If you love the taste of meat, you probably think that nothing plant-based could ever compete. Meat substitutes are either a pain in the ass to make, or they don’t taste anything like the “real thing”—right?
No hard feelings if that’s how you feel, but I want to change your mind. It’s time I introduce you to the meat replacements that are actually tasty, satisfying, and accessible.
Here’s a list of 15 top meat substitutes for some of the most popular meats: chicken, beef, pork, and more.
1. Vital wheat gluten for the perfect plant-based wings
Vital wheat gluten is simply the protein found in wheat. Wheat flour is washed to remove any starch and leave the gluten behind. As you may guess, this vegan meat substitute is not gluten-free.
Vital wheat gluten is quite high in protein with approximately 23 grams of protein per ¼ cup dried.
Even though vital wheat gluten comes from wheat, it’s pretty low in carbs. The Bob’s Red Mill version contains only 4g of total carbohydrates per serving.
Why wheat gluten for chicken wings? It provides an exceptional texture that comes surprisingly close to that of chicken. While other soy products could also work, I find that wheat gluten has a meatier texture than other plant-based proteins.
Another advantage of vital wheat gluten: it’s typically soy free.
Vital wheat gluten is sold in flour form from brands like Bob’s Red Mill. There are no additives or things like that in Bob’s version. Literally, the only ingredient is “wheat gluten.”
I love this recipe from The Edgy Veg for buffalo wings made from vital wheat gluten. They’re pretty darn easy to make with just 25 minutes of prep time.
2. Tempeh for smoky bacon
You’re probably wondering, “Is tempeh made from tofu?” No, it’s not.
Tempeh is similar to tofu as they’re both made from soybeans, often used as vegan meat substitutes, and taste way better with added flavors.
But here’s what makes tempeh different from tofu:
- It’s fermented
- May contain whole grains
- Usually contains probiotics
- Texture is more dense and chewy
- Has a nutty flavor
With about 16 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving, tempeh also packs more of a protein punch than tofu.
What about allergies? Tempeh is usually gluten-free. As for soy, tempeh is not soy-free as the main ingredient is soybeans.
When fried up, tempeh gets crispy like bacon does. Hence it can be a good substitute in a BLT. Adding some liquid smoke, cumin, and hot sauce gets it closer to the real thing with none of the cholesterol.
Here’s a recipe for tempeh bacon from the Simple Vegan that takes just 15 minutes and a few simple ingredients.
For a ready-made option, look for Lightlife Organic Fakin’ Bacon or Tofurky Smokey Maple Bacon Marinated Tempeh Strips. Both can be found in the refrigerator section along with plain tempeh.
3. Black beans for taco meat
It’s pretty easy to overlook black beans as a superfood. After all, they don’t have the same sexy reputation as the almighty kale or quinoa.
So, why beans as a meat substitute? For starters, they’re packed with protein. Black beans have about 15 grams of protein per cooked cup. Not to mention all the fiber, vitamins, and minerals in black beans.
Beans are a legume, so naturally there’s no soy or gluten in them. Some people worry about the lectins or phytic acid in beans, but both decrease dramatically with soaking and cooking.
You can buy beans dried or canned. If you want to save time, get them canned. You can also buy them dried and cook them yourself on the stove. Either way, beans are incredibly cheap!
Black beans are especially versatile in cooking, so the options are endless. Beans are a common ingredient in burritos, but they also make for a tasty, beef-like taco filling.
A recipe I like: Cookie and Kate’s black bean tacos. Put down 3 of these bad boys, and you’ve packed in at least 24 grams of protein.
4. Impossible and Beyond patties for burgers
If you’re a hardcore meat-lover, the last thing you want to do is trade in your beefy burgers for veggie burgers made from actual vegetables. The good news is that veggie burgers don’t look like mashed peas and carrots anymore.
There are plant-based burgers that look, feel, and taste like beef. Some are even pink in the middle and “bleed” when you cook them!
I’m talking about the Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger. These are the most realistic vegan burgers on the market.
The Impossible Burger is a gluten-free vegan burger made from soy-based heme. Each 4-ounce patty contains 19 grams of protein and only 240 calories. The Impossible Burger is currently only sold in select restaurants, but it’s pretty easy to track down on their store locator.
