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Could You Be Fooled by Meatless Meat?

We put the plant-based alternatives to a taste test with guys who don’t eat anything without a mother

Plant based meat in cast iron pan
Randy Harris

Guys like meat. 

Nearly half of us equate meat-eating with masculinity, according to a 2021 Australian study, and many of us eye noncarnivores with suspicion. Singer James Blunt actually spent two months during college eating only meat, just to separate himself from his vegan classmates. (He wound up with scurvy.) 

That said, we’re all familiar with the reasons why eating less meat is good for your health (although “you won’t get scurvy” is a new one). And yes, there’s an environmental impact to consider. So a man of a certain age who’s concerned about his future and the future of his planet — but who also loves meat — might wonder, “Do these new meatless meats actually taste like meat?” 

Vegans say yes, but trusting a plant-eater to tell you why soychizo tastes just like sausage is like letting a celibate explain how doing dishes is just as satisfying as sex. 

It made me wonder what would happen if I invited a bunch of passionate meat-eaters to my home to sample meatless grub? Would they be repulsed by it? Will they spit it out like Bluto in Animal House? Or would they actually enjoy the adventure in mimicry?

I invited over two old friends, a computer software designer and a recently retired engineer, both in their early 50s and both lifelong (and unapologetic) meat-eaters. Nothing but essential protein for these guys. But since I was cooking and paying, they were game. 

On the menu were plant-based burgers, sausages and chicken nuggets. Here’s how the taste test went down. 

The Meh: Impossible Burger

After a run on my grill, our meat-poser party began with a not-so-blind tasting of a new generation of veggie burger, whose protein hails from soy, not cow.

Keeping true to form, the patties get draped in squares of orange-hued dairy-free cheese. Spoiler alert: That finishing touch was a mistake.

“Not fantastic, but not gross,” was one early and mildly flattering appraisal. 

“Pretty tasty when loaded up,” quips another taster, which happens to be me. This is code for the tomato, onion and mustard (homemade, I must brag) making each bite an oddly familiar experience. 

But the burger aficionado of the bunch laments that it seems a bit like eating wet cardboard. We universally agree that this option lacks the cherished brawny flavor and is not exactly a real beefy experience. 

And oh, the yearn for the crispy char. Something in our human brains lights up when biting into burnt flesh. 

With that said, the burgers remained “juicy” from first to last bite. As for the fake cheese, that was a hard miss, and I noticed nearly everyone was not so subtly scraping it off.

The Hard Pass: Simulate Nuggs

The consensus among our meat-eating panel: “Too bready and not meaty.”

The engineer who typically eats chicken on repeat forces a few nuggets down his gullet and then deadpans, “Those make me want to fly the coop.” 

I agree that they’re a far cry from the breaded chicken morsels that we all craved as kids, from that fast food dynasty that needs no free publicity from us. And no amount of BBQ sauce can remedy it. In fact, these meat impostors are so salty that we’re left running to the nearest spigot.

The Shocker: Beyond Sausage

The prize for the “I can’t believe it’s not meat” category goes to the sausages. 

“Works for me,” the software designer says, licking his lips. “I’d buy those.” 

“Screw the nuggets, give me another link,” declares the engineer.

They unanimously praised the convincing meaty texture, bold spicy flavor and hedonistic pleasure that the flame-licked plant tubes delivered. Later, my friends confessed to me that they’d agreed to my challenge assuming they’d dislike everything, which made these sausages an even bigger bombshell.

The copious amounts of coconut oil pumped into each link (super important to help mimic rich meat fat) causes the grill to flare up more than a Texas oil extraction site. So here’s a pro tip: Keep the spray bottle of water handy or risk a visit from the fire department.

Luckily, other than keeping tabs on the flames, there is no real learning curve to cooking this stuff. Counterfeit sausages and burgers cook pretty much the same way as genuine sausages and burgers — a big plus when it comes to trying to convert hardened meat-eaters to give these a spin on the grill. 

Now, perhaps the food scientists can work a little harder on that cheese thing.