It seems like every other day, another company comes out with another plant-based burger meant to replicate meat, trying to tap into the popularity of meat-substitute products made by the likes of Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. Many of them (such as the soon-to-be-released and hilariously named Incogmeato, from the Kellogg Company’s MorningStar Farms brand) specifically seek to make their meat replacements not just tasty but "bloody," copying the Impossible burger’s now-infamous ability to burst with pink juices in a convincingly meat-like fashion.
Frankly, every time I hear about yet another bloody plant burger, whether it’s the bleeding Impossible burger, the honestly un-sanguine Beyond, or the hemorrhaging Incogmeato, I think of nothing so much as W. T. Goodge’s poem "The Great Australian Adjective". We say as long as a meat-replica burger is _ _ _ _ delicious, bring it on.
With that out of the way, and no further ado, here are the results of our third and final taste test of veggie burgers available on the market. This time, we're covering the meat-replacement burgers, both bloody and un-bloody.
How We Chose and Tested the Products
When we set out to taste-test plant-based burgers, we decided to break our tests down into three more manageable categories: garden-style veggie burgers, black bean burgers, and imitation-meat burgers.
We chose to exclude all burgers that are designed to be poultry substitutes, so any product that described itself as, say, a "tofurkey burger" or a "chik'n patty" was omitted from the tests. (Use the comments to lobby us for a review of these products if you truly believe such a thing would improve your life.) You can find the rundown of our favorite supermarket veggie burgers here and the write-up of our favorite supermarket black bean burgers here.
We did our best to purchase as many nonmeat burgers as possible, from both online grocery services like FreshDirect and stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, as well as from a number of supermarkets in New York City. While we weren't able to test every single meat-burger alternative out there, we did manage to include most prominent, nationally available brands.
In total, we tested 18 vegetable-based burgers, seven black bean burgers, and eight meat-analogue burgers. We've indicated below whether each meat-analogue burger tested is vegan or not.
In trying to determine what qualified as a "meat-analogue" or "meat-replacement" burger, we relied on packaging and branding. Some were straightforward picks, such as the Beyond Burger, which markets itself as a plant-based meat replacement. But others, like the Boca Burger and the Quarter Pound Veggie Burger from Amy's Kitchen, were chosen for inclusion after we'd considered their level of similarity to burgers like the Beyond, particularly in the way they are presented to consumers, and how dissimilar they would be to the very vegetable-heavy, garden-style veggie burgers we considered in our first taste test.
Given the high profile of the Impossible burger, and the fact that the company plans to offer its product at retail stores in the fall of 2019, we also reached out to Impossible Foods and requested a sample to test alongside the supermarket meat-replacement burgers. We received a five-pound brick of Impossible "meat," which we made into four-ounce patties according to instructions provided by the company.
(Those who've been reading Serious Eats for a while will recall that Kenji tested out both the Impossible and the Beyond Burger back in 2016. For these tests, we used Impossible’s newer, "2.0" formula, which was introduced to the market in January 2019. The Beyond Burger used in our tests was acquired from our local grocery store, and appears from the packaging to be the same formula Kenji tested in 2016. Beyond did recently release a new version of its burger, which has a red tab on the packaging stating "NOW EVEN MEATIER WITH MARBLING.")
We did not have the chance to test all of the meat-replacement burgers out there, due to limitations of availability; some of them had yet to be released to the market at the time we made our selections.
All the burgers were cooked according to the instructions for the preferred cooking method on the packaging. With the Impossible "meat," we had more options: It can be cooked to varying doneness levels, according to personal preference, and can be made into a smashed burger or a regular patty. We chose to prepare it in the way that most closely resembled the other products tested, so we formed patties and cooked them in a skillet until they were browned on each side and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center read 165°F (74°C).
Each test was done in two rounds. The first round consisted of tasting and examining the patties without any buns; the second round consisted of tasting the patties in Martin's potato rolls—our preferred burger buns—to gauge how a bun might ameliorate any negative qualities in each patty or, alternatively, enhance the desirable elements of any given patty. No condiments, accoutrements, or additional seasonings were allowed.
As the person responsible for preparing the burgers and carrying out the tests, I didn't formally participate in the tasting, and, as a result, none of the opinions about the burgers tested* are my own.
*Or their ridiculous names!
All of the burgers were placed on numbered plates, and we asked tasters to sample them at random. For the second round, the burgers were again placed on plates and numbered, this time using different numbers.
We asked tasters to record their impressions of taste, texture, and appearance, and to offer an overall score—a number between 1 and 10—for each burger. We also asked each taster to indicate their top three burgers in each round, identifying which burger was best, second-best, and third-best.
Each taste-test round included at least eight tasters; in this specific taste test, 10 tasters participated. Here's what they had to say.
The Best Plant-Based Meat-Replacement Burger
The Impossible burger, which is vegan, outperformed every other contender in every category and in both rounds; the competition wasn't even close. It earned the top rank for all but two of the tasters in the first round, and those two tasters picked it as either their second- or third-best choice; in the second round, in which the burgers were eaten with buns, it performed similarly well.
