Even if you’re not a staunch vegetarian, perhaps you’ve been trying to cut back on your meat intake—whether it’s for health, animal welfare or environmental reasons. Because, while we are hardcore carnivores at The Manual, we love a Meatless Monday or a great veggie-packed meal from time to time as well. But sometimes you still want that juicy, meaty taste without indulging in pork or beef. There are still some hockey puck-like veggie burgers out there that could never stand up to the real thing, but luckily, the meat alternatives available today are better than they’ve ever been before.
If you’re looking for that juicy umami taste without eating animal protein, these meaty meat alternatives are the best we’ve tried.
A lot of vegetarians say they can’t eat the Impossible Burger because it looks and tastes too real—it’s proximity to actual meat freaks them out. And we have to say that it’s the closest thing to a true burger that we’ve tried. Impossible Burger isn’t currently available in grocery stores, which means you have to order it at restaurants for now. Places like Bareburger, Hopdoddy and Umami Burger serve the patty, and White Castle just started rolling out the product on its famous sliders. We recently tried Impossible Burger at BK Jani in Brooklyn (and at Jackrabbit prior to that in Portland), and you could have fooled us that it wasn’t real meat. Although the texture is slightly grainier than beef, the way it was spiced and grilled perfectly mimicked the flavor of a juicy burger. The outside had a nice char while the inside was still pink and juicy.
The Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger came out around the same time with the same goal—to battle a very unsustainable meat industry with a pea protein burger that looks and tastes like real beef. Just like Impossible Burger, Beyond Burger nailed it. We first tried it at Bareburger in NYC, and the medium rare patty was succulent, juicy, and satisfying. We ordered it the way it was listed on the menu with vegan American cheese, sweet pickles, lettuce and special sauce on a brioche bun, but in true Bareburger fashion, you can customize it to your liking. We also wanted to try cooking the Beyond Burger at home, so we picked up two fresh patties and cooked them on the stove-top according to package directions. The patties are thick, so you can cook them 60-90 seconds longer than it suggests for medium rare and they come out great. They turned out super juicy and meaty and are best enjoyed like you would a regular burger, on a bun with all the fixings. Beyond Burger isn’t going to outright fool dedicated meat eaters, but it certainly makes for a worthy substitute.
We’ve been eating Field Roast sausages for awhile, as they’ve been stocked on our grocery store shelves for years now. They come in three different flavors (Italian, Mexican Chipotle, and Smoked Apple Sage), all of which taste like their respected title. Field Roast sausages are made from “grain meat,” aka a mix of vital wheat gluten, vegetables, spices, and other seasonings like apple cider vinegar. The texture is indeed grainy, almost mealy, so they are best cooked until very crispy. We sliced the sausages into coin-sized pieces and pan sautéed them until browned and crisp on both sides. One taste tester said they might be best served crumbed to make them taste even more meaty, while another proclaimed he would have never known it wasn’t meat if we hadn’t told him so. If you’re cooking a dish that calls for sausage like pasta or tacos, Field Roast make a great substitute if you want a meat-free alternative.
Another meaty winner from Field Roast, these breakfast sausage links are a satisfying alternative to the real thing. Made with maple syrup and apples from the Pacific Northwest, they have a sweet, smoky flavor that pairs perfectly with pancakes or on toast with a slathering of mustard. When you cook them in a flying pan, they get a nice texture that’s lightly crisp on the outside and soft and meaty in the middle. The consistency is definitely softer than regular breakfast sausage, so it won’t fool hardcore carnivores, but it’s a fine substitute if you accept it for what it is and just enjoy the flavor.
A vegetarian fish substitute isn’t something you see very often—in fact, we didn’t realize they existed until we started researching this article. If you’re worried about mercury levels or just want a more sustainable fish option every now and then, Gardein has absolutely nailed this recipe. These Golden Fishless Filets are better than any fish stick we’ve ever had. They actually have a slightly fishy (not in a bad way) smell, and when cooked according to the toaster oven directions on the package, they become perfectly crispy on the outside and flaky on the inside. The flavor and texture are almost like a cross between a mild flaky fish and chicken. We found the Golden Fish Filets to be extremely delicious and satisfying, and really enjoyed them dipped in barbecue sauce.
But if you can’t let go of that meat just yet, check out our guide to the best cuts for grilling.