Barbecue season marks a turning point in the year: It’s the time when you can finally get outside and enjoy a meal with friends at a park or in your backyard. It’s warm enough to sit outside well into the evening, loosely grasping bottles of cheap beer and snacking on all matters of bun-enclosed meats. But if you’ve vegan, vegetarian or just want to cut down on your meat consumption, barbecue season may start to feel like a drag when all that’s on the grill for you are a few grilled bell peppers.
Luckily, these days, there is no shortage of plant-based meats on the market. Whether you just want to stick to the classics like hot dogs and burgers or you want to branch out and try something you’ve never experienced before, there are plenty of vegan meats that do well on the grill. The following are some of our favorites, and though none of them require a grill, they all hold on to their flavor and texture when you put them over fire. Here are some the best fake meats for your summer BBQ.
At first glance, the Beyond Burger looks like you slipped up and accidentally purchased ground beef. It has a red tint to it that could even be considered off-putting if it’s been a long time since you’ve handled ground beef, but no fear: That redness comes from beet juice coloring, not animal flesh. It’s also soy-free, so those who are allergic or just looking to avoid soy don’t need to be concerned about indulging in a Beyond Burger. Although the Beyond Burger is salty, it’s exceptionally juicy and has an undeniable beefiness to it despite the fact that it feels a lot lighter on the stomach. It’s best when it’s between two buns, slathered with plenty of ketchup or mustard and adorned with a smattering of veggies.
Good Catch Salmon Burgers
If you don’t eat meat, you’ve probably had a thousand veggie burgers in your life. But when was the last time you enjoyed a plant-based fish burger? That’s just what you’ll get when you try Good Catch Salmon Burgers. Surprisingly, once you put these things on the grill, they even start to smell like salmon. Once you take a bite, you’ll notice a distinct fishiness—but one that’s not overwhelming. These burgers do flake like real fish, but the texture is still a bit off. As long as you keep your expectations in check, though, there’s a good chance these will become a hit at your next BBQ.
LightLife Smart Dogs
Alright, I know that this one is controversial because some people utterly hate LightLife Smart Dogs, but they’re one of my all-time favorite vegan products. Are they the juiciest, most meat-like veggie dogs you’ve ever tasted? Probably not. But they have that cheap, processed meat thing going on, just like what you’d get from a standard beef frank. Frankly, they don’t taste much different to me than meat hot dogs, though they may be slightly saltier. Plus, this product is widely available, so you should be able to find it whether you’re shopping at a Wal-Mart or a Whole Foods.
The Impossible Burger is widely considered to be one of the best plant-based burgers on the market. I personally like the Beyond Burger better, but I will admit that the first time I was served an Impossible Burger, I had to double-check with my server to ensure that I hadn’t accidentally gotten a beef patty by mistake—that’s how close to a real burger it tastes. Now, chains like Red Robin, Burger King and the Hard Rock Café carry the iconic meatless burger, and it’s no wonder considering how juicy and satisfying it is. Like most meatless burgers, it’s best when it’s served with all the fixings, but even just a bun and a drizzle of mustard will do the trick.
For those who are trying to branch out and take their barbecue out from between the buns, BeLeaf meatless shrimp may just be the way to go. Put these things on a skewer, and you have an inventive snack that will blow your other veggie-lover friends away. Vegan shrimp is relatively new to the market, so as expected, the flavor and texture aren’t totally on par with real shrimp. However, rubbing these things with some barbecue sauce largely covers these imperfections and adds a sweet and savory note to the already flavorful product. Your plant-based friends probably aren’t expecting to see this at the cookout, so you might win some extra style points.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.