Gone are the days when eating a meatless “burger” at a summer BBQ meant choking down a sad hockey puck of blackened plant protein. These fake meat burgers have really come a long way. In fact, we have meatless beef that bleeds. Even some certified carnivores are considering the switch to fake meat with an interest in the health benefits, sustainability and pro-animal welfare angle of eating plant protein.
Here’s a look at some of the best choices just in time for grilling season, plus few essential dos and don’ts so you can make every meat-free moment is as delicious as possible.
WHERE’S THE BEEF?
We’re living in the Renaissance Age of imposter beef. That’s what marketers want us to think, anyway, starting with the plant-based Beyond Burger, which is sold “raw” in the refrigerated section and purportedly delivers the “full 360° mouth-watering, juicy and delicious experience of beef.”
Made of peas, coconut oil and cleverly employed beet juice (for that all-important blood mimicry) these hefty patties resemble beef and layer handsomely in a sesame bun. However, as with most substitution foods, from rice “pasta” to vegan “cheese,” appreciating the flavor is a subjective situation.
The Beyond Meat folks also have a new product, Beyond Sausage, that recently arrived in Whole Foods markets. Varieties include: Original Bratwurst, Hot Italian and Sweet Italian. Start by trying the Bratwurst with sauerkraut and mustard in a soft bun.
Perhaps you’ve also heard of the super trendy Impossible Burger, a non-meat patty that nonetheless “smells, sizzles and bleeds” like the real thing, according to its website. Want it for your next barbecue? Sorry, it’s not in retail stores yet, and can be found only at select restaurants. That said, if you’re curious to try it, you can easily check online to see if it’s on a menu near you. (Most large cities do have spots that serve it.)
This vegetarian tester wasn’t a fan of the taste of either the Beyond or the Impossible burgers, preferring the flavor of veggie- and grain-based burgers over the products designed to mimic raw meat. (Full disclosure: I never liked the taste of real beef to begin with.)
BURGER-LIKE VS. VEGGIE PATTIES
“Raw” non-meat burgers might be trendy, but don’t overlook the tried-and-true products in the freezer aisle. Just be sure not to confuse burger-like patties with veggie patties: The former will be brown and look (a little bit) like frozen beef. For burger-like patties, try Whole Foods brand 365 Meatless Burgers or Morning Star Farms Grillers Original Burgers. Both have a flavor and texture reminiscent of frozen sausage.
Veggie burgers, on the other hand, visibly show grains and colorful veggies and rarely brown up the same way — a good example is Dr. Praeger’s California Veggie Burgers.
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Nutrition-wise, the “burger-alternative” style patty tends to be lower in carbs and higher in protein than its veggie burger counterpart, which fits into current lifestyle and diet trends. For example, the Beyond Burger has 5 grams of carbs and 20 grams of protein; the Whole Foods 365 Alternative Burger has 7 grams of carbs and 11 grams of protein. This is fewer carbs than you’ll find in grain-or bean-based veggie burgers: Dr. Praeger’s California Veggie Burger has 13 grams of carbs and 4 grams of protein; Hilary’s World’s Best Garden Burger has 27 grams of carbs and 4 grams of protein. The upshot? Check every label if carbs are a concern for you.
MEATLESS DOS AND DON’TS
Cook meatless patties gently. Because these “burgers” lack the natural fattiness of beef they can taste worse than cardboard if exposed to careless high-heat cooking. In fact, many alternative meat products taste better when fried in a pan instead of blasted on the grill; they also cook quickly, so avoid overdoing it. Don’t forget the fixins: melted cheese, fresh tomato, crunchy lettuce, creamy avocado and sliced pickles can help overcome any texture or flavor issues, so that meatless burger satisfies you from the first bite.