Vegan meat substitutes have come a long way in the past decade and especially in the past five years. What used to be just variations of tofu, seitan, tempeh, beans, lentils, and nuts has exploded into a full-blown industry with alternatives that are indistinguishable and dare we say far better than their flesh based counterparts. One source even estimates that by the year 2025 the meat substitute market will be worth $7.5 billion dollars! Consumers are speaking loud and clear that they want to consume more plants and less animals. And now is the perfect time to try some of the delicious vegan offerings.
Vegan meat substitutes are on the rise for good reason. Not only are they delicious, but you can enjoy them knowing no death or suffering had to occur to obtain them. These faux meats can be excellent transition tools to a healthier diet. They are also a great gateway to share with non-vegans to showcase just how tasty vegan food can be.
While it is true that some vegan meat alternatives are fairly processed and do not offer much nutrition, the current market is making sure to lead with healthier, high protein or whole foods based options for even the most health-savvy. Whether you’re vegan for your health, the environment or for animals or you’re just interested in eating less meat, there are options for everyone. Our list includes a variety of more processed, closer to the “real” thing kind of meat alternatives as well as some less processed, more whole foods based alternatives. We’ve also included a guide below sharing some DIY meat substitutes. So dive in and prepare to be amazed at what you can buy or make!
Best Hot Dog
Yeah Dawg Hot Dogs
These vegan hot dogs smell and taste just like what you grew up on without the weird ingredient list! They are soy-free, gluten-free, and are made up of vegetables, seeds, flours and spices. This makes it the ideal minimally processed dog to help you get your fix.
How We Like to Enjoy it: Served on a lightly toasted hot dog bun with raw garlic sauerkraut and west brae naturals sugar-free ketchup.
Beyond Meat Burger
These burgers were one of the most talked about, highly coveted items of the year, and for good reason. These meatless burgers not only taste like a classic burger but look like one too thanks to beet extract. The high protein burger (20 grams!) utilizes pea protein and is free of both soy and gluten, making it great for people with allergies. If you’re looking for it at a traditional grocery store, be sure to look in the meat case, as they prefer placement here to help showcase the burger and appeal to those who are typically buying meat as an alternative that’s easy to find.
How We Like to Enjoy it: On a bun with Bubbie’s pickle slices, thinly sliced sweet onion and a slice of sharp Cheddar Parmela Creamery cheese.
Hilary’s Eat Well World’s Best Veggie Burger
These burgers are the perfect whole foods alternative to the many more processed meat alternatives on the market. Made from whole grains, vegetables, coconut oil and spices these are healthy and hearty. Besides all the healthy ingredients, these burgers are free of most major allergens including soy, gluten, nuts and corn.
How We Like to Enjoy it: As part of an open-faced sandwich using romaine lettuce, hot sauce, homemade cashew cream and onion.
Best Chicken Tender
Gardein Seven Grain Crispy Tenders
These crispy tenders will take you back to your childhood with their golden crisp breading and moist flavorful insides. These tenders are delicious dipped in ketchup or a ranch sauce or even cut up into strips and tossed atop salad. No matter how you eat them, you’ll always come back for more of this classic comfort food.
How We Like to Enjoy it: Ideally these are served with a vegan ranch, either homemade or Hilary’s Ranch Chia dressing. Served alongside some French fries and ketchup for a childhood classic feel.
Best Breakfast Alternative
Sweet Earth Benevolent Bacon
This smokey wheat gluten-based tempeh is absolutely delicious and far less processed than some other options on the market. It contains 10 grams of protein. Using wheat gluten, beans, and spices and flavorings, this bacon gives you the flavor and texture of bacon without tons of fat or suffering. This bacon is perfect alongside some tofu scramble and toast or on a BLT. Its irresistibly delicious flavor and texture may tempt you to eat the whole pack in one sitting, and we won’t judge you for it!
How We Like to Enjoy it: As part of a breakfast for dinner spread with homemade pancakes with loads of vegan butter and maple syrup, crispy breakfast potatoes and chickpea scramble.
Field Day Breakfast Sausage
These apple maple breakfast sausages are high in protein and packed with flavor. The warmth of maple syrup and tartness of the apple combine beautifully with the savory spices and smokey flavor giving you a sausage that makes mornings feel warm and cozy. These sausages are great served with pancakes or cooked up and thrown into a breakfast burrito.
How We Like to Enjoy it: Served for breakfast with fresh squeezed orange juice, homemade potato hash and a few apple slices to compliment the sausage.
Best Snacking Alternative
Pan’s Applewood BBQ Mushroom Jerky
This mushroom jerky will stop you in your tracks upon first bite. It’s chewy, it has a hint of sweetness, smokiness and a depth that really comes through the longer you eat it. This jerky is made from organic dried shiitake mushrooms, coconut sugar, avocado oil and spices, making it the ideal whole foods based meat alternative. It’s the perfect road trip food, or throw it atop a salad for intense flavor and texture. However you enjoy it, we dare you to not eat the bag in one sitting.
How We Like to Enjoy it: On top of a freshly baked potato complete with a homemade vegan cheddar sauce or Daiya cheddar sauce, steamed broccoli, and sea salt. Cut the jerky into small pieces reminiscent of bacon bits and enjoy this twist on a classic comfort food!
