When I first went vegan, I didn’t touch any fake meats. I am pretty sure I didn’t even try tofu until I went fully vegan, in fact. I thought these “substitutes” were destined to be gross. And my belief at the time that veganism is the most healthy diet encouraged me to avoid them anyway, given what I’d heard about soy and “processed” foods.
I remember when I first gave tofu a real shot. It pretty much changed everything. I had eaten fruits, vegetables, and animal products exclusively as a vegetarian up to that point. From that point forward, I ate tofu stir fry every day in my college’s dining hall. I was hooked, and ready to go to bat for tofu’s greatness anytime someone knocked it before they even tried it.
I still enjoy tofu, of course, but we live in a world where a new “fake meat” appears on store shelves virtually every time we re-enter the grocery store. I have tried many of them. It can be daunting for a newcomer to know where to start, so what follows is my list of top 5 vegan meats.
5. Beyond Meat “Chicken” Strips
These are delicious and quite versatile. No cooking is necessary — you can just top them on a salad or sandwich if you’re in a rush. If you have the time, they’re perfect for a stir fry. They take well to any sauce or marinade you bathe them in. There are other similar products out there, but none are as simple and hassle-free, so these just had to make the list.
I was skeptical at first. How could a fruit taste like meat? But my doubts dissipated once I tried it. Though a little less “meat-like” and not as packed with protein as one might hope, so it may not be quite as filling as some of the others, the taste was enough to qualify for this list. I recently had a barbecue jackfruit sandwich that really tickled my fancy. If you’re new to the mock meat scene, you may want to start here. It may help that it can look literally identical to chicken.
I don’t think I’ve ever had prepared seitan that I didn’t like. In many ways, it’s the perfect meat substitute. I’ve seen a vegan Philly cheesesteak made with the stuff. I’ve had seitan burgers and sausages that were to die for. I often eat this Asian-style breaded seitan with sweet-and-sour sauce that I would probably choose if I had to pick one meal to eat every day for the rest of my life. It’s all about the texture. A word of caution, however: seitan is made from wheat gluten, so it’s not particularly healthy carb-wise and definitely not suitable if you have Celiac.
2. Tofurky Sausages
These are some kind of part seitan, part tofu, proprietary blend. Regardless, they deserve their own spot on this list. They’re also a protein powerhouse, if you’re concerned about protein, with 26 grams per sausage. I typically use one or two, chopping them up and dropping them in a stir fry with broccoli and brown rice, or slicing them the long way and laying them on a sandwich. You’ll be ridiculously full for hours.
1. Gardein “Chicken” Tenders
These are to die for. They taste just like chicken — or at least how I remember it — and you can do pretty much anything with them. One day a few years ago, I was feeling particularly devious (and hungry). I bought a Daiya cheeze pizza, a pack of these tenders, and some hot sauce. I ended up making what I can only remember as salacious: a buffalo chicken pizza, something I hadn’t had in years. I baked these bad boys in a toaster oven, popped the pizza in the adult oven, and mixed together some hot sauce, Earth Balance, and Just Mayo — or some similar combination. I tossed the tendies in the sauce and, once the pizza popped out of the oven, plopped them right on top. I may or may not have dipped in some Annie’s Goddess dressing to create probably the most unhealthy vegan meal humanly possible. But I remember it oh so fondly. And for that, these Gardein tenders top the list, no question.