Our guide to the best veggie burgers & other veggie "meats"

The information in this article was compiled by Kaamilah Mitchell.

Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner,” proclaims the ad campaign that began in 1992. These days, plants-only brands like Beyond Meat are surging, and Big Beef is worried. Ranchers want to ban the word “meat” from faux-meat labels. At the same time, meat processors are investing in their own plant-based brands. Here’s what to look for.

1. Protect the planet. More plants, fewer animals. That’s the gist of a flexitarian-style diet, which can help curb the greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling climate change. And it’s not just about protecting our children’s and grandchildren’s future. A plant-heavy diet that’s light on meat—especially red and processed—is also healthy for eaters.

2. Mix it up. Some plant-based meats—like the Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger—are not much healthier than beef, especially when restaurants gussy them up. But most veggie meats beat the real thing. Granted, you’re better off with beans, nuts, tofu, and other largely unprocessed plant foods.

3. Get enough protein. If you’re replacing meat, poultry, fish, or dairy, look for protein. Our Best Bites have at least 10 grams per serving (roughly 3 oz.). Don’t need protein from your burger? Our Honorable Mentions have no minimum.

4. Watch the salt. Unfortunately, it’s tricky to replicate the taste of meat without a decent dose of salt. We capped Best Bites and Honorable Mentions at 400 milligrams of sodium per serving. Tip: Serve your plant-based meat with salad or stir-fried or roasted vegetables to bump up the potassium. Getting enough helps keep a lid on blood pressure.

5. Check the oil. Many veggie meats are made with liquid oils like sunflower, avocado, canola, or soybean. So they’re not only lower in saturated fat than beef or pork, they’re higher in heart-healthy unsaturated fat. Win-win.

Brands like Beyond Meat are chasing beef's taste, texture, and color.

But brands like Beyond Meat and Field Roast also use solid (saturated) fats like coconut or palm oil. Our Best Bites and Honorable Mentions have no more than 2½ grams of sat fat.

6. Pick your protein. Soy, pea, wheat. Veggie meats may get their protein from one, two, or all three. Does it matter which? Only if you have allergies.

“Peas are legumes,” says the small print on the Beyond Meat Beyond Burger label. “People with severe allergies to legumes like peanuts should be cautious when introducing pea protein into their diet because of the possibility of a pea allergy.” (The burgers have no peanuts.)

Need to avoid gluten? Field Roast (“grain meat” made from wheat gluten) and many other brands are off the table. But Beyond Meat—and a handful of products from Lightlife, Gardein, Amy’s, and Dr. Praeger’s—are gluten-free.

7. Look out for Quorn. In some people, Quorn’s “mycoprotein” (processed mold) triggers reactions like vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea. Rarely, it causes hives or trouble breathing.

Thanks in part to a court filing by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Nutrition Action’s publisher, U.S. Quorn labels now say “Mycoprotein is a mold (member of the fungi family). There have been rare cases of allergic reactions to products that contain Mycoprotein.”

With so many other options, we didn’t give any Best Bites or Honorable Mentions to Quorn.

8. Is it vegan? Veggie meats (or foods made with them) may contain egg whites, cheese, and other animal products. If you want “vegan,” look for the word on the label.

9. Shop around. Beyond Meat and its ilk could show up in the meat case or near the tofu, dairy, or frozen foods. Since many brands can be refrigerated or frozen, don’t forget to check the freezer case.

10. Follow your taste buds. Brands (and tastes) vary, so hang in there. Our favorites: Gardein, Beyond Meat, and MorningStar Farms.

Click here for the full chart of our Best Bites and Honorable Mentions.

Moo-less Goes Mainstream

At the Supermarket

Beyond Burgers are sold in the meat case at many stores.

“At Beyond Meat, we started with simple questions,” says the Beyond Burger package. “Why do you need an animal to create meat? Why can’t you build meat directly from plants? It turns out you can. So we did.”

One bite of a Beyond Burger—and one look at its red-beet-tinged raw “meat”—might fool some carnivores. Ditto for the Impossible Burger, which has been sold in select restaurants since 2016 and is now starting to hit supermarket shelves.

Both up-and-comers will help the planet more than your health, but that’s no small potatoes.

Saturated fat. Mimicking beef’s rich, fatty mouthfeel calls for a solid fat: coconut oil. But that adds saturated fat (6 grams to the Beyond Burger and 8 grams to the Impossible Burger), along with about 250 calories in a 4 oz. patty. Those numbers are very, um, beef-like. And Beyond Meat’s claims (like “fueling athletes to perform better & recover faster”) are a stretch. But going beyond beef is a big win for the planet.

For meaty taste that comes close to Beyond but cuts the sat fat to 2½ grams, try Lightlife’s new Plant-Based Burger. It’s 270 calories of mostly pea protein and canola oil, though the sodium (540 milligrams) puts it outside Best Bite territory.

Meaty taste with a fraction of beef's saturated fat.

Heme. “Heme is what makes meat taste like meat,” says Impossible Foods, maker of the Impossible Burger. The company adds soy leghemoglobin, which Impossible makes from genetically engineered yeast, to replicate the heme in red meat. (Leghemoglobin is naturally found in soybean roots but not soy beans.)

But red meat’s heme can help form N-nitroso compounds in your gut. And those compounds may help explain why a diet heavy in red meat is linked to a higher risk of colorectal cancer.

