Taste Test: The Plant-Based Meat Products You Need to Try
This story is part of The Food & Wine Guide to Plant-Based Meat.
With each passing year, the plant-based "meat" market continues to explode, offering consumers more options for not only meatless burgers, but "chicken" nuggets, sausage, and even bacon. You can find the products at restaurants across the country—chains like Umami Burger, Pizza Hut, and Dunkin' have them on their menus. And plant-based meat is stocked at plenty of stores, too. Trader Joe's carries its own plant-based burgers, while Swedish-style "plant balls" (aka plant-based meatballs) are on offer at Ikea, ready for you to try in your own kitchen.
Since there are so many choices out there for home cooks, we were curious to see which plant-based meats—whether patties, crumbles or nuggets—would yield the most satisfying results. So our testers got to work, calling in tons of different products to cook (and eat) their way through them all. Each product was evaluated based on its taste, texture, smell, appearance, and even the sound it made (both while cooking and as it was eaten). In the end, after going through our notes and crunching the numbers, there were several products we'd happily cook with again and again. Read on for some of our favorites, organized by category.
Ground and Crumbles
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of plant-based meat might (understandably) be burgers. After all, brands like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have their patties at restaurants all over the country. But don't sleep on meatless crumbles and ground meat—the former can be used in recipes like tacos and meaty pasta sauces, while the ground options are ideal for forming into burgers, meatballs, and more. In our test, we found a spot-on substitute for pork chorizo and meatless meatballs we liked so much, we'd buy them over the regular kind. Below, we've rounded up a few of our top performers in the category.
Test Kitchen Favorite for Ground: Before the Butcher Uncut Chorizo Ground
This ground chorizo-spiced crumble could almost be mistaken for the real thing. With a tender but crumbly texture, plenty of moisture from coconut oil (standing in for pork fat), a vibrant color from smoked paprika, and a satisfying sizzle in the pan, one tester noted, "This is amazing! From the look, smell, taste—this could fool almost anyone into thinking it's pork chorizo."
Ready for Breakfast: Before the Butcher Uncut Breakfast Ground
With a slightly sweet flavor, just a touch of mild heat, and a coarse grind, this breakfast crumble seamlessly stands in for your favorite breakfast sausage. It browns beautifully in the pan, making it look and taste like premium ground sausage. "The flavor and texture are incredible… I truly believe if this is the future of plant-based protein, I'm totally in!" wrote one tester.
Perfect for: Breakfast sandwiches, tofu scrambles.
The Versatile Pick: Impossible Burger Ground
A true stand-out that isn't overhyped, the Impossible Burger Ground is "just like the real stuff," according to our testers. It sizzles in the pan, rendering crispy edges while staying juicy and tender. It smells like ground chuck, and looks like it, too, with a deep pink center, studded with just enough fat. "I'd buy this over beef any day," one tester wrote. Choose this classic ground for dishes where the meat shines, such as the dishes listed below.
For Meatball Recipes: Beyond Meat Beyond Meatballs Italian-Style Plant-Based Meatballs
These meatballs are packed with fresh flavor from fennel seed, garlic, and a blend of herbs, and earned points over the meaty version we tried when "they held together better than a normal meatball would" in the pan. They cooked quickly and evenly, browning nicely while retaining moisture. Testers said they'd buy these plant-based meatballs over the real thing.
Perfect for: Spaghetti and meatballs, meatball subs, meatball pizza.
Time for Bolognese: Incogmeato by MorningStar Farms Plant-Based Ground
Almost as beefy as ground chuck, this ground Incogmeato is slightly pasty straight out of the package, but cooks up crispy and juicy. With a deeply savory flavor, this plant-based meat also boasts a deep pink interior and even has a wavy, freshly ground meat look.
Perfect for: Pasta sauce, sloppy joes.
Test Kitchen Favorite for Crumbles: Beyond Meat Beyond Beef Crumbles—Beefy
A strong seasoning blend gives these crumbles a rich umami flavor that shines through saucy dishes to give them a meaty bite. We'd reach for these for pasta sauce, lasagna, or casseroles since their slightly "starchy and chewy" texture pairs best with a moist sauce.
Perfect for: Pasta sauce, lasagna.
Burgers and Patties
The burgers and patties category for our test was pretty broad, including products that were meant to mimic beef hamburgers, breaded chicken patties, turkey patties, and chicken burgers, too. Before the Butcher earned high marks for its Uncut Plant-Based Savory Chicken Burger, Uncut Classic Plant-Based Burger, and Mainstream Plant-Based Patties; we also loved Impossible's burger and MorningStar Farms' Incogmeato patties. As for breaded patties? Try Quorn's.
