It was a search for the best meatless imitation beef. 

By Tiffany Stevens
January 10, 2020
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If you’re kicking off your New Year by cooking less meat (or if your resolution is to participate in a trending culinary challenge, like Veganuary) then you might have resigned yourself to giving up some of the highlights of carnivore life. For example: thick, diner-style burgers that can be bought in the grocery store and grilled up at home. Of course, there’s plenty of frozen veggie burgers available, and a vegetarian chef can easily beat boxed bean patties by whipping up their own. But the most common complaint about substitution burgers is that they often don’t come close, in texture or taste, to a true, all-beef burger.

In the past few years, a number of new companies have been angling to change that impression. Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat and others have worked diligently to create plant-based replacement meats that are meant to look (and taste) like the real thing. And while some of these companies are starting to sell plant-based ground beef and other products, they’ve primarily promoted their substitutes by selling them in a familiar format: burgers. In most grocery stores now, you’ll probably find a few containers of Beyond Meat or Lightlife burgers nestled next to the Angus patties. 

Since veggie burger creators are stepping up their game, we decided to try out four refrigerated, plant-based brands available in grocery stores and online. Here are our rankings, from best to worst. 

Tiffany Stevens

Best Overall

We’ll be honest: it’s still not Angus. But Lightlife’s plant-based burger definitely has the most beef-like texture out of the options we tried. It also lacks any kind of strange aftertaste. At $3 a piece, these burgers are a little pricey, but they’ll beat the cost of one of these plant-based burgers at any fast food joint that might be serving them.

As with many of the plant-based burgers we tried, Lightlife is colored using beet powder, so it looks pretty realistically like raw beef. That’s a great illusion when you’re picking it up in the store, but it makes the cooking process a little strange because the pink color doesn’t cook out like it does with beef. Be sure to pay attention to the cooking directions, as these can be overcooked quickly. 

Runner-Up

Field Roast’s burger is a little different than our other options. For one thing, it’s made primarily of seitan, instead of pea protein, and it wasn’t created to mimic uncooked hamburger patties. The inclusion of barley, carrots, and other veggies also reminds the eater that they are definitely eating a veggie burger. For all of that, though, Field Roast’s burger had better flavor than many of the competitors who tried to mimic beef more directly. Compared to other options, these burgers also are the cheapest among the variants we’ve tried, so they’re worth picking up for your next Meatless Monday. 

Most Visually Like Meat

Since Beyond Meat is one of the big contenders in the meat-replacement arena, we were kind of excited to try this option out. To its credit, it definitely looks the most like a burger; the company even manages to somehow mimic fat marbling in the pea protein burger. But Beyond Burgers have a weird smell before they’re cooked, and kind of a strange aftertaste. It’s not quite off-putting enough to make it unappetizing, but it definitely detracts from the fantastic first impression that Beyond Meat gives. And since one of our tasters described the patty as “a raw burger fully cooked,” it’s possible that the texture could use a bit more tweaking. 

Not Our Favorite

Laura’s classic burger recipe tastes remarkably like Spam. That’s not inherently a bad thing; we here are a staunch defender of Spam. But if we wanted a Spamburger, we’d make one. For the cost and the inexplicable flavoring choice, Laura’s simply isn’t worth your money,