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The Best Meat-Free Burgers
New meatless burgers are revolutionizing the food world. Can they satisfy both vegetarians and meat eaters?
Two of our highly rated products, both by Beyond Meat, have recently been reformulated. So we tasted them, as well as two other new meat-free bulk products, to see how they stacked up against our favorite, Impossible Foods Impossible Burger. We still prefer our favorite, but we were pleased to find that the new Beyond Meat products were almost as good—and just as rich and savory as the last time we tasted them.
Top PicksSee Everything We Tested
What You Need To Know
A meatier burger. A perfect burger. A meat lover’s burger. This doesn’t sound like marketing for vegetarian burgers, but it is. There’s a seismic shift happening in the world of vegetarian, or plant-based, “meat.” Companies are shaking their health-store reputations and targeting consumers who like meat but who, for any number of reasons, want to eat less of it. More products than ever before are intended to mimic the taste, texture, and experience of eating meat. Some of these burgers even claim to stay red and juicy at the center when cooked, much like real meat that’s been cooked rare or medium-rare. The meat eater–friendly approach is working: Americans spent $801 million on plant-based meat last year, according to research from the Plant Based Foods Association and the Good Food Institute. That’s an increase of 10 percent over the previous year. As a testament to the success of plant-based meat—and the threat it poses to conventional meat producers—many meat producers are now urging lawmakers to pass laws preventing meat-free products from containing words such as “meat” or “burger” on their packaging.
The plant-based meat companies getting the biggest press are the relative newcomers Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. Each was inspired by an ambitious goal: combating climate change by lessening, or even completely stopping, human dependence on livestock. Both companies acknowledge that they can only accomplish that sky-high goal if their products are delicious and satisfying enough to win over meat eaters. They’ve had the most success so far with burgers, which Americans first got to taste in restaurants as varied as Burger King, Applebee’s, and David Chang’s Momofuku Nishi. Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat products are now available in supermarkets, with Beyond Meat offering burger patties and both companies offering packages of coarsely ground plant-based meat that resembles bulk ground beef. The companies say that these bulk products can be formed into burgers or incorporated into any recipe that calls for ground beef. Increasingly, these meat-free options are found right next to the regular ground beef in supermarket meat sections instead of with the tofu and other vegetarian proteins. However, they tend to cost more, sometimes up to about $18 per pound compared with about $6 per pound for ground beef.
As curious as we were about the implications the rising popularity of plant-based meat will have on the climate, animal agriculture, and America’s meat-eating habits, we wanted to know the answers to much simpler questions. Does the next generation of meat-free burgers taste good? Can they really appeal ...
Everything We Tested
The reformulated version of these preformed patties was “pleasantly juicy,” with a “slight irregular texture” that was “firm and almost bouncy . . . but still tender.” These patties’ “ability to form a crust adds a nice texture reminiscent of beef burgers,” said one taster. A few tasters picked up on “unfavorable” and “strange” flavors, but overall these burgers were “beefy,” “tasty,” and “supersatisfying.” The cooked burgers had the same slightly purple hue as the version we originally evaluated, likely due to the beet juice added for coloring.
Our tasters liked the newest version of this bulk product just as much as the previous one we tasted. When formed into burgers and cooked, it was “juicy” and “firm,” and the exteriors of the burgers “crisped up a bit and got nice and caramelized.” It “had a distinctly metallic and nutty flavor that [is] associated with some plant-based meat.” When eaten plain, this product was “salty” and “rich.”
Recommended with reservations
Tasters were pleased with this product's ability to develop a “char on the outside” of the burgers. This “crispy edge” provided a contrast to the interior of the burger, which had a “nice medium-rare texture and appearance” and “held together well,” though some found it a bit too “uniform,” “pasty,” and “spongy.” This product’s flavor was meaty and “inoffensive”; however, some tasters noticed an “artificial” aftertaste.
These burgers were packed with sweet, savory, salty flavor. Some tasters thought they were very satisfying, but others found their intensity overwhelming, comparing the flavor to such packaged foods as barbecue potato chips and beef jerky. It’s likely the company used a generous amount of malt extract and yeast, which amp up the umami, or savory, quality of foods. The texture of the burgers was softer and smoother than our favorites. This product, which contains egg white, is vegetarian but not vegan.
When we formed this product into burger patties and cooked them, they developed “a nice crusty exterior” while their insides remained juicy. The burgers held together well, but some tasters found them “mushy.” Many tasters thought the seasoning was “too strong,” with clear notes of pepper, onion, and garlic. This product’s “bright orange” and “very red” color reminded tasters more of chorizo than of beef and made it hard to know when the burgers were done.
Reviews you can trust
The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.
Kate is a deputy editor for ATK Reviews. She's a culinary school graduate and former line cook and cheesemonger.