Ultimate Guide to the Best Vegan Meat Alternatives
Attention: People who are interested in going vegan or vegetarian but don’t think they could ever live without meat… I see you. That’s how most vegans and vegetarians feel before taking the leap. But luckily, in 2019, there are numerous meat plant-based meat alternatives available grocery stores, online, and even in restaurants — meaning you can still eat meat, but it just won’t come from an animal. It’s easier than ever to lower your diet’s carbon footprint, extend your love for animals to your plate, and say goodbye to the side effects of eating meat, thanks to all the faux meat out there.
Read on for everything you need to know about vegan meat, plus our guide to some of the best ones on the market.
What Are Vegan Meat Alternatives Made Of?
All vegan meat alternatives are a little different, but many are primarily made from soy, wheat gluten (also known as seitan), or pea protein. To give the food a similar flavor to its animal-based counterparts, plant-based meats are usually filled with various spices, and sometimes oil to mimic the high fat content in animal products.
Are Plant-Based Meat Alternatives Healthy?
While many vegan meat alternatives probably couldn’t be classified as a health food, most of them are generally better for you than eating animal products. Animal products are high in cholesterol, which can cause fatty buildups in arteries, which increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association.
In fact, the only food where cholesterol is present is meat, dairy, and eggs, since they come from the bodies of animals, and all animals naturally produce cholesterol. So by eating a diet free from animal products, most people with high cholesterol quickly see their cholesterol get lower.
Do Meat Alternatives Have Protein?
According to Dr. Scott Stoll, every single plant has protein — in fact, research shows that at least 14 percent of any given whole plant food’s total calories are protein. So even though meat alternatives may include added ingredients that do not have protein (such as sugar and oil, which are plant extracts), they all still have protein.
Some plant-based meat alternatives have comparable protein levels to the animal-based food that inspired it. For example, a 4-ounce Beyond Burger patty has 20 grams of protein, while a cow burger patty of the same size typically has about 16 grams of protein.
Are Meat Alternatives Expensive?
The price of meat alternatives varies from brand to brand and store to store. That being said, a vegan diet rich in meat alternatives would likely be more expensive than a vegan diet made up of whole foods. In general, things like beans, lentils, and vegetables are cheaper than buying faux meats, since packaged and processed foods are often more expensive than basic grains and produce.
However, most vegan diets are generally cheaper than a diet rich in meat and other animal products, especially if you’re purchasing organic meat. So if you’re looking to save money on a vegan or vegetarian diet, try focusing on whole foods, and indulge in faux meats to help you make the transition, or whenever your budget allows.
Is Vegan Meat Better for the Environment?
Eating anything plant-based will have a lower environmental impact than eating any animal product — that includes animal products that were grass-fed, locally raised, or locally slaughtered. So if you are interested in lowering your environmental footprint, your plate is a great place to start.
“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” University of Oxford researcher Joseph Poore told The Guardian after conducting a study on the topic. “Really it is animal products that are responsible for so much of this. Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy.”
Luckily, meat lovers, Earth lovers, and animal lovers no longer need to compromise when it comes to honoring their taste buds. If you’re ready to eat for the planet, here are some of our favorite meat alternatives in almost every category.
Best Vegan Beef Burger Alternatives
Believe it or not, in 2019, vegans and vegetarians are eating burgers almost identical to the ones omnivores are eating. The vegan beef market is currently thriving, thanks to the following companies.
Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger
Beyond Meat’s signature burger is free of soy, gluten, and GMOs. The plant-based burger is remarkably similar in texture and taste to a cow-based burger, and NBA players including Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Hopkins even claim that eating a plant-based diet filled with Beyond Burgers has helped their game. Beyond Meat also makes a few other products, all of which you can buy in many grocery stores and restaurants (including Carl's Jr. and Del Taco).
Impossible Foods’ Impossible Burger
The Impossible Burger by Impossible Foods is also designed to taste and bleed just like beef. The company is now worth $2 billion thanks to investments from celebrities including Katy Perry, Jay-Z, will.i.am, Jaden Smith, Serena Williams, Questlove, and Bill Gates. You can find the Impossible Burger at various restaurants (including Burger King and Cheesecake Factory), but it’s not available in supermarkets yet.
Lightlife’s Plant-Based Burger
While many of the new and trendy meat alternatives are being made by startups, Lightlife has been around since 1979. The plant-based company recently came out with plant-based burgers and plant-based ground meat, and they also offer vegan alternatives like hot dogs, tempeh, bacon, sausages, and deli slices. Check what grocery stores near you sell the products on Lightlife’s website.