The Beyond Burger is the most accessible meaty burger made exclusively from plants. A 4-ounce patty contains 20 grams of protein. You can buy the Beyond Burger at most grocery stores in the real meat section. You can also grab a Famous Star at any Carl’s Jr. made with the Beyond Burger!
To cook up the Beyond Burger at home, check out the Southwestern Beyond Burger recipe by What’s Gaby Cooking.
Since you can’t buy the Impossible Burger in grocery stores yet, try this Impossible Burger copycat recipe made by the popular YouTube channel Hellthy Junk Food.
5. Mushroom for a sizzling steak
You’re either going to be offended or in awe of this next vegan meat substitutes: Large mushrooms that somehow turn into a tender steak.
Mushrooms are hit or miss. You either love them or hate them. Personally, I think mushrooms are incredible: They’re nutritious, affordable, and versatile. Like other meat alternatives, mushrooms are mild in flavor, which is good because you want them to take on whatever flavor and spices you use.
In this case, you’ll want either oyster mushrooms or portobello mushrooms. Just make sure they’re pretty large. To make mushroom steak, it’s best to use a barbecue or grill pan to give them that charred look and flavor.
Mushrooms only have about 2 grams of protein per one cup raw. This doesn’t seem like a lot, but keep in mind that mushrooms cook down a ton. You can easily get a couple cups worth of mushrooms in the finished product.
To give this a try yourself, check out this recipe for grilled portobello steaks by Sassy Southern Yankee. These only require 6 ingredients and cook up in just 10 minutes!
6. Beyond Meat Sausage for unbelievable bratwurst
Hot dogs, franks, weenies, bratwursts (whatever you call them)—how are you supposed to substitute this American classic? Fear not, the next time you’re at a barbecue or baseball game, go for the Beyond Sausage.
Beyond Meat recently came out with their take on a plant-based sausage. It comes in three flavors: Original Bratwurst, Sweet Italian, and Hot Italian.
Each link contains 16 grams of protein, which is more than pork sausage. They’re also soy- and gluten-free.
This sausage replacement is great because Beyond Sausages actually taste like pork, and you can use them however you would use real sausages (i.e. hot dogs, soup, side dishes, etc.).
Beyond Sausages are sold mainly at Whole Foods, but you may be able to snag some on Amazon Fresh. They’re popping up at new grocery stores regularly. You can also try them at Veggie Grill restaurants.
If you pick up a package of Beyond Sausages, try these sausage roll-ups (a.k.a. pigs in a blanket) that make for the perfect appetizer.
Side note: For a healthier hot dog, some people have had huge success with cooked carrots. Seriously, check out this carrot hot dog recipe by Where You Get Your Protein.
7. Gardein meatballs for the perfect marinara companion
Sometimes you just need a good meatball sub or some spaghetti and meatballs. Or you may even enjoy meatballs on pizza—no judgment.
Whatever your meatball needs are, you can get your fix with Gardein Meatless Meatballs. Gardein has a vegan meat replacement for basically all the major types of meat, but their meatballs are one of my favorites.
Three meatballs contain 14 grams of protein. Since no one has just three meatballs, you can easily meet your daily protein needs with a couple servings. Like most Gardein products, they contain gluten and soy.
One of the main reasons I recommend Gardein to everyone, even meat-eaters, is because you can find Gardein products almost everywhere. National chains like Target and Walmart carry Gardein, and the prices are pretty affordable.
8. Jackfruit for pulled-pork sandwiches and carnitas
I’ll admit I was highly skeptical of jackfruit the first time I tried it. How could jackfruit taste like meat? It’s a fruit! But as I sampled my jackfruit schnitzel at a vegan cafe in Munich, I found out it’s not like other fruits.
Jackfruit grows in tropical climates like southern India. The actual fruit is huge, often weighing upwards of 50 pounds.
What’s so great about jackfruit as a vegan meat substitute?
Jackfruit has a modest amount of protein clocking in at about 3 grams of protein per cup of fresh jackfruit. That’s higher than most fruits!
