12 Plant-Based Meat Substitutes Everyone Needs to Know
Whether you're going vegetarian for personal or health reasons, it can be tricky to get started. Make the transition easier with the best meat substitutes, including tofu, tempeh, seitan and more.
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Vegetarian or not, you’ve likely heard of tofu as a meat substitute. This soy-based protein source comes in different levels of firmness—from silken to super-firm. Tofu is designed to soak up flavor from sauces and accompanying ingredients, and can be used in scrambles, smoothies, stir-fries and other tofu recipes. Just don’t make these tofu mistakes when cooking it! Check out the health benefits of tofu, too.
Similar to tofu, tempeh is also soy-based (and protein-rich—it’s one of the foods with more protein than an egg). It’s dense with a nutty flavor and can easily holds its shape. Tempeh tastes great steamed, grilled, pan-fried, baked and more (here’s a guide on how to cook it). Try it on a sandwich, cubed atop a salad or even skewered on kabobs.
Try It! — Lightlife, Original Tempeh
Made from vital wheat gluten, seitan is a juicy meat substitute with a similar texture to chicken. Seitan is pretty bland on its own, so it often incorporates soy sauce, seasonings, spices and nutritional yeast for added flavor. Try it mixed into a stew, shredded into tacos or marinated and grilled on its own.
Try It! – Upton’s Naturals, Traditional Seitan
If you’re craving pulled pork, it’s time to give jackfruit a try. This tropical fruit mimics the texture of your favorite barbecue, and when slathered in sauce, it’s almost impossible to tell the difference. Once you get your hands on it, check out these jackfruit recipes.
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Plant-Based Meat Crumbles
Crumbled meats—like ground beef or chorizo—are a staple in tons of delicious dishes. And luckily, plant-based meat substitutes taste just like the real deal. These faux-meats often come pre-crumbled in the frozen aisle or packaged as a large block in the fresh meat section. We love them mixed into pasta, baked into a casserole or incorporated into a hearty chili.
Replacement meat products—like the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger—have come a long way. In today’s market, you’ll find plant-based burgers with the same texture and flavor of beef—and some of ‘em even “bleed.” You can also find plant-based burgers made with veggies, beans and lentils. Our Test Kitchen found the best plant-based burgers—check out their top picks.
Try It! — Boca, All-American Veggie Burgers
If you’re having a hard time giving up fast food—don’t worry! You can still have your beloved nuggets. Plant-based chicken tenders, patties and nuggets taste just like the real deal. Nestle them between a bun, add them to a salad or just enjoy ‘em with your favorite barbecue sauce. You can also find non-breaded chicken shreds, which are ideal for stir-frys, soups and sandwiches.
Try It! — Gardein, Plant-Based Chick’n Tenders
Summer was designed for cookouts. And you won’t miss any of the fun thanks to veggie “sausages.” They’re easy to toss on the grill, and they taste very similar to the real thing. Just make sure you know how to grill brats (veggie or not) like a Wisconsinite.
Try It! — Beyond Meat, Plant-Based Brats
Vegetarian Deli Slices
If you enjoy a sandwich for lunch every day, check out deli slices made from tomatoes or lentils instead of traditional ham and turkey. Each meat substitute slice is packed with flavor and includes several grams of protein. Try these expert tips for making the best-ever sandwich.
Try It! — Tofurky, Oven-Roasted Deli Slices
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Whether you buy them ready-to-eat out of a can or in need of a good soaking, lentils are a protein-packed staple in a plant-based diet. They have an earthy texture and taste delicious in tacos, grain bowls, soups and other vegetarian lentil recipes.
Try It! – Palouse Brand, Small Brown Lentils
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Beans and Chickpeas
Vegetarians know and love beans and chickpeas in salads, sheet pan suppers, Mexican dishes or pureed into one of our best hummus recipes. They’re a diet staple that’s cheap, easy and quick to prepare. Check out all of your options with these bean-based vegetarian recipes.
Try It! – Bush’s Best, Garbanzo Beans
Pasta night just got a lot more filling. Instead of empty carbs, plant-based protein pastas rely on lentils, chickpeas, whole grains, soybeans and other filling ingredients. While a bit pricier than your standard box of noodles, these versions taste equally delicious when mixed with your favorite sauce.
Try It! – Banza, Chickpea Pasta