The Best Veggie Hot Dogs and Sausages to Grill With Right Now
There are some great options out there.
For many years, vegetarian hot dogs left a lot to be desired in the flavor department. Unfortunately, for the most part, veggie hot dogs tasted nothing like real hot dogs -- or like anything you’d want to eat. But things have gotten better for folks who live meat-free but still want the flavor of grilled beef and pork.
Food manufacturers have been launching new, better-tasting veggie dogs, likely encouraged by the fantastic consumer feedback from plant-based meat brands like Impossible. So which ones are the best? We tasted a variety of veggie franks and sausages from six of the top brands available in your local supermarket in an effort to help vegetarians eat better and for carnivores to not treat their plant-loving friends like an afterthought.
MorningStar is one of the OGs of the fake meat game. The company started in the mid-’70s and was acquired by cereal manufacturer Kellogg in 1999.
Two major things about the dog separate it from the other entries in this rundown: it’s frozen and it’s not vegan. You have to throw it in a microwave or boil or thaw it before you can toss it on the grill, which is a bit of extra leg work that we're not about. And while the company is working to create vegan versions of its products, the dog available now contains egg whites. As for the flavor, it tastes like egg whites, too. Like eating egg whites poured out of a carton at a hotel breakfast buffet and somehow shaped into a vegetarian hot dog. This might have been a fine vegetarian option in the ‘90s, but things have changed.
Lightlife is another plant-based food manufacturer that’s been around the block. The company claims it’s the best-selling plant-based dog in the country -- considering its ubiquity in every supermarket’s fake-meat refrigerated case, it’s not hard to believe. The Smart Dog was launched in ‘93, and when I attended college a handful of years later, I largely subsisted on these hot dogs.
Fast forward to 2019: I took a whiff of this hot dog off the grill and it reminded me of making dinner in that run-down apartment my friends and I shared behind a gas station. Luckily, I can no longer see the price of unleaded fuel from my living room, but the garlic and smoke flavors feel like they haven’t changed a bit since the ‘90s. Back then, you didn’t care if a veggie dog fell apart in your mouth and didn’t resemble anything close to meat texture-wise -- the fake smoke aromas and taste were enough. Cover it in mustard and nestle it in a bun and it’s surely edible, but the veggie dog has been improved by companies that’ve innovated, let’s say, beyond a basic, soy-based dog.
Like Lightlife and MorningStar, Tofurky burst onto the scene and into natural food stores in the ‘80s, but it truly captured everyone’s attention in the mid-'90s with Thanksgiving-style fake meat turkeys that annoyed every last one of America’s old-fashioned uncles. Since then, the company has developed loads of other products besides fake turkey, including hot dogs.
Tofurky scores major points by producing beer brats made primarily from top-notch ingredients like wheat gluten, organic tofu, and actual beer. In fact, the Hood River, Oregon-based company teamed up with longstanding brewery Full Sail Brewing Co., and used its amber ale to make the brat 100% more beery. Sadly, the beer flavor doesn’t come through in the final product, but there’s plenty to like about the brat. It doesn’t taste terribly meaty, but you can savor the quality ingredients (the tofu, especially) in each bite. It also appears that Tofurky took care to ensure the brat had plenty of garlic and onion flavor, but there’s not a fake smoke bite in the whole thing.
Enter the new-school of vegetarian meat makers! Field Roast began producing its “artisanal plant-based meat and cheese” in ‘97, and has happily found a place in vegetarian’s fridges with a variety of sausages, burgers, roasts, and the best-tasting fake chicken I’ve ever had in my life that’s also nearly impossible to find. Not that I’m complaining. (OK fine, I am. I miss it.)
First off, this company nails the branding. When you take off the outer packaging, the franks come out wrapped like sausage links, making it impossible for you not to whip around six veggie dogs like you’re a mutant turtle. Hours of fun. More importantly, this certified-vegan hot dog option tastes delicious. It has a great chew (though not quite as snappy as a real dog), and it’s well-seasoned with paprika, sea salt, onions, spices, liquid smoke, caraway, celery seed, and ground mustard seed. It’s not going to fool anyone into thinking it’s the real thing, but it’s worth picking up nonetheless. Oh, and each dog has 21 grams of protein, over four times what’s in a Nathan’s dog.
2. Trader Joe's Italian Sausage-Less SausageMain ingredients: water, textured soy protein concentrate, soybean oil, egg whites
TJ’s has long been a great place to buy great-tasting vegetarian food, from the frozen food aisle to, well, everywhere else in the store. From baked tofu to a Cashew Fiesta Dip that will light your world on fire, I came in with high expectations for this plant-based sausage sold with the TJ brand stamp of greatness. It clocks in with 13 grams of protein, and if it’s true that you eat with your eyes first, you’ll love that out of all the sausages and dogs listed, it looks most like the real thing.
Ultimately, we judge these suckers on taste, and it delivers, with loads of onion, garlic, and tomato notes. It’s also a little scary how the texture matches an actual sausage. Inferior fake meats fall apart in your mouth, but this has the chew you’d expect from the real thing. And egg whites, which were a major ingredient in the MorningStar Farms dog, also shows up in this. Thankfully, it does not cause the sausage to taste like an egg. Oh, and the smell! It’s gloriously meaty. It shouldn’t be a surprise, but TJ’s has another winner on its shelves.
Other than Impossible Foods, there is no more quintessential modern fake meat company than Beyond Meat. It’s so modern, it’s a publicly traded company with a $10 billion market cap. It wasn’t founded in some hippie town in the Northwest -- Bill Gates had money in this company before it went public. In 2016, I went to my local Whole Foods and tried one of the first burgers the company put on the market. I was impressed.
Flash forward three years later, and Beyond’s products are relatively easy to find in your local supermarket. Its sausage package is cleverly designed to resemble a shrink-wrapped sausage package in the meat department. I was excited until I picked up the sausage to grill it. It felt like Play-Doh. D’oh. I like messing around with Play-Doh, but I don’t want to eat it.
Things got significantly better when I took it off the grill and tried to cut off a piece with a fork. It took work! Like, mash-your-fork-into-the-damn-piece-of-meat-why-isn’t-anything-happening type work. It looked juicy. It tasted even better than it looked. It makes you say things out loud like, “I can’t believe it’s this good.” You get a similar mouthfeel to eating a real sausage, the smokiness, and the snap of a primo piece of encased meat. It’s not made with pork. But it grills up so good you won’t care either way.