The 12 Best Meat Substitutes and Plant-Based Alternatives of 2023

Going meatless is easy thanks to Beyond Meat, Lightlife Foods, and more

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Best Meat Substitutes and Plant-Based Alternatives

The Spruce Eats / Sabrina Jiang

The Spruce Eats Top Picks

There are a lot of meatless options for vegans, vegetarians, or anyone looking to reduce their meat intake, and it can be hard to pick ones that still satisfy. Chicken lovers—no need to fret because the Beyond Meat Beyond Chicken Plant-Based Breaded Tenders are a great alternative to the real thing. For kids and adults alike, Lightlife Foods Smart Dogs are also a delicious, and cost-effective pick.

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 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

Impossible Foods Impossible Burger Plant-Based Ground Beef Patties

Amazon

What We Like
  • Cholesterol-free

  • Similar amount of protein as traditional beef patty

  • More environmentally-friendly choice than traditional beef patty

What We Don't Like
  • Lengthy ingredient list

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, and they also don't have any added hormones or antibiotics like some beef products. 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 fewer emissions than beef, according to Impossible Foods.

Price at time of publish: $5 for 2 patties or $13 for 6

Size: 8 ounces | Made of: Soy Protein Concentrate, Potato Protein | Allergens: Contains soy

What Our Experts Say

“When you walk through your local grocery store, be sure to check different sections because plant-based products can be spread out among various categories. Like some plant-based meats are popping up in the same section as animal meats or they might be in a "Natural" section or even in an area set aside strictly for vegan products. I've even found vegan ice cream in the gluten-free frozen section before.” — Aubry Walch and Kale Walch, Owners of The Herbivorous Butcher

Best Chicken

Beyond Meat Beyond Chicken Plant-Based Breaded Tenders

Beyond Meat Beyond Chicken Plant-Based Breaded Tenders

Target

What We Like
  • Less saturated fat than traditional chicken nuggets

  • Easy prep

  • Rich in protein

What We Don't Like
  • Lengthy ingredient list

No matter your age, chicken tenders are always a hit, but for those trying to avoid meat, it can be tricky to find a suitable plant-based version. We enjoy the Beyond Chicken Plant-Based Breaded Tenders, which have crispy exteriors with tender interiors made of a protein-rich mixture of faba beans and vital wheat gluten. They’re "Perfect for gametime, lunchtime, dinners or a delicious snack in between," according to the brand. 

They contain no GMOs, antibiotics, or hormones. Plus, they’re Kosher and Halal. They should be stored frozen and can be cooked directly from frozen, no thawing necessary in the microwave, oven, or air fryer, giving you plenty of options depending on your kitchen space, timing, and personal cooking preferences. With 50 percent less saturated fat than a leading traditional breaded nugget, these are a great option whether you’re a strict vegan or just trying to incorporate more plant-based meals into your lifestyle.

Price at time of publish: $5

Size: 8 ounces | Made of: Faba Bean Protein | Allergens: Contains wheat, may contain soy

Best Ground Meat Substitute

Noble Plate Plant-Based Meatless Crumbles

Noble Plate Meatless Crumbles

Amazon

What We Like
  • Only one ingredient

  • Non-GMO

  • Shelf-stable

What We Don't Like
  • Will need some additional flavor “doctoring up” as there is only one ingredient

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 pies, and more. 

Price at time of publish: $15

Size: 6 ounces | Made of: Pea Protein | Allergens: None

Best Bean Burger

Dr. Praeger's Heirloom Beans Veggie Burgers

Dr. Praeger's, Heirloom Beans Veggie Burgers

Instacart

What We Like
  • Rich in fiber

  • 0 milligrams of cholesterol

  • Quick to prepare

What We Don't Like
  • Won’t have same “beefy” flavor of other alternative 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), contain 130 calories 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.

Price at time of publish: $6

Size: 10 ounces | Made of: Adzuki Beans, Pinto Beans, Great White Northern Beans, Black Eyed Peas, Red Kidney Beans, Cranberry Beans, Cooked Red Lentils, and Crimini Mushrooms | Allergens: Made in a facility that uses wheat, soy, milk, eggs, fish

What Our Experts Say

“[We] recommend that consumers be aware of products that offer ‘click bait,’ so to speak. For example, many products that are labeled "dairy-free" still contain a small amount of dairy or eggs, or a product that says it's ‘made with plant protein’ could still contain egg or another non-vegan ingredient. So always check the ingredient label to be sure.” — Aubry Walch and Kale Walch, Owners of The Herbivorous Butcher

Best Meatball Substitute

Beyond Meat Plant-Based Frozen Italian-Style Meatballs, 10 Ounces

Beyond Meat Beyond Meatballs Italian Style Plant-Based Meatballs 12 ct

Amazon

What We Like
  • Pre-seasoned and pre-formed to minimize prep

  • Rich in protein

  • Less saturated fat than traditional beef meatballs

What We Don't Like
  • Moderate amount of sodium

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.

