The Best Meat Substitute for Burgers, Sausages, and Ground Meat

What are the best vegetarian meat substitutes? We’ll walk you through great brands, tasty ways to use meat substitutes, and tips on how to cook plant based sausage, patties, ground meat, and pulled pork!

  • By Brittany Yamamoto-Taylor
  • June 1, 2020

Although many people were poking fun at “cardboard-like” veggie burgers 10 years ago, that was then and this is now. Over the past few years, the plant based meat market has evolved to provide amazing and delicious options that even the most hardcore carnivores can appreciate. 

As you’ll see in the lists and tips below, you can use vegetarian meat substitutes to enjoy burgers, tacos, pulled pork, and so much more, while not needing to make any drastic cooking changes! So, let’s look at three reasons why it’s a smart idea to eat meat substitutes and then dive into the best ways to replace your favorite red meats.

Benefits of Plant Based Meat

Save Time

The cook times for plant based meats are always shorter since you don’t have to worry about getting them to a specific temperature or trying to tenderize a tough cut.

Get Healthier

There is ample scientific evidence that eating a lot of red and processed meats increase the risk of health conditions like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. (*1, 2, 3) Meanwhile, plant based substitutes get you all the protein you need without any growth hormones, and bring you additional nutrients, too.

Help the Planet

Since raising animals for food requires a lot of land, fossil fuel, water, and food, cutting out or cutting back on the meat you eat is one of the best ways to protect the environment. After all, one beef patty in a hamburger takes 6.7 pounds of grain for feed, 52.8 gallons of clean water, and 1,036 BTU of fossil fuel energy. (*4)

Burgers / Patties

One of the most common meat alternatives is the vegetarian burger patty. There are both ‘beef’ and ‘chicken’ options on the market. In this article, we’ll cover the ‘beef’ options, but you can learn more about cooking with ‘chicken’ patties here.

Cooking tips:

Most plant based burger patties will benefit from a bit of searing over the stovetop or on a grill. Searing allows flavor to develop through caramelization, and the patty will also get a nice browned crust on the outside. With veggie patties, it only takes about 4 minutes per side, making it super quick. However, if you prefer the oven, you can also bake any patty; simply follow the package directions. Or think beyond the full patty and try slicing and dicing them for sautes and stir-fries!

Great ways to cook plant based burger patties: 

  • Hamburgers or cheeseburgers – grill or sear whole patties just like you would regular burgers
  • ‘Steak’ entrees – treat a patty like a steak and sear or bake it; enjoy over your favorite grains and veggies and a flavorful pan sauce drizzled on top
  • Salisbury steak – sear the patties and serve on top of mashed potatoes with a savory mushroom gravy ladled all over
  • Salads – slice patties into strips, saute, and add to your favorite salads for more protein
  • Stir-fries – slice patties into strips and stir-fry; remove from wok before cooking veggies, then fold the strips back in when you add the stir-fry sauce
  • Loco moco – sear the patties and serve on top of rice with gravy and a fried egg on top

Recommended Plant Based Meat Brands:

There are so many types of veggie burgers out there and some already come seasoned. Here are some of the best vegetarian burger patties and why:

  • Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger are the ‘meatiest’ that we’ve encountered to date and are generally die-hard-meat-eater-approved as well. The Beyond Meat burger is even soy and gluten-free and has 20g of protein per patty.
  • MorningStar Farms’ Grillers Prime take the ‘meaty’ level of Beyond and Impossible down a notch, but still deliver a very satisfying burger.
  • Field Roast’s Field Burgers are hand-crafted in Seattle and have gotten the juicy texture of regular meat down pat.


Another common meat alternative is plant based sausage links. From breakfast patties to vegan hot dogs and frankfurters, there are so many ways to enjoy vegetarian sausages!

Cooking tips:

Plant based sausages can be found as actual sausage links and breakfast patties / links. To cook plant based sausage, sear whole links on every side over the stovetop or on the grill. If you are making dishes like soup or fried rice where you need pieces of sausage, dice or slice the links and then saute in oil (for a bit of crispness and caramelization) before adding other ingredients.

If you choose to use breakfast sausage patties, you can sear them over the stovetop or on a grill to let the patties get crisp on the outside. Like with chopped links, you can also chop and saute them in oil before adding other ingredients. Breakfast sausage links are smaller than the other plant based sausage links, but can also be chopped and sauteed or served whole.

It is also good to keep in mind that, just like meat sausages, vegetarian sausage links come in different flavors like Italian, apple, and chipotle. So opt for flavors that work well for whatever dish you are cooking.

Great ways to cook plant based sausages: 

  • Hot dogs – grill / sear any whole links and then enjoy with your favorite condiments and buns
  • Soups and stews – slice / chop any link variety and brown them quickly for more flavor before adding broth
  • Fried rice – dice link / patty and lightly brown before adding rice and veggies
  • Pastas – slice or chop link / patty and saute with pasta ingredients or simply top on saucy pastas
  • Pizzas – slice or dice link / patty and arrange on top of cheese before popping in the oven
  • Kebabs – chop sausage links into 1” chunks, then skewer and grill
  • Scrambles and frittatas – dice link / patty and fold into egg mixture
  • Breakfast sandwich – sear breakfast sausage patties, then layer with eggs and cheese in an English muffin
  • Breakfast burritos – chop any breakfast sausage patty / link, brown on the stove, and roll up in a tortilla with favorite breakfast fixings
  • Bangers and Mash – grill / sear links and serve them whole alongside mashed potatoes
  • Sausage rolls – slice links into 2” chunks and wrap with puff pastry or your preferred dough

Recommended Plant Based Meat Brands:

Here are some of our favorite plant based sausage brands and why we love them:

Ground Meat & Shredded Pork

Both ground beef and shredded pork are used in a myriad of delicious dishes that we know you still want to enjoy while not eating meat. Luckily, ground ‘meat’ is one of the best vegetarian meat substitutes around!

