Winter has passed, fool’s spring is fooling us no longer, and the summer solstice is well within reach. And with all that warm weather and sunshine, we, as reasonable human beings, are forcibly drawn to outdoor options for cooking—which can really only mean the grill.
But for vegetarians, vegans, or those interested in eating more plant-based foods, grilling can be tricky. The ‘sport’ is basically synonymous with seared steaks, racks of ribs, and browned burger patties. Delicious, yes, but the limited options mean the meat-free folks at the barbecue with nothing to nosh on but potato salad and coleslaw.
And while grilled vegetables are certainly one of summer’s greatest gifts, we’d be remiss to suggest that any meal is complete without an ample amount of protein. “Protein is the overall building block of your body,” says nutrition expert Keri Gans, RDN. “It is needed to build, maintain, and repair muscle mass. Protein is also responsible for the health of our tendons and organs, and for carrying oxygen throughout your blood cells.”
Remember, Gans adds, that you don’t necessarily need meat for protein. “In fact, protein can be found in lots of other food sources, such as nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, dairy, and soy,” she says. When it comes to vegan options that are great for grilling, there is an endless array of meat-free protein alternatives on the market today that won’t leave you feeling famished (or give you FOMO) as your friends indulge in drumsticks and hot dogs.
“Of course, no one needs to think they need to 100 percent remove meat from their meal rotation, especially those that really enjoy a real burger now and again,” Gans adds. “But even a die-hard meat eater should experiment with more plant-based grilling. Be adventurous and try lots of different brands until you find something that you actually like.”
To be clear, Gans adds that alternative meats aren’t always the healthier option. “For example, a 4-ounce Impossible Burger has 8 grams of saturated fat; that’s the same amount found in a 4-ounce sirloin burger.” Still, she says, “For those individuals who are vegetarians, vegans, or plant-based eaters, an alternative burger can be a great option that closely resembles the flavor and texture of meat.” And if you are looking to up the health index on your grilling, Gans recommends choosing your toppings wisely. “Adding tomatoes, lettuce, red onion, and avocado to your burger, alongside a 100 percent whole grain bun, will improve the nutrition,” she says.
Our options for meat-free grilling have come a long way since the days of beans (barely holding themselves together) in the shape of a patty. In fact, you may actually be able to convince your most carnivorous friends to take a walk on the plant-based side with some of these delicious products.
9 delicious meat alternatives for plant-based grilling
With no soy, no gluten, and a flavor that almost alarmingly resembles real beef, it’s no wonder that vegan Beyond Burgers are one of the mainstays when it comes to alternative protein. Whereas some meat substitutes, Gans warns, contain high levels of saturated fat, Beyond Meat products (including sausages, meatballs, and burgers) generally contain at least 30 percent less sodium and saturated fat compared to their ‘real meat’ alternatives. Beyond Meat uses a range of plant proteins, including pea protein and mung bean protein, as well as cocoa butter and coconut oil to create patties that sizzle like the real deal.
You’ll have to do the Beyond versus Impossible challenge yourself to decide which of these two heavy-hitters you prefer, but frankly, you should probably stock both in your freezer during grilling season (and throughout the year). The Impossible burger takes the cake for being the most meat-like in every sense of the word—from texture to taste to even coloration, this is one plant-based patty that might convert even the most die-hard of skeptics. Soy and potato proteins make up the base of Impossible products. If you’re into versatility, try their packages of ground Impossible beef, which you can turn into anything from tacos to chili to burgers, all seasoned to your personal preference.
For plant-based poultry that will sear into I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-chicken-like perfection on the grill, head over to Daring Foods. The Original flavor can be accentuated with your own spice blends, whereas the Lemon Herb and Cajun options are delicious as is. Don’t sleep on grilling the cajun pieces and adding them to a gumbo—so healthy, and so comforting.
One of the originals in the plant-based game and an excellent option for grilled sausage lovers, Field Roast has one of the most comprehensive lineups of vegan grilling proteins around. Whether you’re looking for burgers, hot dogs, or a full-on roast that you could smoke on the grill, Field Roast has you covered. The sausages are a perennial classic, especially given their delicious seasoning and flavor options, like smoked apple and sage.
Chef Michael Kenney is the mastermind behind PlantMade, the frozen meal brand that is making it easier to eat healthy in a hurry. Love grilled seafood? Try the Crabless Crab Cakes for a smokey, vegan spin on crab cakes. Slathering them with vegan mayo and a squeeze of lemon is a very strong move.
Easily one of the most sustainable options on this list, Akua burgers are made from planet-friendly kelp. The zero-input crop has no need for fresh water, fertilizer, feed, or even arid land. Translation? Eating and cooking with an eye toward the future means introducing more kelp into your diet. And considering how delicious the Akua burger is, that may not be such a tall order.
If you’re a fan of grilled or barbecued chicken, the soy-based, gluten-free options from LikeMeat are well-worth trying. A single serving contains 17 grams of protein and is completely plant-based. What’s more, the brand’s commitment to being environmentally-friendly extends even beyond its edible product: the trays that LikeMeat products are made from 95 percent recycled plastic. You’ll love that you can marinade the Like Grilled Chik’n pieces before throwing them on the flame, too.
For folks who love to zhuzh their burgers, the completely customizable Adda Veggie Protein Mix is the plant-centric winner by a long shot. All you need to do is choose your favorite chopped vegetables and combine them with the protein and spice mix provided by Adda Veggie—from there, you can cook anything from a vegan burger to a plate of meatballs ready for the grill grates. For a spiced, inflammation-fighting spin on a burger, don’t sleep on the Indian Masala Blend.
Fry’s offers a range of vegan options made for your next family cookout. The vegan burger boasts an impressive 20 grams of protein per patty, and is made from vegetable protein (including soy and wheat) plus a blend of onions, dijon mustard, coriander, onion powder, parsley, and turmeric. If you’re looking for something for the kids, they’ll love the brand’s Chick’N Nuggets, which are rolled in bread crumbs and can be easily baked—or, better yet, grilled satay-style on skewers—for a vegan snack or meal.