The 8 Best Meat Substitutes and Plant-Based Alternatives in 2021

Going meatless is easier than ever

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Our Top Picks
"These plant-based patties look, cook, and taste strikingly similar to traditional beef burgers."
"They have 30 percent less saturated fat and sodium than traditional Italian-style meatballs."
"It only takes five minutes to prepare, plus it's soy- and gluten-free."
"Bean burgers make an easy meal when you’re short on time, but want a nutrient-dense option."
"These quick-cooking sausages only need six minutes in a skillet or on the grill."
Best Seafood Substitute:
Gardein Golden Fishless Filets at Amazon
"Gardein's filets look, feel, and taste like fish sticks, but are made with soy protein instead."
"Supplemented with barbecue sauce, this product embraces the pulled pork-like texture of jackfruit."
"This is pre-seasoned and pre-marinated, so it already has delicious teriyaki flavor."

Thanks to an explosion of new meat substitute products, now is a great time to experiment with vegetarianism and veganism. These companies have been able to achieve what we thought was impossible: products that taste, feel, and cook like meat, minus any actual meat from animals.

Whether you want to go plant-based temporarily—perhaps for meatless Monday—or long-term, these items make the transition easier than ever. No matter your motivation, be it health, the environment, or animal welfare, these products will make your next vegetarian meal one to remember.

Here are the best meat substitutes and plant-based alternatives.

Best Burger Substitute: Impossible Foods Plant-Based Ground Beef Patties, 8 Ounces

impossible meat patties

Fire up the grill for a backyard barbecue because these plant-based patties look, cook, and taste strikingly similar to traditional beef burgers. Unlike beef, they have no cholesterol, animal hormones, or antibiotics. Impossible Foods says each patty is a good source of iron and fiber and provides the same amount of protein as 80/20 ground beef.

These meatless patties are also gluten-free and cook in just four minutes, making them an incredibly convenient meal option. If your concern is environmental impact, you’ll be pleased to learn that they involve 96 percent less land usage, 87 percent less water, and 89 percent less emissions than beef, according to Impossible Foods.

Best Meatball Substitute: Beyond Meat Plant-Based Frozen Italian-Style Meatballs, 10 Ounces

beyond meat italian meatballs

Sometimes you just need a hearty bowl of spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, but do those meatballs need to be made from beef to be delicious? Beyond Meat's alternative not only tastes great, but is also convenient to make and better for the environment. The Italian-style plant-based meatballs are pre-seasoned and pre-formed, so all you have to do is heat them up—no messy prep work required.

These meatballs offer an impressive 19 grams of protein per serving and have 30 percent less saturated fat and sodium than traditional Italian-style meatballs, per the brand. They also contain no antibiotics, hormones, GMOs, soy, or gluten.

Best Ground Meat Substitute: Noble Plate Plant-Based Meatless Crumbles

Ground meat—whether your preference is beef, pork, chicken, or turkey—is a super versatile ingredient in the kitchen, but now, there’s another option to add to your grocery list. Noble Plate Meatless Crumbles offer the same look and texture as ground meat, but are made from 100 percent non-GMO peas. They're soy- and gluten-free, and only take five minutes to prepare. Just add water, season, and brown in a skillet.

A great long-term pantry item, these crumbles are entirely shelf-stable, saving you room in the refrigerator. They make for a great camping meal option, too. Each serving contains 45 grams of protein, no cholesterol, and no sugar. Use them in stuffed peppers, tacos, pasta sauce, chili, pot pie, and more. 

Best Bean Burger: Dr. Praeger's Heirloom Beans Veggie Burgers

dr praegers veggie burgers

If pseudo-meat burgers aren’t your thing, bean burgers are a great vegetarian option that offers similar benefits. Dr. Praeger’s burgers are non-GMO, vegan, and gluten-free, thanks to an ingredient list containing primarily beans, lentils, mushrooms, tomatoes, and brown rice.

While they’re lower in protein than the aforementioned faux-meat products, they’re rich in fiber (6 grams per serving), low in calories (130 per serving), and have no cholesterol. They’re also super quick to prepare (just 12 minutes via oven or stovetop, or 2.5 minutes in the microwave), making them an easy go-to meal when you’re short on time, but want a nutrient-dense option.

Best Sausage Substitute: Beyond Meat Plant-Based Sausage Links, 14 Ounces

Beyond Meat Sausage Links

These sausages from Beyond Meat are made from pea, rice, and faba bean protein, contributing to an impressive 16 grams of protein per serving. Compared to a traditional pork sausage, this product has 35 percent less saturated fat and no GMOs, soy, or gluten. They cook super quick, too, only needing six minutes in a skillet or on the grill. Each serving has 190 calories, 3 grams of fiber, and 3.8 milligrams of iron. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner, Beyond Meat sausages are versatile and make a great addition to any plant-based grocery list.

