When you know how to prep this classic meat alternative, you’re in for some easy and delicious dishes.

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If you skim over the tofu section at the grocery store because you think, "Hey, I'm not vegetarian or vegan," you might want to rethink your opinion of this workhorse meat alternative.

First consider: Crisped up tofu served takeout style with a zingy sweet chili sauce. Soft tofu swimming in a fiery coconut-curry soup. Tofu fried to perfection for shatteringly crisp sandwiches.

For those who have already made tofu a part of their weekly meal rotation, they know what we're talking about: Tofu can be straight-up delicious. And its utility as a plant-based protein substitute only sweetens the deal. 

So, the secret to mouth-watering, delectable, gotta-have-it tofu? Knowing how to cook it. 

Like any ingredient, the right preparation can make or break the dish. In this article we'll teach you techniques for different types of tofu, sharing tips for achieving peak flavor and texture. So back your cart up, add that tofu to your basket, and let's get started. 

Seared Tofu with Sweet Chili Sauce and Broccoli
Credit: Jennifer Causey; Styling: Claire Spollen

What are the different types of tofu?

The method for making tofu is similar to the way cheese is made: Dried soybeans, after soaking and grinding, are put into soy milk. After the curds form, they're set in a mold and pressed to extract different amounts of liquid whey — creating a range of textures from silk smooth to super firm. 

The result is a versatile, high-protein meat substitute with plenty of iron and calcium. Plus, it has a clean, subtly sweet and nutty taste that's an excellent blank canvas for flavors.

But back to the textures: They're important to know before you dive into cooking. Silken, medium-firm, and extra-firm are the labels you'll most likely see in the store.

Silken tofu has the highest moisture content and isn't pressed. The resulting product is smooth and jiggly — think custard-like, which is why it's perfect in dishes like this chocolate tofu mousse. Use it as a creamy element in desserts, smoothies, or vegan baking; or go savory in this ponzu- and nori-topped version.

Medium-firm tofu is both tender and stable. It's pressed enough to hold its form, but still contains a relatively high water content. Pick medium-firm tofu for stews and sauce-forward dishes where a bit of crumbling is alright (tossed into a noodle dish, perhaps) or as an egg substitute for a breakfast scramble.

If you want tofu to maintain its shape, go for extra-firm. After you drain the last bit of moisture, dredged planks or cubes of extra-firm tofu are ready for stir frying or baking to crispy perfection.

Pro tip: Because the texture between brands can vary, don't just go by the label when selecting the correct tofu for your recipe. Instead, follow this rule of thumb from cookbook author Andrea Nguyen: The more protein each 3-ounce serving contains, the firmer the tofu will be. 

These are the preferred protein content ranges per 3-ounce serving: 

  • Silken: 4 to 5 grams of protein
  • Medium-firm: 7 to 8 grams of protein
  • Extra-firm: 8+ grams of protein

How to store tofu

Tofu is highly perishable and will give you the best flavor and texture when fresh. Use your package within the expiration date. And if you need to store any uncooked slices of tofu, submerge it in a container filled with plain tap water for up to 10 days. 

How to prepare, cook, and serve tofu

Now that you've know your silken from your firm, here are the best methods for preparing, cooking, and serving tofu in the most delicious ways. 

Pan fried

The key to a good tofu stir-fry is removing as much moisture as possible so it can crisp up in the pan. One method? Freeze slices of it (1/2- to 3/4-inch-thick) beforehand. When the tofu is thawed, the water drains away, and it will readily absorb your sauce. Lightly coat the slabs or cubes in cornstarch then shallow fry for 4 to 5 minutes. 

Try the pan-fry method in this easy Chinese Ma Po tofu dish or as a crunchy component in this aromatic spicy coconut curry.

Sandwiches

Once again, getting rid of moisture will put you on the path to tofu sandwich perfection. Besides freezing, you can use a handy dandy tofu press; this will be useful if you plan to cook with tofu a lot. Or skip the appliance by wrapping the block in paper towels and place under something heavy like a cast iron skillet. Let the water seep out for at least 20 minutes.

For a few great tofu-based sandwiches, try this pickle-brined Chick-Fil-A copycat sandwich or the Vietnamese specialty banh mi

Soups

Nothing soaks up flavorful broths and seasoning like tofu, which makes it an all-star in soups, curries, and broths. See for yourself by making this edamame noodle bowl with caramelized coconut broth or this creamy and hearty saag that's just begging to be scooped up with a chunk of naan. 

Scrambles

Achieve a creamy, egg-like texture by making a scramble with soft-textured tofu. Before you begin cooking, spread the crumbled tofu onto a paper towel-lined baking sheet and let it drain for about 20 minutes, then pat dry. Add it to a skillet over medium heat with neutral oil alongside veggies (we like bell peppers plus shallots). You can even add a small amount of turmeric or curry powder to give this dish a nice touch of color like in this veggie bowl with a tofu scramble.