beyond Meat's scientific approach to producing burgers that "bleed." This doesn't actually bleed, but it's juicy as hell, and the texture's pretty close to the real deal—a big springy, yet there's still bite. It's even got a little grill flavor, which goes a long way in creating the illusion of meatiness, though it definitely doesn't help the smell (liquid smoke is a fickle mistress). If you're a converted vegetarian who's been craving a burger—a Burger King one, specifically, given the pre-made grill lines on this baby—the Beyond Burger should definitely scratch that (very specific) itch. Ironically, Burger King is partnered with Impossible Foods so if you want this specific patty, try Carl's Jr.
Replicating a fishy umami flavor is no easy feat, but these Good Catch breaded fish fillets do just that with a combination of beans, peas, lentils, and soy. They have a tender, flaky, whitefish texture, and are excellent in a tartare-sauced bun. Good Catch also makes fish sticks, which offer pretty much the same flavor, but are more suitable for dipping.
There's something weirdly endearing about this OG of the fake-burger game. No, a Boca burger doesn't really taste like a burger, but its chewiness, crusty exterior, and blast of salt make it stand out, and without the dryness that plagues so many fake meats. This may be why Boca has essentially become the Kleenex of the veggie burger canon despite a taste not unlike the old high-school cafeteria beef puck (which, let's face it, was probably about as much "beef" as this). Bottom line: we ate the whole thing.
We bet if you served up this ground beef in a classic bolognese sauce at a dinner party, no one would be able to suspect that it's plant-based. The texture and aroma of Beyond Beef mimic the real deal, and can be incorporated into so many different meals, from tacos to chili—an ideal option for the weekday flexitarian.
Plant-based beef is miles ahead of other proteins. They've pinned down that meaty recipe, have created "blood" from plant proteins, and even add that signature, smoky flavor that's typical in charbroiled burgers. Chicken is harder, but one brand has really nailed it. Daring Foods' "chicken" tastes like the real deal and even shreds the same way chicken does. Add this to stir fries or bread it for a chicken nugget for a vegetarian-friendly piece of chicken that'll change the way you perceive meat.
Impossible Foods is one of Beyond Meat's largest competitors, but they're both after the same mission: make meaty tasting stuff crafted from plant proteins and save the planet. Impossible is able to edge out Beyond thanks to its texture. The burgers taste juicier, actually do have some plant "bleeding," and just absorb marinades and seasonings like a sponge. Impossible's Burger King partnership produced a vegetarian-friendly Whopper that we think is even better than the original—which is quite a feat. If you want to eat beef but don't want to kill cows, this is a great option.
Of all the meat-substitute products out there, the British company Quorn has done the best at nailing the flavor and texture of the food it's emulating—a rare fake meat that can actually stand tall next to the real thing. As a longtime fan of the generic chicken puck sandwich, we can attest that Quorn's disc—with its thick breading, juiciness, and glorious saline kick—is spot on. In fact, it's better than 80% of its meat-centric frozen counterparts. That's not exactly a high bar, mind you, but the fact that a non-meat from Britain has managed to out-chicken the likes of Tyson and Banquet—it's juicier and more flavorful than both—is a befuddling, delightful surprise.