Price at time of publish: $8

Size: 10 ounces | Made of: Pea Proteins, Rice Protein | Allergens: None

Best Hot Dogs

Lightlife Smart Dogs Plant-Based Hot Dogs

Lightlife Smart Dogs Plant-Based Hot Dogsg

Amazon

What We Like
  • Low in calories and saturated fat

  • Rich in protein

  • Mimic traditional hot dogs

What We Don't Like
  • Somewhat lengthy ingredient list

Hot dogs are intertwined with American culture–think baseball games, 4th of July cookouts, camping, and more. Luckily, there are now plenty of plant-based alternatives to ensure those following vegan or vegetarian diets aren’t excluded. We particularly like the Lightlife smart dogs, which are made with soy protein and pea protein. 

According to the brand, these smart dogs "offer up all the taste of a traditional hot dog but without the saturated fat and cholesterol." Each link contains 60 calories, along with 8 grams of protein and 0 grams of saturated fat, as well. These smart dogs can be cooked quickly on the stovetop, grill, or microwave, making them flexible for any occasion or environment and perfect for a fast meal when you may be short on time. They should be kept refrigerated or frozen. Each package contains 8 links, perfect for a family or entertaining.

Price at time of publish: $4

Size: 12 ounces | Made of: Soy Protein Isolate, Pea Protein Isolate | Allergens: Soy

Best Sausage Substitute

Beyond Meat Plant-Based Sausage Links, 14 Ounces

Beyond Meat Beyond Sausage

Instacart

What We Like
  • Rich in protein

  • Less saturated fat than traditional sausage

  • Quick-cooking weeknight-friendly choice

What We Don't Like
  • Somewhat lengthy ingredient list

These sausages from Beyond Meat are made from pea, rice, and faba bean protein, contributing to an impressive 16 grams of protein per serving. This product has less saturated fat than traditional pork sausage. It also contains 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.

Price at time of publish: $8

Size: 14 ounces | Made of: Pea Protein, Rice Protein, Faba Bean Protein | Allergens: None

Best Tofu

Wildwood Teriyaki Organic Sprouted Soybeans Baked Tofu, 6 Ounces

Wildwood, Organic SprouTofu Baked Tofu

Instacart

What We Like
  • Ready-to-eat

  • Organic

  • Pre-seasoned and pre-marinated

What We Don't Like
  • Contains protein but not quite as high as other plant-based alternatives

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 a 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 170 calories per serving with no cholesterol or trans fat. It’s also organic and non-GMO.

Price at time of publish: $5

Size: 6 ounces | Made of: Organic Tofu | Allergens: Contains soy

Best Steak

Beyond Meat Beyond Steak, Plant-Based Seared Tips

Beyond Meat Beyond Steak Plant-Based Seared Tips

Instacart

What We Like
  • Rich in protein

  • Convenient packaging

  • Quick to prepare

What We Don't Like
  • May not perfectly mimic a whole-protein steak

Steak has such a distinctive texture and flavor, so it’s not an easy food to imitate with plant-based versions. But lucky for us, Beyond Meat has come pretty close with their plant-based seared tips, which are rich in protein (21 grams per serving thanks to faba beans and wheat) and low in saturated fat. 

The product should be kept frozen (it comes in a convenient, resealable bag), and the steak tips can be cooked directly from the freezer, so no thawing is necessary. They can be cooked in a skillet or air fryer, and they are ready in 4-5 minutes, making this a great option for a busy weeknight when you’re in a time crunch. 

How to use them? The brand recommends adding them "to your favorite dishes, from fajitas and quesadillas to stir fries, sandwiches and salads." These steak tips also have no GMOs and no added soy, antibiotics, or hormones.

Price at time of publish: $7

Size: 10 ounces | Made of: Wheat Gluten, Faba Bean Protein | Allergens: Contains wheat, may contain soy

Best Jackfruit

Upton's Naturals Vegan Bar-B-Que Jackfruit

Upton’s Naturals Jackfruit Bar-B-Que

Amazon

What We Like
  • Low in calories, fat, and cholesterol

  • Good source of fiber

  • Closely mimics pulled pork consistency

What We Don't Like
  • Not very rich in protein

Jackfruit is a type of produce native to Asia, and it is a great plant-based alternative for any sort of typically pulled meat, like carnitas or pulled pork. Upton’s Naturals uses young Jackfruit, which is "best enjoyed in savory applications." We like this Bar-B-Que variety, which perfectly mimics BBQ pulled pork and is perfect for sandwiches, wraps, salads, rice bowls, and more. It’s shelf-stable, making this product super pantry-friendly (though refrigeration is required after opening). With 45 calories per serving and 0 grams of fat, you’ll be wondering why it took so long to discover this vegan alternative, which has zero cholesterol and is a good source of fiber.