Poultry and Breaded Patties
Test Kitchen Favorite for Poultry Patties: Before the Butcher Uncut Plant-Based Savory Chicken Burger
With a crispy golden crust and a tender juicy interior, this faux-chicken burger tastes like the real deal. One tester said, "if you put any other chicken patty next to this, I don't think you'd be able to tell which was the real and which was the plant-based." Standout traits of this sandwich-ready patty: A slight spice that set it apart from its blander competitors, and a rich, savory aroma that earned it a perfect score in our taste test on all metrics.
Perfect for: Chicken "Parm" and salads.
Tasty "Chicken" Patties: Quorn Meatless Patties
With a classic breaded chicken patty taste, the Quorn patty is the perfect base for a stellar faux-chicken sandwich. The texture is appetizingly similar to chicken, and the patty turns beautifully golden brown after baking while staying juicy on the inside. Toasty breadcrumbs lend to a crispy exterior—our tester said, "I would definitely reach for these to build a sandwich." Take note: Quorn's patties include egg whites and whole egg, so they're not vegan.
Perfect for: Crispy chicken sandwiches.
Test Kitchen Favorite for Burgers: Before the Butcher Style Uncut Plant-Based Burger
The Before the Butcher burger sears nicely into a rich brown, and is well-seasoned—our tester remarked that it reminded her of a burger seasoned with Worcestershire sauce. The crunch of the crust that chars and browns beautifully like a beef patty gives way to a tender, juicy burger that stays pink from beet extract to give it the appearance of a medium-rare beef burger.
Perfect for: Classic burgers.
Another Favorite: Impossible Burger Patties
Crispy, juicy, mouthwatering—the Impossible patty earned rave reviews, and was a tester favorite. With a spot-on texture and savory, umami flavor that had us questioning if it was even truly plant-based, the Impossible burger was even more tender than our control beef burger. A satisfying sizzle, with an exterior that browns while leaving the interior juicy and medium-rare, this is the plant-based burger you bring to a cookout. "Nothing negative to report here," our tester wrote.
Perfect for: Also great for classic burgers.
If You're Craving Meatloaf: Before the Butcher Mainstream Plant-Based Patties
With a strong tomato flavor, plenty of "beefy" umami, and a bit of a chew to the grind, these patties would be perfect for a meatloaf sandwich. After a sizzle on the stove, layer them up with plenty of ketchup, crispy butter lettuce, a slather of vegan mayo, and maybe a handful of onions or pickles on your favorite sandwich bread. A slice or two of Chao cheese wouldn't be out of place, either.
Perfect for: Meatloaf sandwiches.
For Loaded Burgers: Incogmeato by MorningStar Farms Burger Patties
"Juicy and tender and genuinely beefy in flavor," these patties are perfect for a fully loaded burger. With a slightly stringy grind that had them falling only slightly short of our other favorites, we'd recommend these excellent patties paired with your favorite condiments and enclosed in a pillowy bun.
Perfect for: Burgers piled high with toppings.
In addition to breaded patties and chicken burgers, we also tried out a few plant-based chicken nuggets—and there was one clear standout.
Test Kitchen Favorite: Quorn Meatless Nuggets
Quorn's meatless nuggets have a "subtle poultry seasoning flavor" and a pleasantly crunchy, crisp breading. "These have the same golden brown coating and pale white interior of any meatful chicken nugget," our tester wrote. Major points for the fact that they can stand on their own without a dipping sauce. Like Quorn's breaded patties, these nuggets also list eggs in their ingredient list.
Perfect for: Dipping—or not dipping!
For the sausage category, we tried four different plant-based options, including two varieties of breakfast sausage, a bratwurst, and Italian sausage. One of the breakfast sausages and the bratwurst ended up our favorites out of the spread—while we didn't feel that the bratwurst was a "full-fledged replacement" for your classic meaty bratwurst, we did find it to be a good substitute.
Test Kitchen Favorite: Incogmeato by MorningStar Farms Original Bratwurst
Our tester wrote that "the spice level in here is perfect," noting caraway and fennel flavors came through. The exterior browning was also "spot-on" and the sausage made an appealing sizzling sound in the skillet as it cooked.
Perfect for: Serving on a crusty bun with hot mustard.
Test Kitchen Favorite: Beyond Meat Beyond Breakfast Sausage Plant-Based Links
When cooking these links, we found that they browned nicely in the skillet and yielded juicy, flavorful results. There was a nice balance of salty and sweet flavors, and it reminded us of a "real-deal breakfast sausage link.""Absolutely would purchase this and recommend to vegans and meat-eaters alike," our tester wrote.
Perfect for: Eating as a breakfast side, or cutting up for scrambles and omelets, etc.