Say what you want about meat—you have to admit that it’s convenient. Slap a hot dog in a bun. Form a ground beef patty and throw it on the grill. Take a steak out of the package and slip it under the broiler.
Years ago, people with a vegetarian bent would have to either forgo the pleasure of digging into a juicy burger or put up with canned “meat analogs.” Those soggy, sponge-like blobs were enough to kill anyone’s desire to enjoy meatless BBQ.
But over the past couple of decades, as more people have stopped eating meat, food technologists have gotten better at spinning soy and other ingredients into meatlike burgers, balls, and “crumbles.” And food-industry chefs have gone far beyond meat, creating veggie and other patties that redefine the word “burger.”
Today, you can get burgers, hot dogs, nuggets, and other products that are every bit as convenient as their meat versions. And they’re far more healthful, thanks to their low levels of saturated fat and, in some cases, higher levels of fiber, soy, and plant-based nutrients.
Many of them taste delicious, and your options for meatless BBQ ideas include dead ringers for beef or chicken or closer to the flavors of your favorite Mexican or Italian dishes. A bonus: there’s no greasy mess to clean up…and less worry about food poisoning.
There’s also less worry about damage to the environment. Raising livestock typically requires enormous amounts of land, water, pesticides, and fertilizer. The resulting pollution of streams, destruction of habitats, and harm to wildlife and farmers dwarfs many other environmental problems.
Meatless BBQ ideas aren’t new
Fake meats have been around at least since 1896. That’s when John Harvey Kellogg (yes, one of those Kelloggs) created “Nuttose” mostly out of peanuts.
In 2013, Dutch researchers unveiled the first “cultured beef,” grown largely from cow muscle cells. Does that mean that meat might someday be made without killing animals and with far less greenhouse gas emissions and wasted water? Stay tuned.
In the meantime, here’s how to ferret out the best wannabe (as well as why-pretend-to-be-meat?) burgers, crumbles, meatballs, nuggets, and strips for some meatless BBQ ideas.
Seek out less sodium. The toughest nut to crack in the veggie “meat” world—other than replicating the taste and texture of meat, poultry, or seafood—is keeping a lid on salt. It’s not unusual to find 500 milligrams of sodium (a third of a day’s worth) in a roughly 3 oz. serving of veggie meat that has just 100 to 200 calories. Few have less than 200 mg.
Check the protein. When you’re looking for meatless BBQ ideas, keep in mind that you’d get around 20 grams of protein in a 3 oz. beef burger. (That’s what the meat in a Quarter Pounder weighs.) A serving of veggie meat typically ranges from 5 grams of protein to 20 grams. Some brands (like Beyond Meat) are reliably at the high end, while others (like Gardenburger) are consistently at the low end.
In general, patties that are trying to taste like beef (like Boca All American Flame Grilled or MorningStar Grillers Prime) or chicken have more protein than vegetable-grain-bean patties that don’t give a hoot about mimicking meat.
But you can’t always tell by the name. MorningStar Garden Veggie, Mediterranean Chickpea, Spicy Black Bean, and Tomato & Basil Pizza burgers, for example, have 10 grams of protein, while Amy’s Black Bean, Bistro, California, and Sonoma burgers have 5 or 6 grams.
It comes down to how much protein (soy, pea, and/or wheat gluten) the company adds.
How much protein do you need? Many experts advise older people to get more than the Daily Value (50 grams) to prevent muscle loss. To calculate that higher target, divide your weight in half. (If you weigh 120 pounds, that means shooting for 60 grams of protein a day.)
If you typically don’t eat much meat, poultry, or seafood, look for veggie meats with at least 10 grams of protein per serving.
Bye, bye, bad fats. Who needs the 6 grams of saturated fat (about a third of a day’s worth) in a 3 oz. beef burger? Nearly all veggie meats are low in sat fat, which raises LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Few reach even 2 grams. (Exception: most burgers from Hilary’s Eat Well contain enough coconut oil to hit 5 or 6 grams of sat fat.) Instead of saturated fat, some veggie meats—usually those made with canola, corn, or soybean oil— have more polyunsaturated fat, which lowers LDL.
Keep away from Quorn. We don’t recommend any Quorn products, because the main ingredient is “mycoprotein,” a euphemism for processed mold. It’s not just unappetizing; some people report severe vomiting and anaphylactic reactions after eating Quorn, which has been linked to two deaths. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, Nutrition Action’s publisher, has urged the Food and Drug Administration to ban it. (To report an adverse reaction, go to quorncomplaints.org)
Taste around. When it comes to taste, veggie meats range from “yummy” to “yuck.” Our advice to newcomers looking for meatless BBQ ideas: start with MorningStar or Gardein. They were the most reliable in the taste department.