Your Guide to Cooking, Eating, and Shopping for Plant-based Meats

Complete Guide to Plant-Based Meats

Diversifying your diet with more plant-based meat and dairy products is a delicious way to stay healthy, help the planet, and keep your taste buds excited.

But where do you start? Is it possible to recreate a chicken nugget out of cauliflower or replace your taco meat with lentils? Or should you be exploring the frozen section of your supermarket and experimenting with new products that mimic your favorite meaty comfort foods?

Don’t worry—we’re going to answer all these questions. But the main takeaway is this: Incorporating fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains in your diet doesn’t have to be a burden. Many times, you can cleverly assemble (or purchase) meals that are very similar to many of the foods you’ve grown to love with only plant-based ingredients.

Below we have different categories of traditional meat products—chicken, beef, burgers, sausage, pork, and meatballs—and ways that you can capture the taste, texture, and essence of meat without eating any animal products at all. Check out the recipes, tips, and pre-made products, and start your Meatless Monday journey this week! Note, some vegetables such as mushrooms, cauliflower, and jackfruit are not significant sources of plant-based protein.

Photo credit: Jessica in the Kitchen

Chicken Wings, Nuggets, and Cutlets

Chicken is a versatile ingredient, but it can be pretty bland on its own. So, substituting a plant-based “chicken” and preparing with traditional flavors/sauces can easily produce a familiar tasting meatless meal. When recreating a plant-based alternative to chicken, you’re going to want to focus on texture, seasoning, and sauce.

Plant-based “Chicken” Alternatives:

  • Seitan
  • Tofu
  • Cauliflower – best for heavily seasoned or breaded nuggets
  • Mushrooms – best for breaded nuggets
  • Plant-based meats

To make your own meat-free chicken wings and nuggets, try using pressed tofu or cauliflower. When lightly breaded, pan fried, and tossed in your own special Buffalo, these plant-based ingredients are as good as the real thing (just without the bone). Seitan, another vegan protein source, can also take on the chew of a cooked chicken cutlet. When topped with tomato or barbecue sauce, seitan is a satisfying stand-in for classic chicken dishes like barbecue chicken or chicken parmesan.

There are also plant-based “chicken” products (nuggets, wings, and cutlets available) in the frozen aisle of your grocery store. Gardein, MorningStar, Dr. Praeger’s, Field Roast, and Quorn all do a nice job of capturing the taste and texture of chicken patties and nuggets. Plant-based alternatives also have the added benefit of not having food safety issues associated with undercooked animal chicken.

Cauliflower Buffalo Wing Bites

Crispy Tofu “Chicken” Nuggets

Seitan Southern Fried “Chicken

Buttermilk Fried Mushroom “Chicken”

Photo credit: Yup, It’s Vegan

Beef Steaks, Strips, and Grounds

There are many plant-based alternatives to red meat that capture the taste, texture, and flavor of beef without the negative health and environmental consequences.

Plant-based “Beef” Alternatives:

  • Seitan
  • Lentils – best for grounds
  • Nuts (minced walnuts or pecans) – best for grounds
  • Plant-based meats

Grilling or sautéing seitan—a wheat-based protein source—is one way to capture the chewy texture of grilled steak. Lentils or other pulses and nuts can also be used to recreate classic ground beef dishes like taco meat or pasta Bolognese.

Packaged “beef” alternatives are also available in the grocery store such as Beyond MeatImpossible FoodsGardein, and MorningStar. These products can be found in the frozen or refrigerated section of the supermarket, and they are available as either strips, steaks, or grounds. Beef substitutes, like Beyond Meat, are good for traditional ground beef dishes like meatloaf or lasagna.

Lentil Bolognese

Mongolian Seitan “Beef” and Broccoli

Mushroom Stroganoff

Lentil Walnut Tacos

Photo credit: Thee Burger Dude


Burgers are a staple of American cooking, and they can be made out of pretty much anything—salmon, beef, poultry, pork, potatoes, etc. But using different grains, vegetables, legumes, and meat-alternatives can add new and exciting flavors to traditional burger meals.

Plant-based Burger Alternatives:

  • Beans
  • Grains
  • Plant-based meats

If you don’t feel like creating your own, there are dozens of different brands of pre-made plant-based burgers that you can find in frozen and refrigerated aisles. Products like Beyond Meat, Impossible Burger, Gardein, Dr. Praeger’s, MorningStar and others are great substitutes for meat, and many of them really capture the taste.

If you’re looking something less meaty in flavor, try a black bean or Mediterranean-inspired veggie patty. Remember, you can make (almost) any burger tastier by using condiments, toppings, and a good bun.