To prepare, all you need to do is remove the jackfruit from the packaging and heat in a skillet (with or without oil) for about 5-7 minutes until heated through. If you like this product, be sure to check out their other flavors, such as chili lime carnitas or Thai curry.

Price at time of publish: $6 for one box or $55 for 10 boxes

Size: 10.6 ounces | Made of: Jackfruit | Allergens: Processed on dedicated allergen-free equipment in a facility that also produces peanuts, sesame, soy, wheat

Best for Sandwiches

Sweet Earth Plant Based Applewood Smoked Sliced Ham

Sweet Earth Plant Based Applewood Smoked Sliced Ham

Instacart

What We Like
  • Ready-to-eat, no prep necessary

  • Environmentally-focused company

  • Rich in protein

What We Don't Like
  • Smoky flavor may not pair well with all sandwiches

When it comes to lunchtime, sometimes it’s hard to beat a turkey or ham sandwich. For those seeking a plant-based deli "meat" option, we recommend this applewood smoked sliced ham from Sweet Earth. These ready-to-eat plant-based deli slices are smoky and packed with 15 grams of protein per serving (thanks to vital wheat gluten) while containing 0 milligrams of cholesterol and 130 calories, and 4 grams of fat per serving. 

These deli slices should be kept refrigerated or frozen. The brand is very environmentally-driven, saying, "With every pound of plant-based protein, we are moving the needle towards a happier planet." But taste is still a priority; according to the brand, "We never compromise on taste. Every bite is culturally inspired and packed with time-honored tradition for exceptional flavor and goodness." If you like this ham alternative, be sure to check out their other products, such as hickory and sage "benevolent bacon" or their Italian-style pepperoni slices.

Price at time of publish: $6

Size: 6 ounces | Made of: Vital Wheat Gluten | Allergens: Wheat

Best Seafood

Good Catch Plant Based Crab Cakes, New England Style

Good Catch Plant Based Crab Cakes New England Style

Amazon

What We Like
  • Environmentally friendly alternative

  • Rich in protein

  • Good for entertaining

What We Don't Like
  • May be a bit small if you plan on having as main course

Crab cakes are something of a delicacy–often reserved for wedding hors d'oeuvres or a splurge dinner out at a steak-seafood restaurant. But vegetarians and vegans can now partake, thanks to these plant-based crab cakes by Good Catch. Packed with an impressive 20 grams of protein per serving, you will not be missing the real crab here. How do they get so much protein into these cakes? According to the brand, "Our six-legume blend of peas, chickpeas, lentils, soy, fava beans and navy beans help us deliver the eating experience of real seafood. Taste, texture, protein…everything but the fish."

This brand hopes to be "part of the solution to overfishing, polluted oceans and animal welfare concerns. We’re on a mission to save our oceans and we believe plant-based foods can feed and help save the world." Each box comes with 8 (1 ounce) appetizer-size cakes that still have that classic crabmeat-like texture. They’re seasoned with sweet peppers, green onions, parsley, and spices. These cakes should be stored frozen, and they can be cooked directly from the freezer, no thawing necessary. Just 8-9 minutes on the skillet, and they’re ready to go.

Price at time of publish: $6

Size: 8 ounces | Made of: Pea Protein Isolate, Soy Protein, Chickpea Flour, Faba Protein, Lentil Protein, Navy Bean Powder, Red Bell Peppers, Green Onions, and more | Allergens: Soy

Final Verdict

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

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). 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, which also contain plant-based protein. Eggs and dairy are alternative, non-meat sources of animal protein for some vegetarians and/or individuals just trying to reduce meat intake.

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.

How We Researched

To compile this list, our team of editors and contributors spent hours researching the best meat alternatives on the market, evaluating their key features—like protein source, flavor, and price—in addition to reviews from customers and other trusted sources. We then used this research to assign a star rating from one to five (five being the best; one being the worst) to certain products on the list.

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. She originally wrote this story and has also updated this story with the most up-to-date information.

Sources

Article Sources
The Spruce Eats uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Food and Drug Administration. How GMOs are regulated for food and plant safety in the United States.

  2. Food and Drug Administration. Gluten-free labeling of foods.

  3. Vegan Action Foundation. What Is the Certified Vegan Logo?.

  4. United States Department of Agriculture. Labeling organic products.

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