Unlike actual pork, jackfruit is high in fiber and low in calories. It also contains many essential vitamins and antioxidants.
You may be wondering: Where the heck do I find this gigantic, meat-like fruit? Your best bet is canned green jackfruit. You can find it at Asian markets as well as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Canned jackfruit is even sold on Amazon.
9. Seitan for chicken sandwiches
One of my favorite vegan puns is “Hail Seitan.” Once you try seitan, especially in place of chicken, you’ll know why vegans worship this meat alternative.
Seitan is a high-protein substitute for meat that’s made from wheat gluten. It’s made by kneading gluten flour with water. Seitan is difficult to find ready-made in stores, but fortunately, it’s super easy to make at home.
A 3-ounce serving of cooked seitan has approximately 20 grams of protein. The protein comes directly from the gluten. Since gluten is the key ingredient, seitan is not gluten-free. However, it’s soy-free.
To make seitan chicken sandwiches, look for wheat gluten in the baking section of the grocery store. You can also find it for cheap on Amazon. Once you have your gluten, you add water, knead and season it, and simmer it in water or vegetable broth. This is the Sparknotes version, so use a recipe for the best and most chicken-like results.
The Edgy Veg is the queen of seitan. She uses seitan in her YouTube videos to make vegan versions of popular fast-food favorites like the McChicken. Follow her recipe for a vegan chicken sandwich using seitan.
10. Lentils for a healthy meatloaf
Ever wondered what vegans eat on Thanksgiving? If they’re not eating a Tofurky, the main dish is likely a lentil meatloaf.
Lentils are one of my favorite vegan protein sources. Like beans, lentils are ridiculously cheap. There are several different types of lentils, so if green lentils aren’t your jam, just try red lentils.
All lentils contain around 18 grams of protein per cooked cup, and you can get them dried or canned. I prefer to buy them dried in the bulk section because they’re the most cost-effective that way.
If you want a meat substitute that uses whole foods ingredients, try lentils. They’re naturally gluten-free and soy-free, but they still yield a dense texture.
Lentils are commonly used in meatloaf recipes because you can mash them to resemble ground beef. From there, they take on whatever spices you use.
Yummy Mummy Kitchen has a great lentil loaf recipe. There’s an estimated 10 grams of protein per slice! Plus, prep time is only 15 minutes, so you don’t have to reserve this one for special occasions.
11. Quorn for getting your chicken nugget on
Quorn is a vegetarian brand that makes meat replacements typically containing eggs. However, they recently expanded their line of vegan-friendly meats made with no animal products whatsoever.
Their faux chicken products are unlike other chicken alternatives because the main ingredient isn’t soy- or gluten-based. Quorn uses Mycoprotein, a plant-based protein source made from fungi.
Trust me, though—Quorn tastes nothing like fungi. These are perfect for kids or adults who refuse to grow out of the chicken nugget phase.
A 100-gram serving of Quorn nuggets packs about 13 grams of protein. The second ingredient is wheat, so while Mycoprotein itself is gluten-free, Quorn nuggets aren’t gluten-free. They’re soy-free, though.
The Quorn vegan line is relatively new, so it’s still a bit tricky to find. The vegan range is currently only carried at select Kroger-owned stores.
If Quorn hasn’t hit stores near you yet, you can make your own nuggets at home. The Kitchn has a soy- and gluten-free vegan nugget recipe that uses chickpeas as the main ingredient.
You can also look out for other brands that make vegan chicken tenders: Gardein, Trader Joe’s, Morningstar Farms, and Whole Foods 365.
12. TVP for super versatile ground beef
If you want a vegan meat replacement that’s cheap, easy to find, versatile, high in protein, and doesn’t have to be refrigerated, then you are going to love textured vegetable protein. TVP for short.
When you buy TVP, it comes dried. It’s described as “defatted soy flour.” You can think of it as dried chunks of soy flour.
Cooking with TVP is way easier than cooking with ground beef. All you have to do is rehydrate it. You can do this with water, but I prefer vegetable stock to give it some flavor. Then you can cook with it like you would ground beef.
TVP is also super high in protein. The Bob’s Red Mill brand contains 12 grams of protein per ¼ cup dry. It expands when you rehydrate it, so expect to have 1-2 servings once cooked. Bob’s version is also gluten-free, but it’s not soy-free.