All of the tasters remarked on its real-burger-like appearance, with several questioning whether or not it was, in fact, a real burger thrown in the mix ("Is this a real burger! Don't F with me Sho!"). Many of the comments on the appearance were punctuated by exclamation points, underlining the degree to which it looked the burger part. "Looks like a burger!", "Looks like a (sorta shitty) burger!", "I swear that's just a burger!", "Looks real!"...you get the idea.
The tasters were equally impressed with the texture of the patty, remarking on its similarity to a real meat patty, although several noted that it was chewier than a real burger would be.
On the flavor front, tasters who found the flavor appealing were quick to remark, again, on its similarities to a real beef burger. Tasters who were less sold on the flavor were a little more descriptive. One taster said, "It sure nails the look, but falls a little short of flavor...tiny bit sweet." Another simply said, "Mild and sweet, inoffensive flavor."
A taster who called it a "damn near perfect veggie burger" said of its flavor, "Little dry and almost seafood-y at first, but then slides into tasting like a burger." In that vein, another taster remarked, "tastes vaguely like liver, it has a mineral flavor."
One taster disliked the uncanny burger-like-ness of the flavor, noting, "Tastes like old peas smell. It's almost right, but the ways in which it's wrong REALLY bother me."
Second Place: Beyond Burger
Just as the Impossible burger was unquestionably the winning burger, the vegan Beyond Burger was unquestionably second-place. Seven tasters made it their second-place pick in the first round, and five of the tasters ranked it as one of their top three picks in the bun round, which was the most of any burger other than the Impossible burger.
Several of the tasters praised the "plump"-looking patty's thickness and exterior, which they said looked "crispy." Several others used the word "grainy" to describe the exterior. One taster said, "This looks like something I would look forward to eat."
Two tasters weren't that impressed with the Beyond's look; one said, "looks good but I could be convinced it's a bread puck," and another wrote, "Looks like a freezer-burned patty that someone tried to sear from frozen." No exclamation points were used to describe the appearance.
Several tasters were impressed with the Beyond's texture. "Actually has some substance. Not meat-like but meaty," one wrote. Three tasters commented approvingly on the "crispy" exterior, but opinions were mixed on the patty's interior. One taster praised its "pleasantly meat-like springiness," and another praised its "tenderness," but several others commented on how "dry" they found the patty's insides, with one describing it as a "grainy sponge." In the same vein, but with a different tone, one taster called the texture "a little grainy. Breadish, but pleasant."
Tasters' enthusiasm for the flavor of the Beyond Burger was decidedly muted, and their opinions can all be summed up with "pretty good," which three of them offered, or "not bad." A majority of the tasters commented on how close the burger got to having "meaty flavor," "burgerish flavor," or how it approximated the taste of meat. There was also a lone mildly negative reaction to the flavor of the Beyond Burger: "salty, weird synthetic taste."
Third Place: MorningStar Farms Grillers Original Burger
The Grillers Original Burger from MorningStar Farms squeaked into third place, just above the plant-based burgers sold by Whole Foods' 365 brand. While the 365 plant-based burger appeared to find more favor overall among the tasters in the first, bun-less round, it was left behind in the second round, with more tasters preferring the MorningStar Farms Grillers Original Burger.
That said, the two were incredibly close in the minds of tasters. It should also be noted that the gulf between tasters' favorable impressions of the Beyond—and, beyond the Beyond, the Impossible—and their views on the contenders from MorningStar Farms and 365 was vast.
The most frequently commented-on element of the MorningStar Farms burger was the patty's dimensions, specifically that it was "thin." Many tasters also commented on the "spotty browning" of the exterior, with one describing it as "leopard-spotting" and another noting "weird chunks of char." Other descriptions of the appearance were more clearly disapproving; one taster said it looked "soggy," another called it "sort of cardboard-ish," and yet another taster said it "looked sad and thin and forgettable." One taster was a bit more straightforward: "doesn't look good."
Every taster but two commented on how "dry" the patty's texture was; the two who did not described the texture as "mealy" and, mystifyingly, "crunch, cohesive. Passable."
Tasters were unimpressed by the flavor. The word "bland" was used quite frequently, and several tasters added that it tasted like "cardboard" or "cardboardy." One taster wrote, "pretty burger-like, but a bad, cardboardy burger."
The MorningStar Farms Grillers burger is also nonvegan, as it contains both milk and egg ingredients.
Below, you'll find a list of the other meat-replacement burgers we tested.
The lone runner-up was the plant-based burger sold by the Whole Foods 365 brand. Other than the burgers mentioned above, the Boca Burger was the only product to be ranked within anyone's top three picks: It earned the number-two spot for one taster and the number-three spot for another taster in the first, bun-less round. In the second round, it earned the number-one spot for one taster and the number-three spot for another taster.
As stated above, generally speaking, tasters were decidedly unenthusiastic about burgers that were not produced by Impossible or Beyond.
- Amy's Kitchen Quarter Pound Veggie Burger (vegan)
- Boca All-American Flame-Grilled Burger (nonvegan)
- Dr. Praeger's All American Veggie Burger (vegan)
- Quorn Meatless Gourmet Burger (nonvegan)
- 365 Everyday Value Plant-Based Burger (vegan)