Farro and White Bean Veggie Burgers

Butternut Squash and Apple Burgers

Chickpea Quinoa Burgers

Pulled Jackfruit Sandwiches
Photo credit: The Veg Life

Pork, Bacon, Pepperoni, and Pulled Pork

Pork, and the variety of products made from it, is easy to mimic using plant-based foods and products.

Plant-based “Pork” Alternatives:

  • Tempeh – best for bacon
  • Jackfruit – best for pulled pork
  • Tofu – best for pepperoni, bacon, or sausages
  • Plant-based meats

You can capture the smoky, salty flavor of bacon or pork belly by adding liquid smoke and spicy seasonings like paprika or cayenne to ingredients such as tempeh, rice paper, sliced eggplant, or even coconut (we’ve got a full list of plant-based bacon recipes, here).

Companies like MorningStar and Lightlife have been making bacon alternatives for years, and their products are typically pretty tasty and easy to prepare. If you’re a fan of pulled pork, you can recreate the flavor and texture by making it with jackfruit or by pulled-pork alternatives from brands like Upton’s Naturals (their primary ingredient is jackfruit).

Tempeh “BLT”

Jackfruit “Pulled Pork”

Pulled Mushroom Bao Buns

Jalapeno Cheddar Biscuit
Photo credit: Thee Burger Dude

Sausages, Patties, Links, and Hot Dogs

Eating sausage with eggs for breakfast or throwing a hot dog on the grill during a summer cookout, is quintessential to American cuisine, but you don’t have to use animal products to capture the sweet/spicy pop of flavor.

Plant-based “Sausage and Links” Alternatives:

  • Tempeh
  • Tofu
  • Seitan
  • Beans
  • Plant-based meats

You can recreate the crumbly chew of a sausage patty using a combination of ingredients like mushrooms, beans, quinoa (or another grain), and a bold seasoning blend (sausages get most of their flavor from seasonings), but if you don’t want to cook them up yourself, there are plenty of pre-made alternatives.

MorningStar, Gardein, and Beyond Meat all do their own version of a breakfast sausage (some are patties, some are links). Many of these brands also do some type of savory sausage or hot dog; Field Roast has a few especially interesting varieties like sweet Italian, smoked apple and sage, and a Mexican chipotle.

Homemade Tofu “Chorizo”

Baked Breakfast “Sausage” Patty

Italian-style “Sausage” and Peppers

Photo credit: Good Food Baddie


Meatballs deserves their own category. You can make meatballs out of nearly every animal protein, but it’s also really easy to recreate the look and taste of meatballs using only plant-based foods.

Plant-based “Sausage and Links” Alternatives:

  • Lentils
  • Grains
  • Mushrooms
  • Tofu
  • Seitan
  • Beans
  • Plant-based meats

Using beans, lentils, mushrooms, oats, and grains can help mimic the dense, yet soft texture of a meatball. Toss them with some tomato sauce or pesto, or get creative with your own rendition (we have a ton of meatball recipes available on our Meatless Monday website).

Brands like Gardein, Pure Farmland, Beyond Meat, Amy’s Naturals, Quorn, and Lightlife all have versions of a frozen or refrigerated plant-based meatball that are all quick and easy to prepare.

The Meatball Shop’s Veggie Balls

Eggplant and Shiitake “Meatballs”

Black Bean “Meatballs” and Zucchini Noodles

Plant-based Meat Alternative Quick Guide:

Tofusoy-based protein with very neutral flavor, so it can easily be seasoned to mimic classic meat dishes. It comes in a variety of textures ranging from silken (creamy, not recommended for meat substitutes) to extra firm (best for a ‘meaty’ texture). For best results, press out water before cooking so sauces and marinades can absorb more easily.

Tempeh –  fermented soy-based protein with a mild earthy flavor. Best used with seasoning and sauces, like liquid smoke or barbecue sauce.

Seitanwheat-based protein that usually has a savory taste similar to seasoned chicken. It is a versatile meat substitute for nearly any type of meat due to its hearty and chewy texture.

Jackfruit – a tropical fruit and young (green or unripe) jackfruit has neutral flavor and a stringy consistency very similar to pulled pork. Ripe jackfruit is sweet and typically eaten raw. Look for young jackfruit which is available canned or packaged, as well as fresh in specialty grocers. Note jackfruit is not a high protein food.

Plant-based meats – commercially produced meat alternatives made from a variety of plant-based sources, usually soy, pea, or wheat protein. They are seasoned and have a very similar texture and taste to animal proteins. Plant-based meats come in nearly every meat form (chicken, beef, pork, burgers, tuna, nuggets, cutlets, etc) and are available in most grocery stores in the frozen section. Good options for 1:1 swap for meat in your usual recipes with limited preparation required.