America's Test Kitchen LogoCook's Country LogoCook's Illustrated Logo
Cooking Tips

The Secret to Smoky Sweetness in Your Beyond and Impossible Burgers

Plant-based meat needs a little extra help for smoky flavor.

Published May 11, 2022.

The influx of plant-based meats on the market makes it possible to create burgers that taste surprisingly like the real thing. But to achieve this taste, you have to treat them differently than regular beef, especially when cooking them on the grill.

Sign up for the Notes from the Test Kitchen newsletter

Our favorite tips and recipes, enjoyed by 2 million+ subscribers!

The main difference? Cooking time. Even thick plant-based burger patties take just 2 to 3 minutes per side, versus 3 to 5 minutes per side for beef patties. Since they cook so quickly, there isn’t enough time for them to pick up the smoky flavor that is so integral to a grilled burger. Then you’re just left with a lackluster burger with a few grill marks. What’s the point of firing up the grill for that?

Equipment Review

The Best Meat-Free Burgers

New meatless burgers are revolutionizing the food world. Can they satisfy both vegetarians and meat eaters?
Read Our Review

Luckily, our new book, Cooking with Plant-Based Meat, has the solution. Our recipe for Grilled Smokehouse Barbecue Burgers uses a few key seasonings (mixed right into the plant-based meat before forming patties) to add depth and also to get that smoky, barbecued flavor from the inside out. Heres how we did it.

Firstly, for smokiness, we added a tablespoon of smoked paprika. It is important to use smoked paprika here, not regular paprika. In regular paprika, the peppers used within the spice are air-dried and simply won’t have the smoky flavor you need.

New Release!

Cooking with Plant-Based Meat

The recipe experts at America's Test Kitchen show how to cook 75 recipes successfully with modern meat mimickers—producing juicy, savory, meaty flavor—that make meat-free eating into a luxurious (and even preferable!) experience.

We also added 1 teaspoon of brown sugar. This ingredient not only adds a subtle sweetness to the patties but also caramelizes when on the grill, helping contribute to stunning grill marks.

A teaspoon each of garlic and onion powder adds savoriness, while ⅛ teaspoon of cayenne adds a touch of heat and much needed kick.

Once you’ve mixed in the seasonings and formed the patties, you’re ready to get grilling. Because plant-based meats are very sticky in comparison to beef, be sure to oil the grates of your grill to avoid the patties sticking to the grill or breaking apart when flipped. Putting the patties on a ripping-hot grill is also important here. Working with the brown sugar, the high heat helps produce impressive grill marks, adding the much-needed char that is essential for a grilled burger.

So remember, the key is to season, season, season to achieve the best plant-based burgers on your grill this summer

This is a members' feature.