Ok, okay — I’ll admit it. This taste testing came about because I requested it.
I was talking to Laura one afternoon during writing club about the vegan cheese tasting. She said she was about to place an order for a bunch of vegan food when I blurted out, “We should do a vegan meat tasting!!” Granted, vegan meat is a weird little oxymoron, but she knew what I meant. “Yes!! We can sausages and hot dogs!!” Hot dogs, as American as it gets. How could I say no? So, Liz was brought on-board and a date with the grill was set. The vegan sausage fest was on.
Four contenders met the hot charcoal that day. We went with charcoal because that is just how sausage and hot dogs should be cooked. Open flames and grill marks — It’s just the way I was raised. The four non meat-tubes up for judgement were: Field Roast Frankfurters, Field Roast Italian Sausage, Lightlife Jumbo Smart Dogs and Tofurky Chick’n & Apple Artisan Sausage. I manned the grill and I will say this, aside from a little sticking by a few, these grilled just like any meat-based product would.
Everyone loaded their plates with pasta salad, vegan pimento cheese and one of each of the contenders. It was prefered that your first bite be au natural to truly get the honest flavor of each one. After that, had at it with the German mustard and that disgustingly unholy condiment, ketchup. I will start with the least appreciated to the most appreciated according to MY scale. Individual results may differ ever so slightly.
My least favorite was, ironically, the one I brought to the testing, which was the Tofurky Chick’n & Apple sausages. You get four to a package and they are a fairly meaty serving. These were almost the size of an animal-based Italian or bratwurst sausage you would get from the store. They grilled fine, but you could see where the inside dried slightly at the points of grill contact. Overall, this was a bland sausage. I got no hint of the dried apples nor were these sweet. It was just blah. As Liz stated, “It’s just wheat in a tube.” I think it is evident that Tofurky was the first to really produce vegan meats (starting in 1980) and they got very comfortable “being the market” for a long time. It seemed like they didn’t put the love into this sausage and it was evident with the first bite.
The Field Roast Italian Sausage claimed third place for me in this tasting. Let’s start with the pluses, as that is the polite thing to do. The flavor on this was there 100%. It was Italian sausage from end to end. There was a hint of spice to it, but I think the fact that the fennel and garlic were up front waving at you was awesome. In a nice spaghetti sauce, this would be the way to go. Kelsey voted this as his “if I could choose one thing to eat” sausage of the night. Unfortunately for me, the texture and mouthfeel of this sausage got me hung up. They were the hardest to grill as they were slightly more delicate than the other stuff. That translated into bordering unpleasant when you took a bite. It was slightly dry and you could see the land of gritty feeling from here, but you weren’t quite there. Like I said, I think in a pasta sauce, you win me every time. But on a bun…meh.
Next up is the Lightlife Jumbo Smart Dogs. From pure appearance, this was a hot dog. It blistered on the grill like a animal-based hot dog does. It took on great grill marks and even had the little heat spots that happen to animal-based hot dogs. I truly loved that. First bite revealed a meat hot dog flavor hidden under that blistery skin. Truly, the taste was right there with a chicken/pork hot dog. Laura correctly stated that it was “the Gwaltney of vegan dogs.” Liz went nostalgic on us. This hot dog was the one for her. “I want to eat this on the 4th of July,” she wistfully stated. I was almost on board with all this except for one thing: that blistery skin. When you bit into this dog, the skin was what reminded you that it was not meat based. There was just too much chew, too much rubberiness to it. Had there been just a slight snap to the skin instead, you could have mixed it in with a bunch of cooked Gwaltney dogs and fooled everyone. Not meant to be, though.
Finally, we have the Field Roast Frankfurters. These did not have the blistery skin of a traditional hot dog, but they grilled extremely well. Grill marks were crisp and the dogs held just a hint of the smoke flavor. The first bite brought out a strong hot dog flavor. Not quite overpowering, but a long, long way from subtle. It was there and you didn’t have to guess what you were eating. What I was super surprised with was the actual texture of the hot dog. I have eaten more hot dogs than most people so I know what the texture of a hot dog looks like from uncooked to burnt. This dog had the texture and color of a nicely cooked dog. Next time you bite a hot dog, note the pattern of the meat in the center from where it is pumped into its casing. There are swirls visible sometimes. This had those. When we were discussing our favorites, Laura stated that “it rules everything around me” in a nod to the Wu-Tang Clan oozing from the speakers. I can’t argue with her as this dog ruled all the others.
I still don’t plan on giving up meat anytime soon, but I love doing taste tests like this. It’s important to see what other foods are out there. You do a disservice to yourself when you refuse to try something because you think it’s weird. Grab some vegan “meat” next time you are at the store and give it a try. The worst that can happen is you don’t love the taste while getting a ton of protein and fiber. In that situation, cover it with real cheese, chili and condiments. See, easy solutions. Until next time, friends, may your meatless sausages be tube shaped and your ketchup left to burn in the fiery depths of hell — you know, where it belongs.