Best BBQ Alternative
Upton’s Naturals BBQ Jackfruit
Jackfruit is in, and for good reason. This delicious fruit gives the ultimate meaty texture while absorbing any flavor its mixed with. Upton’s simply added spices and barbecue seasoning and this perfectly marinated jackfruit is the perfect way to wow family and friends. Use it on sandwiches or in tacos, if you can manage to not eat it all out of the skillet first.
How We Like to Enjoy it: Atop our favorite soft corn tortillas with shredded cabbage, salsa, sliced avocado and shredded vegan cheese such as Treeline hard classic grated.
Best New Take on a Classic Meat Alternative
Smiling Hara Hempeh Smoked Salt and Pepper Steak
Hempeh is a soy-free version of tempeh, using protein-rich peanuts and hemp seeds to make a dense, yet easy to digest meat alternative. This smokey hempeh is rich in omega 3’s and protein. It has a nice salty, peppery flavor that’s perfect as is or marinated in a sauce of choice. Enjoy it atop a homemade ramen soup or use it in place of chicken for a twist on a classic Caesar salad.
How We Like to Enjoy it: While this is great on anything, we love to use it in an updated version of chicken tikka masala. Vegan Richa has a tempeh tikka masala with kale that this is just divine in!
Best Deli Style Slices
Field Roast Lentil Sage Deli Slices
Field Roast really knows how to make outstanding vegan meat alternatives, and their slices are no exception. These slices come in three flavors. They use wheat as well as spices and minimal binders to make a minimally processed slice for all your sandwich needs. The slices are relatively low calorie and high in protein as well as flavor, making them ideal for snacking.
How We Like to Enjoy it: The lentil sage slices have a very Thanksgiving feel to us, so we like to enjoy them like a leftover sandwich. Atop of bread with cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing or baked corn if you desire and a few spring greens for color.
Homemade Meat Substitutes
Whether you’ve tried the best meat substitutes on the market, have food allergies, or simply enjoy making things from scratch, we’ve curated the definitive list of modern meat substitutes. It’s time to get creative!
We love jackfruit so much we’ve published an entire article about it! Jackfruit is versatile fruit and depending on its ripeness can be used in both sweet and savory recipes. Young, unripe jackfruit makes the perfect meat alternative and can be used to replace both pork and chicken. Native Forest makes a canned jackfruit perfect for at home use. Simply drain the can and rinse the jackfruit. Toss it into a skillet on medium with a tbsp or two of oil or water. Then add in 1/2-3/4 cup of your favorite sauce (barbecue, alfredo, teriyaki). Cook on medium until well coated and warm, breaking up big chunks if necessary.
Our go-to recipe: Easiest Jackfruit BBQ
Cauliflower has been an “IT” food for a while and for good reason. Cauliflower marinates beautifully and has a hearty texture perfect for mimicking meat without being too dense. You can cut cauliflower into steaks and brush with olive oil, garlic and spices and roast for an exceptionally delicious steak. Our favorite way to prepare cauliflower is to cut it into large chunks and marinate it for an hour or so in vegan wing sauce. Then roast it 30-45 minutes until tender and serve with ranch dressing for the ultimate wing experience.
Our go-to recipe: Vegan Cauliflower Buffalo Wings
Those in the know have long praised mushrooms for their versatile flavor and meaty texture. These make them ideal for replacing meat in anything from steak sandwiches to chicken stir fries. The key is experimenting with a variety of mushrooms to get to know their unique flavors and textures. Button and cremini mushrooms are juicier and have a nice subtle flavor. Maitake mushrooms are a bit expensive but the texture (think thinly pulled chicken breast) and their intense flavor are well worth it. Shiitake mushrooms are a very meaty mushroom with a bit of chew and hold flavor extremely well. All mushrooms work well with onion, garlic and either soy sauce or coconut aminos.
Our go-to recipe: Portobello Steaks
This unsuspecting nut is not only oily, delicious, and high in omega 3, it combines well to make a perfect beef crumble alternative! Walnuts can be pulsed with sun-dried tomatoes and spices for a raw meat crumble or with lentils for a higher protein option. Either way, you will wow everyone with this walnut meat!
Our personal recipe: Walnut Crumbles
- 1 cup raw walnuts
- 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, diced after measuring
- 2 tsp coconut aminos
- 1 clove garlic
- 3/4 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp or more cayenne
- 1/2 tsp oregano
- 3/4 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
Process the chopped sun-dried tomatoes in the food processor until small (bacon bits size) and remove. Process the walnuts and all the spices until broken down and crumbly (except the sun-dried tomatoes and coconut aminos). Finally, add in the sun-dried tomatoes and coconut aminos and process until well incorporated.
Our go-to recipe: Lentil Walnut Taco Meat
Our final meat substitute may come as a surprise but hear us out. Carrots are dense, marinate well and can retain moisture. There’s a reason that there’s a carrot hot dog craze happening, even if it’s only in the vegan community. They taste SO good, you can eat quite a few without feeling terrible, and it’s a whole food, so score!
Our go-to recipe: Smokey Vegan Carrot Dogs