Best Sausage and Hot Dog Alternatives
Feel free to bring a package of any of the following vegan hot dogs to your next barbecue. You’ll be the only person there not eating mystery meat!
Field Roast Frankfurters and Sausages
The brand Field Roast makes good old Frankfurters as well as sausages in a variety of flavors: Bratwurst, Smoked Apple Sage, Italian, Mexican Chipotle, and Apple Maple Breakfast Sausage. The company also makes awesome vegan cheese calle Chao. Field Roast is available in a variety of grocery stores.
Beyond Meat’s Beyond Sausage
Beyond Meat is also well-known for its pork sausage, which comes in both Brat Original and Hot Italian. Just like Beyond’s burgers, the company’s sausage has been known to fool meat eaters — for example, the omnivorous staff at Men’s Journal.
Lightlife Smart Dogs
Lightlife's veggie hot dogs, aka Smart Dogs, are widely available in grocery stores, including Trader Joe's and Target.
Best Vegan Chicken and Turkey Alternatives
There are so many chicken alternatives on the market. You can read a few of our favorites below, but for a thorough review of the best chicken nuggets, wings, tenders, grilled chicken, and more, check out Sweet Simple Vegan’s awesome taste test.
Gardein Chicken Nuggets, Chicken Wings, and More
Gardein products are available in most grocery stores, and they’ve pretty much got the vegan chicken market cornered. Some of their chicken substitutes include: Seven Grain Crispy Tenders, Chick’n Wings (in both Chipotle Georgia Style and Spicy Gochujang Style), Nashville Hot Chick’n Tenders, Chick’n Nuggets, Chick’n Strips (in both plain and Teriyaki), Mandarin Orange Crispy Chicken, and Chick’n Scallopini.
As an alternative to eating turkey, Gardein offers Turk’y Cutlets, Savory Stuffed Turk’y, and a Holiday Roast. You can buy Gardein in many grocery stores, as well as online.
Atlas Monroe Vegan Fried Chicken
Atlas Monroe’s Organic Vegan Cajun Southern Fried Chicken is so good that one of the judges of a fried chicken festival named it his favorite item at the whole event. Not a vegan fried chicken festival, but an animal-based fried chicken festival. Whoa. You can order Atlas Monroe's vegan fried chicken on the company’s website.
May Wah Vegan Chicken
May Wah Vegetarian Market sells some of the most out-of-this-world frozen meatless delicacies. The NYC-based market offers chicken-inspired items including vegan chicken legs, drumsticks, and even a half chicken. Plus, you can order just about any meat alternative you can think of from their website.
Best Vegan Pork, Ham, and Bacon Alternatives
“But bacon though…” is one of those things so many aspirational vegetarians say to explain why they can't make the leap. But with so many awesome bacon and ham alternatives popping up, there’s no need to hurt pigs for your breakfast.
King’s Vegan Bacon
Canadian company King’s makes vegan bacon that looks and cooks pretty dang similarly to the real thing. It’s a favorite of popular vegan YouTuber the Edgy Veg, and the comments sections of her videos are always filled with people marveling about how good it looks.
Lightlife Smart Bacon
Lightlife’s Smart Bacon is another favorite on the internet. It’s easy to find in stores, it’s affordable, and it’s pretty darn close to the real thing.
The Loving Hut’s Cheerful Log
VeganEssentials.com says The Loving Hut’s “Cheerful Log” is “the closest thing to real ham you've ever tried!” It can be served either as a roast, sliced into deli-style slices, or cut up into cubes.
Best Fish Alternatives
Impossible Foods is currently developing a fishless fish — but until that’s ready, there are plenty of other fish alternatives in grocery stores.
Good Catch’s Vegan Tuna
Good Catch has been making waves for its vegan tuna, available in Whole Foods, on Thrive Market, and on Fresh Direct. Other companies making plant-based tuna alternatives include Tofuna Fysh and Loma Linda.
Gardein’s Filets and Crab Cakes
Gardein’s Mini Crispy Crabless Cakes and Fishless Filets both use DHA algal oil, which is derived from algae, to give them that under-the-sea flavor.
Trader Joe’s Vegan Jackfruit Crabless Cakes
Trader Joe’s uses jackfruit to recreate a crab flavor in its Vegan Jackfruit Cakes, and the editors at Cooking Light gave them their seal of approval. (Sorry if you don’t live near a Trader Joe’s!)