Grilled veggies are all the rage at our annual Memorial Day cookouts, and with spring right around the corner, it’s time to figure out how we’ll feed the “But meat is so tasty,” guests. I’m never one to share my grill with seared flesh, and luckily I don’t have to. But unlike the neighbors, who often seem to think that “The vegan is coming to dinner,” is synonymous with “Quick, Google something that tastes like wet grass and mildew,” I take their palates to heart. This year, I’ve given two hamburger alternatives a try as I’ve dusted off and warmed up the old outdoor cooktop.
The Beyond Burger
The Beyond Burger is the brainchild of the Beyond Meat company, which strives to provide vegan alternatives to all things meaty. I’m actually a big fan of their Beyond Sausage, so they were my first choice for the pseudo-meat taste test.
As a Southern boy raised on meats ranging from Texas Angus to Albertan beef, I’m not easy to fool. My only previous dalliance with ground-beef alternatives was when I was trying to lose weight fast to meet the weight requirements for slick-track go-karts.
The smell of the Beyond Burger cooking was enough to confuse the neighbors. Even the resident two floors up, the one with the loving but loud pitbull mix, came out to see what we were cooking. She’s the epitome of the carnivorous culinarian, by her own claims, and said the burgers smelled divine. No quips about the “Kiss Me, I’m Vegan” BBQ apron, either.
Inviting the bruiser of a puppy and his meat-loving owner down to join me ensured I had a second opinion on the taste test. I politely asked the neighbor if she had any allergies, just in case, and then served up the Beyond Burgers. She thought they were delicious, and so did the teenager who knew the difference!
The exterior of the burgers seemed a bit tough, in the way that many veggie burgers can be fresh off of the grill, but no one mentioned it. The colors came out exactly the way you’d expect a medium-well burger, and the flavor was as close to ground beef as I remember, but there was something in the aftertaste that I think gave it away to me. Overall, I’d rate the Beyond Burger at an 8/10. It’ll fool most teens, some burger lovers, and all but the former chef and catering crowd (which I happen to be).
Don Lee Farms Plant-Based Burger
This is a new entry on the market, and I was only planning to review the Beyond Burger when I hit the store. A friendly clerk asked if I meant the “bleeding burger” that everyone was snapping up. I admit, that sounded crazy enough to try. A quick read of the Don Lee Farms Plant-Based Burger packaging confirmed the “blood” is beet juice. Beet juice is a favorite staple for many vegans, and who knows how it might do at this summer’s cookoffs?
Well, I now know. I picked up a stack of these, too, in pre-shaped patties. I’m proud to say that does make a lovely bleeding mess perfect for fooling the neighbors. Of course, it’s also a healthy alternative without many of the risks of red meat, but you should always ask about allergies. Some people don’t do so well with beets. On my second grill night, we managed to not awaken the neighbor. I don’t think she was home. Instead, I put the burgers from Don Lee Farms to the test with my Texan roommate.
I’m not so sure she’ll trust me next time. This is a person who says “Threaten the meat with fire, then put it on the plate. If it doesn’t run away, it’s overcooked,” practically every time I break out the grill. She loved the look of the burgers, but she wasn’t fooled by the flavor. I don’t think anyone tipped her off, but she’s a real aficionado when it comes to this type of thing. My teen daughter actually thought the beet bleeders tasted more like a burger than the Beyond Burger, but hers was so slathered in ketchup that you’d have to dig around to find the “meat.”
I didn’t try this one myself, so I let them give the reviews. It was a 6/10 from the roommate and a 9/10 from the teenager. I think 7.5 to 8 out of 10 is good enough for pleasing (or maybe even fooling) the neighbors at this year’s Memorial Day picnic. As for everyday cooking, I think I’ll go back to “beefing up” my meals the traditional way: without fake beef.
Image Courtesy: Beyond Meat via Wikimedia Commons