Best Seafood Substitute: Gardein Golden Fishless Filets

If you’re a seafood lover looking for a more sustainable option, rest assured there are plant-based options in this category, as well. Gardein filets look, feel, and taste like fish sticks, but are made with soy protein instead. They heat quickly, too, so they’re perfect for evenings when you’re in a rush to get dinner on the table.

Each serving has just 180 calories and 9 grams of protein with no cholesterol or saturated fat. Serve them as part of a plant-based version of fish and chips, fish tacos, or however you prefer. If you like these, you’ll also want to check out Gardein’s Mini Crispy Crabless Cakes.

Best Jackfruit: The Jackfruit Company Jackfruit Meal Starters Barbecue

If you’ve never heard of jackfruit before, you’re probably not alone. It has a very hearty texture and is totally shreddable, making it another great alternative for meat. This product in particular embraces the pulled pork-like texture of jackfruit and supplements it with barbecue sauce, so it’s ready to go in a sandwich, salad, or rice bowl, or even on pizza.

Another convenient option for when you’re strapped for time, The Jackfruit Company's barbecue-flavored meal starter heats up in just five to six minutes in the microwave or on the stovetop. As far as nutrition goes, jackfruit is a great choice, although it’s lower in protein (2 grams per serving) than many of the aforementioned products. That said, each serving has just 110 calories, an impressive 6 grams of fiber, and 0 grams of cholesterol and saturated fat.

Best Tofu: Wildwood Teriyaki Organic Sprouted Soybeans Baked Tofu, 6 Ounces

Tofu sometimes gets a bad rap, but its versatility makes it an invaluable addition to anyone’s refrigerator. This ready-to-eat product comes pre-seasoned and pre-marinated, so it has delicious teriyaki flavor from the get-go. All you need to do is cut it into small pieces to incorporate into a meal, whether that's a wrap, stir-fry, rice bowl, or sandwich. It has plenty of protein (6 grams per serving) and fiber (3 grams per serving), and has just 170 calories per serving with no cholesterol or trans fat. It’s organic and non-GMO.

Final Verdict

If you’re looking for a meat substitute that's comparable to the real deal, we recommend Impossible Foods Impossible Burger (view at Instacart). If meatless meat isn't your thing, go for Wildwood Teriyaki Organic Sprouted Tofu Soybeans Baked Tofu (view at Amazon).

What to Look for When Buying Meat Substitutes

Saturated Fat

It may come as a surprise, but some meatless products still contain saturated fat in quantities comparable to meat products (from ingredients like coconut oil, for example, in Beyond Meat’s meatballs). This may not be a cause for concern for some, but it's worth keeping an eye out on other nutrients besides protein. Always check the nutrition facts panel so you can be fully aware of what you’re consuming.

Protein

While some products, like tofu and other soy-based alternatives, are relatively rich in protein, others, like jackfruit, are naturally lower in protein. Just because it’s lower in protein shouldn’t deter you, though, as it could still offer plenty of other benefits. Jackfruit, for example, offers lots of fiber. Moral of the story: Don’t make any assumptions and always check the nutrient facts panel.

Processing

As a general rule of thumb, you’re better off consuming foods that are minimally processed. Not all processed foods are bad, though, and there are still plenty of benefits to eating meat substitutes and alternatives. We recommend that you make yourself aware of how processed a product is by looking at the packaging, checking out how long the ingredient list is, and weighing the pros and cons. 

FAQs

What can I substitute meat with for protein? 

It depends on the dish, but rest assured, there are plenty of plant-based proteins out there. Besides the aforementioned tofu, there are other soy-based foods, like tempeh, soybeans (edamame), and soy milk. We also can’t forget about grains (like quinoa), beans, nuts, and seeds. All of these foods can be a part of a well-rounded, varied diet that provides plenty of protein without needing to consume meat. 

What is jackfruit? 

Jackfruit is a tropical fruit native to Asia. The trees are quite large and produce a large, prickly fruit. While it’s historically been commonly used in Asian cuisine, it’s growing in popularity across the world as its versatility as a meat substitute becomes more widely known and appealing—especially in America, where its pulled pork-like texture is familiar and desirable.

Are meat substitutes healthy?

“Everything in moderation” may be a cliche by now, but it still rings true. For example, yes, tofu is a healthy alternative to meat, but no, you probably don’t want to eat it three times a day, seven days a week. The same goes for meat substitutes, like the Impossible Burger. Sure, it’s a great way to have a burger experience without eating real meat and it certainly has plenty of nutritional benefits, but you probably shouldn’t have one every day because it's processed and contains a decent amount of saturated fat. The best thing you can do is consume a varied diet, ensuring you’re getting plenty of nutrients from different protein sources. 

Why Trust The Spruce Eats?

The Spruce Eats writer Alyssa Langer is a registered dietitian and foodie, who is always curious about the next food or ingredient craze and hungry to learn and try more. Having worked in cookbook publishing, CPG label data, nutrition writing, and meal kits, her diverse background and varied interests provide a unique perspective that fosters clear, well-researched, and trustworthy reviews.

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