Some Background First
As thousands of slaughterhouse and meat-packing employees battle coronavirus infections, meat production has dramatically slowed. In fact, meat industry workers have been so disproportionately affected by COVID-19, that some facilities have had to temporarily shutter.
This has led to a meat shortage in the United States. Just last week, fast food chain Wendy’s announced they would be removing hamburgers from their menu at certain locations. Supermarkets have also reported limited quantities of meat.
So, Americans who may have never considered eating vegan or vegetarian before are now trying plant-based meats for the first time. And companies are taking notice. Beyond Meat, the only publicly traded vegan meat company, recently announced they would be slashing prices in hopes of enticing new customers to buy their products. Impossible Foods, whose Impossible Burger took the world by storm when it came on the scene a couple years ago, debuted their plant-based beef in nearly 2,000 Kroger supermarkets.
Now, there are a lot of vegan alternatives to meat on the market. And they’re not equal in terms of taste, texture, etc. when it comes to mimicking meat.
As a vegan for more than a decade, but also as someone who ate meat for 30 years, I’m compiling this list specifically for meat eaters. These are the plant-based meats I think are most like the ones you’re used to. In my humble opinion, these are the products you should buy if you’re trying meat alternatives for the first time.
The Meatless List for Meat Lovers
OK, so for the look, taste, and mouthfeel of hamburger, meat balls, ground beef, etc. Impossible Foods is the most like meat. I think it’s because Impossible’s plant-based meat contains heme, the same chemical compound found in animal blood. The scientists at Impossible found a way to make heme from plants instead and it gives their meat a look and flavor that is uncanny. I honestly think even the most dedicated meat eater would have a hard time telling the difference between an Impossible Burger and a burger fashioned from animal meat.
If you can’t find Impossible, don’t stress because Beyond Meat is a very close second. They make pre-formed burgers and also a ground beef product that is excellent and very close to animal-based meat. Also, Beyond’s meat doesn’t contain any soy if you’re allergic, Impossible’s does.
The best meatless sausages on the market are the ones by Beyond Meat. They come in two flavors: Original Brat and Hot Italian. This is also a case where you will not be able to tell the difference between the vegan version and the ones you’re used to. I’ve even have meat eaters tell me they prefer Beyond Sausages to the ones made from pigs. Beyond just introduced a breakfast sausage as well and it’s excellent.
Though they’re not nearly as close to animal meat as Beyond Sausage, I want to also give a shout out to the vegan sausages made by Field Roast (the apple sage flavor is my favorite). The texture on these is different, so I recommend crumbling this up and putting it in a pasta dish or a stuffing. The flavor on these is fantastic.
Both Gardein and Morningstar Farms make exceptional meat-free chicken products.
Gardein’s Crispy Tenders are just like chicken fingers. Their Chick’n Sliders are also fantastic. For a chicken breast replacement, try Gardein’s Scallopini if you can find it.
Though some of their line is vegetarian not vegan, Morningstar Farms’ Popcorn Chicken is delicious. They also have a vegan version of their nuggets which are great too.
For a pulled pork recipe, try any of the companies that offer pre-marinated jackfruit products. Jackfruit is actually the largest fruit in the world. It grows in Asia. The flesh is so similar to meat, it’s crazy. There a handful of companies that sell this including: Upton’s Naturals and The Jackfruit Company.
While the texture of bacon is not easy to find in the vegan world (just my opinion), the flavor is easy to replicate. Betty Crocker’s Baco’s Bacon Bits are actually meat-free and add a great bacon flavor to any recipe. I would also look for a new product called Pig Out Chips by Outstanding Foods. These crispy chips are probably the closest thing I’ve tasted to bacon since being going vegan. My husband uses them in sandwiches, salads, etc.
OK, I’m going to say something that might piss a lot of vegans off but I’ve never had a meat eater try the meat-free deli meats available and have a positive reaction. As a longtime vegan, I really like the products by Tofurky, but the meat eaters I know turn their noses up at it.
The only thing I can recommend, which is honestly next level and fantastic, is this brand new vegan corned beef product by Mrs. Goldfarb’s Unreal Deli – but it’s not widely available yet. You can get it off the website or if you have a local vegan market they might sell it. It’s also kind of expensive.
Some Deeper Thoughts
While this list represents what I think will satisfy most meat eaters’ palettes, I also highly suggest experimenting with new products and finding what you like. Keep in mind though, just because something might not be exactly like meat, doesn’t mean it’s not good. Lots of the flavors we love about our favorite meat dishes come from the condiments, spices, onions, garlic, etc. too so take the plant-based meats and jazz it up with all that stuff.
Finally, remember that when this meat shortage is over, plant-based meat truly is better. It’s better for our health, better in terms of its environmental impact, and sooo much better for the billions of animals who suffer at the brutal hands of the meat industry every year.
If you like the plant-based stuff (and even if you don’t), strongly consider making the switch permanent.