Cooking tips:

Plant based ground meat substitutes come in refrigerated or frozen packages like regular ground meat, while  ‘crumbles’ usually come in packets that you just open to shake the contents out.

The refrigerated ground meat tends to be wetter, which is good to use when making burger patties and meatballs from scratch. You can also get ready-made veggie meatballs, which you can cook on the stovetop, in the oven, or simmered in sauce. This refrigerated ‘meat’ replicates ground beef, but you can also find soy chorizo – better known as soyrizo. Made from soy protein or TVP, soyrizo adds a flavorful spicy flare to dishes; just remember to remove any casing before you start cooking!

As for the frozen crumbles, they tend to be “drier” and can go from freezer to saute pan for soups, chilis, and stir-fries. Since they are drier and can easily soak up liquids and fat, keep an eye on them when using a dry cooking method – like sauteing – to make sure they don’t burn.

Whichever ground ‘meat’ you cook with, you can easily substitute it in any recipe that calls for animal proteins.

Great ways to use plant based ground meat or veggie pulled pork:

  • Tacos or taco salad – saute ground ‘meat’ / soyrizo with garlic, cumin, coriander, paprika, chili powder, and crushed tomatoes; serve in tortillas, taco shells, or over salad
  • Nachos – top tortilla chips with ground ‘meat’ / soyrizo or jackfruit and cheese and bake in the oven until cheese is melted; top with jalapenos, tomatoes, lettuce, and olives
  • Chilis – make your favorite chili recipe but simply swap out the meat for crumbles or ground ‘meat’ / soyrizo
  • Pizzas – sprinkle crumbles or jackfruit over the cheese before popping into the oven
  • Meatballs – use ground ‘meat’ and seasonings to make your favorite meatball recipe; add panko crumbs if mixture is too wet
  • Lasagna / Bolognese – simmer ground ‘meat’ or crumbles in your favorite marinara sauce then layer / top on pasta
  • Empanadas – follow this recipe and use ground ‘meat’ / crumbles or jackfruit instead
  • Sandwiches – fill buns / bread with juicy pulled jackfruit and top with coleslaw mix 
  • Stuffed peppers or zucchini – mix ground ‘meat’ / crumbles with your favorite veggies and grains, then fill peppers / zucchini; learn how to make stuffed zucchini here
  • Taiwanese minced meat – stir-fry ground ‘meat’ / crumbles with garlic, soy sauce, oyster sauce, Chinese 5-spice powder, and a bit of sugar; serve over rice or noodles and top with green onions
  • Lettuce wraps – stir-fry ground ‘meat’ / crumbles with diced vegetables, spoon into lettuce leaves, and drizzle with any of your favorite sauces

Recommended Plant Based Meat Brands:

Here are some of the best vegetarian ground beef substitutes, as well as soyrizo and ready-made veggie pulled pork and meatballs:

  • Both Beyond Meat’s beef crumbles and plant based ground are soy- and gluten-free and have that ‘meatiness’ that those missing meat really love.
  • Soy-free Quorn Grounds are mostly made with mycoprotein and are very versatile, making them suitable for tacos, chilis, stir-fries, and spaghetti sauce.
  • El Burrito or Trader Joe’s soyrizo is the vegetarian version of chorizo and can be used in dishes that require ground meat and a flare of spiciness.
  • Pure Farmland’s meatballs and ground protein starters are both dairy- and gluten-free and will bring you back to your meat-eating days with one bite.
  • The Jackfruit Company makes a tender and juicy pulled pork from jackfruit, which is a unique fruit that amazingly takes on just the right flavors and provides a great texture.

Where To Buy Plant Based Meats?

Vegetarian meat substitutes are becoming more and more easy to find at local grocery stores. You can often find some products in the refrigerated section next to the produce or some in the frozen food aisles. If your grocery store has a health food refrigerated section, plant based meats may also be there. Recently, some products by companies like Beyond Meat can even be found in the meat section!

Checking the freezer section of your local Asian market is also a great idea because many have vegetarian shrimp, meatballs, ham, and more. Also, most of the brands we recommended above have sections of their websites that help you find where to buy their products, and Amazon Fresh carries a few as well.

So, as we wrap up here, we hope this helps you better navigate the world of plant based meat. It’s time to start enjoying everything from BBQs with plant based burger patties to delicious Taco Tuesdays that feature vegetarian ground beef. And, if you know anyone who wants to go vegetarian or simply add more meatless meals into their life, please send this article along to them!

You can also check out our article Finding the Best Meat Alternative for Chicken, Fish, Roasts, & Deli Meat to explore amazing options for even more types of alternative meats.

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The Best Meat Substitute for Burgers, Sausages, and Ground Meat | Cook SmartsThe Best Meat Substitute for Burgers, Sausages, and Ground Meat | Cook SmartsThe Best Meat Substitute for Burgers, Sausages, and Ground Meat | Cook Smarts

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