How to Choose a Meat Substitute for your Recipe

grill meat and veggies dish

The Best Meatless Substitutes for Beef, Chicken, Pork and More

Adapting recipes from meat to vegetarian or vegan is something most herbivores commonly do. But transforming a dish containing meat to a meatless delicacy is only successful when you choose the right meat substitute.

The nutritional content of meat substitutes differs vastly from meat itself – for better and for worse. Don’t rely on meat substitutes to contain the same nutrients as meat. Nutritionally speaking, it’s best to eat a variety of mostly unprocessed foods. A varied diet will help your body get all the nutrients it needs, over time.

Meatless Chicken Substitutes: Tofu

When asked what a new kind of meat tastes like, the answer is often “it tastes like chicken!” As a substitute for the meat that tastes like everything, try tofu – which tastes like nothing. Well, almost nothing.

Tofu’s claim to fame is its bland nature; which is actually a desirable characteristic. Tofu is inoffensive and neutral, but with the addition of sauces, breadcrumbs, or a wine reduction, tofu can be transformed into meals ranging from comfort food to gourmet. Learn how to choose the right type of tofu for your recipe.

Try converting these chicken dishes to vegetarian or vegan using tofu:

  • Chicken tarragon
  • Chicken nuggets or wings
  • Chicken a la King
  • Jerk chicken
  • Chicken cacciatore.

Tofu Alternatives: Try a store-bought, pre-made chicken substitutes. Usually these are made from a mixture of tofu, soy protein isolates and wheat gluten, with the goal of making a product as meat-like as possible. Faux chicken (cutlets, nuggets, and other products) have a meat-like texture, taste and seasoning. Chunks or slices of textured soy protein may also make a good chicken alternative, but will have a tougher texture.

Other Poultry and Fish dishes can also be converted to meatless using techniques similar to chicken. Some brands (like Tofurky) make products specifically to resemble turkey; try pre-fashioned roasts for holidays or make your own from extra-firm tofu.

Meatless Beef Substitutes: Textured Soy Protein

Textured soy protein (TSP; or its brand name TVP) is the base for most vegetarian beef products, like the popular veggie burger. TSP is also known as soy crumbles, fake burger, or ground round. It looks like ground beef and can be used in recipes calling for ground beef.

Buy rehydrated (“wet”) soy crumbles, or dry crumbles from the bulk bin.

The crumbles are a convincing substitute for beef because they are dark brown and look like ground beef. Buy crumbles pre-seasoned for dishes like shepherd’s pie and tacos, or rehydrate dried TSP in a spicy sauce for tacos and spaghetti. Use rehydrated crumbles as you would cooked ground beef.

To season dried crumbles, add them to whatever saucy dish you’re preparing. Or, try a touch of soy sauce, tomato or vegetable juice, vegetarian beef-flavoured bouillon, or salad dressing. Learn more about cooking with soy crumbles (TSP).

Try converting these beef dishes to vegetarian or vegan using soy crumbles:

  • Spaghetti with meat sauce or meatballs
  • Cabbage rolls
  • Beef fajitas
  • Hamburgers
  • Chili
  • Shepherd’s pie
  • Tacos

Soy protein alternatives: pre-made vegetarian beef products are some of the newest players in the vegetarian marketplace. Some vegetarians don’t want their meals to taste like beef – but for those who do, there are some pretty convincing alternatives. Beef strips are one of the newest additions to the supermarket shelves, adding to the plethora of vegetarian burgers already there.

Beans and refried beans are a suitable stand-in for beef in tacos and burritos.

Meatless Pork Substitutes: Tempeh

Tempeh is the best pork substitute because of its sturdy texture and dry, tangy flavour. Tempeh is usually made from fermented soybeans and/or other grains and beans. It comes (usually frozen) is packages or boxes and needs to be cooked thoroughly before eating.

Tempeh can stand up to intense marinades; try a hearty barbeque sauce before flame-grilling or a tangy stir-fry sauce for stir-frying. Tempeh cutlets, marinated and fried, can be the main dish of a meal. Try pairing tempeh with rich mesquite spice or liquid smoke.

Try converting these pork dishes to vegetarian or vegan using tempeh:

  • Stir-fry
  • Chinese food
  • Pork chops or cutlets
  • Shish kabobs.

Tempeh alternatives: Try pre-made pork products – like vegetarian bacon or breakfast sausage – for an easy tempeh substitute. Wheat gluten (seitan) is also an effective pork substitute, perfect for faux lunch meats and pulled “pork” sandwiches. Wheat gluten is responsible for the layers found in restaurant-style faux meats and vegetarian “smoked meat” sandwiches.


Though not similar to meat in shape, size or texture, beans make an excellent meat substitute in a variety of dishes. Chili is a complete and protein-rich meatless meal even without using a beef substitute; simply add an extra can of kidney beans.

  • Mashed chickpeas mixed with mayonnaise and relish can stand in for tuna salad or egg salad sandwiches.
  • Refried beans sit in for beef in tacos and burritos, or as layers in dips.
  • Top salads with beans for an extra hit of protein and fibre.

Meatless meals don’t have to look like their meatless counterparts – try one-dish meals, soups, stews and casserole recipes with beans instead of focusing on a meat substitute.