How to use TVP? Use TVP like you would ground beef: Tacos, burritos, chili, lasagna, sloppy joes, shepherd’s pie, bolognese sauce, and the list goes on.
My favorite way to prepare TVP is using The Buddhist Chef’s recipe for TVP ground meat. It’s perfect for veganizing Mexican-style dishes and burrito bowls.
13. Tofu for fried chicken
You can do just about anything with tofu. I’ve seen people make EVERY animal product with tofu, even eggs and cheese. But tofu is still a classic vegan meat substitute, and this list wouldn’t be complete without it.
Tofu is made from curdled soybeans. Uncooked firm tofu contains about 22 grams of protein per cup, and it’s naturally gluten-free. It is a soy product, though. Tofu is a bit more processed than tempeh, and it requires heavily on additional flavors to make it tasty.
Let me set something straight real quick: In most cases, tofu isn’t trying to be meat. 99% of the time, tofu is just trying to be tofu.
This is why tofu gets a bad reputation: It must be spruced up a little (or a lot).
With that being said, you can definitely dress up tofu and transform it into a flavorful fried chicken alternative. That’s exactly what Mary’s Test Kitchen has done. Her vegan fried chicken recipe calls for tofu and will shock anyone who ever said anything bad about tofu.
14. Soy curls for steak strips or fajitas
You might be thinking, “How many different ways can vegans reconstruct the soybean?” Honestly, that’s what I thought when I first heard of soy curls. We have tofu, tempeh, TVP, and now…soy curls.
Soy curls are like a hybrid between tempeh and TVP. They’re not as processed as some soy products because the soybean remains intact, but they’re dehydrated like TVP is. Just like TVP, you rehydrate soy curls with water or veggie broth before cooking with them.
As you can imagine, soy curls are not soy-free. They’re gluten-free, however. Each serving, which is ¾ cup dried, has 10 grams of protein. They’re also high in iron and fiber.
Soy curls are only made by one brand: Butler. They’re available on the Butler website, Amazon, and select health food stores.
The reason why soy curls are perfect for steak strips or fajitas is because they come in a stringy shape. You can also cut them up into a “ground beef” texture.
Jill McKeever from Simple Daily Recipes has three recipe books dedicated to vegan soy curl dishes. Check out her recipe for soy curl fajita tacos. She uses an Instant Pot, but the stove will work just fine.
15. King oyster mushrooms for seared scallops
Turning mushrooms into scallops is one of the many ways that vegans are culinary wizards. You’d think it would require magic to create fish out of plants, but they’ve figured out a way. Once again, it involves a tasty fungus: the king oyster mushroom.
There’s about 3.5 grams of protein per uncooked cup of king oyster mushrooms. Mushrooms cook down, so you can pile on 1-2 cups per serving. Serve these up with rice, edamame, or another vegan protein source to ramp up the protein.
This type of mushroom has a long, round stem—that’s where the scallop magic happens. When chopped into 1” pieces, you get medallions that look like scallops. The best part is that the stem has a fishy texture that’s slightly chewy. To maximize the seafood flavor, be sure to add sea vegetables like seaweed or nori.
King oysters aren’t your typical mushrooms. They’re not as common as your typical portobello and shiitake. If you have an Asian market near you, that’s your best bet. Otherwise, check your local health food and speciality stores like Whole Foods.
If you want your mind blown (and your seafood craving satisfied), you need to try king oyster mushrooms as an alternative to scallops. Eat Figs Not Pigs has a great recipe for vegan scallops.
The great thing about veganizing your favorite meats is that someone has more than likely developed a recipe for it already.
If you’re new to plant-based proteins, I encourage you to step outside your comfort zone a little. Try some whole foods meat substitutes like beans, lentils, and mushrooms, but don’t be afraid to grab a bag of TVP or Gardein the next time you’re at the store.
When you start cooking with meat alternatives, you quickly realize that it’s not the actual meat you crave—it’s the spices, sauces, and marinades that the meat is cooked with.
Which of these meat substitutes do you want to try? Let us know in the comments below!