Does soy’s heme behave like beef’s? The Center for Science in the Public Interest has called on the company—and the Food and Drug Administration, which conducted only a brief review of the ingredient’s safety—to determine whether Impossible’s leghemoglobin could increase cancer risk like red meat’s heme does. Stay tuned.

On the Menu

With white-flour buns, cheese, mayo, and fries, restaurant plant burgers like TGI Fridays' can top 1,000 calories.

Impossible Whoppers, Beyond Tacos. The new breed of beef-like veggie meats has hit restaurants big time. And—no surprise—corporate chefs have managed to make them as unhealthy as red meat.

Take TGI Fridays. Its Beyond Meat Cheeseburger is served on a white-flour bun with enough cheddar, “Fridays sauce,” and pickles to reach 890 calories plus over a day’s saturated fat (24 grams) and a 1½-day supply of sodium (3,350 milligrams).

Our advice: At Fridays, go “green-style”—swap the bun for lettuce to save 260 calories’ worth of white flour. Or ax the cheese. Click here to see how we compare veggie-meat menu items to the beef or pork versions (in purple).

Good Ground

Thanks to neutral spices, it's versatile.

Want to just toss some crumbles or meatballs into the skillet? Goodbye, ground beef:

Gardein The Ultimate Beefless Ground and Boca Original Veggie Crumbles are right at home in your plant-based Bolognese. Ditto for Gardein Classic Meatless Meatballs in marinara.

Taco night? Try MorningStar Farms Chipotle Black Bean Crumbles, which just missed a Best Bite.

If you’d rather start from scratch, crumble a block of tempeh, sauté in oil, and add your own seasonings.


Bacon? Hardly. Smoky and savory? Yes.

Processed meats like sausage, hot dogs, and bacon are linked to a higher risk of colorectal cancer. So why not replace them with veggie versions? Taste.

A few exceptions:

Dinner sausage. Beyond Meat Beyond Sausagepromises “the missing link that serves up the sizzle and juicy satisfaction of pork sausage.”

Indeed. Beyond is a dead ringer for pork sausage. And Trader Joe’s Italian Sausage-less Sausage and Lightlife Italian Smart Sausages come awfully close to the taste of chicken sausage.

Both Trader’s and Lightlife have just a fraction of the saturated fat (1 gram) of Beyond Sausage (5 grams) because they contain soy, not coconut, oil. All are too salty for a Best Bite... but, then again, so are most chicken or pork sausages.

Hot dogs. Our tasters’ favorite: Worthington Deli Dogs, which missed an Honorable Mention by 70 milligrams of sodium.

Breakfast sausage. Breakfast sausages and bacon are smaller (about 1 to 1½ oz.) than other meats, so our Best Bites are more modest: 250 mg of sodium or less and at least 5 grams of protein per serving (1 patty or 2 links or strips). Two to try: Morning-Star Farms and Trader Joe’s meatless breakfast patties.

Bacon. Despite clever names (“benevolent bacon,” anyone?), we didn’t find any plant-based bacons that came close to the real thing. (Maybe Beyond Meat can take a crack at it.)

But for a pleasant chew and smoky flavor, toss a strip of tempeh (fermented soy) “bacon” like Tofurky Smoky Maple Bacon Treehouse Tempeh on your breakfast sammie.

Beans Over Beef

Chickpeas plus soy boosts the protein.

A Beyond Burger tastes beefy enough to make a stalwart vegetarian shudder.

But if you couldn’t care less about matching red meat, plenty of brands sell patties crammed with whole grains (bulgur, quinoa, brown rice), legumes (black beans, lentils, garbanzos), and vegetables (mushrooms, carrots, greens). The downside: Protein can be hard to find.

Solution: Look for our Best Bites. Hodo Tofu Veggie Burgers and MorningStar Farms Garden Veggie, Mediterranean Chickpea, and Tomato & Basil Pizza Burgers have enough tofu or soy flour to hit 11 grams of protein (MorningStar) or 19 grams (Hodo).

Tip: Most patties have a good dose of (healthy) carbs from whole grains and beans. Why not lose the bun and wrap them in a lettuce leaf instead?

Chick’n or Fishless

Mmm. A real chicken-less crowd pleaser.

Want “chick’n” that tastes like...chicken? Breaded lookalikes are easier to come by than unbreaded.

Breaded patties. Your taste buds may never know that Whole Foods 365 Chickenless Patties are chicken-free. With 410 milligrams of sodium per patty, they just missed a Best Bite. Tastewise, fellow Honorable Mention MorningStar Farms Original Chik Patties also came close.

Breaded tenders. It’s hard to beat Gardein Seven Grain Crispy Tenders. (Ignore the “breaded with wholesome grains including oats, quinoa, and millet” claim. Its top grain is white flour.)

Since most breaded “chick’n” is coated in white flour, add a salad or veggie side instead of more grains.

Unbreaded. Gardein Chick’n Scallopini is a (gluten-free) find for fast dinners. Try a sliced sautéed patty in tacos or a stir-fry. Or use Gardein Chick’n Strips.

Breaded seafood. Sidestepping seafood? Gardein Fishless Filets and Crabless Cakes make convincing fried fish and shellfish stand-ins.

Photos: radosnasosna/stock.adobe.com, Beyond Meat, Lightlife, TGI Fridays, Gardein, Tofurky, MorningStar Farms, Gardein.