I, like any American, love burgers. I'm not very picky. Obviously, some burgers are a lot better than others, but I like basically all of them, whether it's Five Guys, Wendy's, Steak and Shake, Dairy Queen, a local smashburger, or even McDonald's. I like all styles—from a plain cheeseburger to a Big Mac to a blue cheeseburger to a peanut butter royale burger. However, I believe that there is a core element to a burger—primarily comprising the burger patty itself. In light of this, I believe a burger should taste like a burger.
I understand the inhumane treatments often found in factory farms. Growing up on a farm with cattle myself makes the factory facsimile appear even more grotesque. However, I do not believe that eating meat on its own is inherently immoral. In fact, I often find myself leaning more towards being the opposite of a vegetarian. (In law school I lived on a ketogenic diet for a number of months.)
That being said, I do like the idea of vegetarian meat substitutes being an option. If offered such, I will often pick them if they are of comparable price for environmental reasons if nothing else. However, the success of their mission is very inconsistent.
The first plant-based, meat-substitute burger I tried was Burger King's Impossible Whopper in 2019. I am not a big fan of Burger King as a restaurant, but back then it was a fair bit better. (Actually, 2019 was probably the last time I had a good experience at a Burger King.) I got a free coupon in Burger King's app to either get a regular Whopper or an Impossible Whopper. My palate is nothing if not adventurous, and it was more expensive otherwise, so I chose the vegetarian option. To be honest, I could not tell a difference. It tasted just as good as real meat, at least what they serve at Burger King and if it wasn't for the price and the rest of the shortcomings of Burger King, I would probably get it fairly often.
Starting off on a high note, my next plant-based meat substitute experience was at KFC. They came out with Beyond Chicken from Impossible's competitor, and I had to try them too. These were…less impressive. They still tasted like meat, albeit mediocre meat. However, they were unnaturally tough. Obviously, they lacked the fibers and texture that real quality chicken has, so they were more like expensive, tough McNuggets. Not a worthwhile replacement, in my opinion.
That brings me to the meat (heh) of this article. A couple of weeks ago I was at Costco to buy a bunch of frozen burger patties to take advantage of my new chest freezer when I saw that Beyond Meat patties were on sale, making them only a little more expensive than beef patties. Again, being adventurous and seeking the option more friendly to both the environment and my diet, I bought two packs. I had to finish off my pre-existing Kirkland beef patties first, but now tried the vegan patties, and I must say that I'm quite disappointed and I understand why they were on sale.
The first thing I noticed was that they are much harder to cook. The instructions say that you have to thaw them before cooking them, unlike beef patties which I just fry straight from the freezer. I would guess this is because they have much less oil in them, but I'm not sure. In practice, this means you have to remember to put one patty in a ziplock bag in the fridge well before your meal or you just need to microwave it for a couple minutes, adding to your cooking time.
Once thawed, I cooked it in a skillet as I always do, but it did not work out like normal. The instructions say to fry each side on medium-high heat for 4 minutes, which did nothing. Beyond Meat patties burn so much more easily than beef patties and really don't cook through easily. No matter how I cooked it, the surface always ended up burnt, and everything else always ended up an unnatural pink color. I could swear that the picture on the bag is literally just a beef patty, because no matter how hot or how low and slow I cooked Beyond Meat, it never turned the normal dark brown color or changed shape.
The instructions do also say to make sure that they are cooked all the way through to 160°, which I can't contemplate the reason for, but I will say that it's probably important for the texture regardless of safety. The first time I roughly tried following the instructions and mostly just burnt the edges which left the center a disgusting mush. After that I cooked it on a lower heat as long as I could without burning them, which made the texture pretty good.
One disclaimer about cooking them is that they smell terrible while cooking. No matter what, you won't get people's mouths watering while you grill. My wife didn't realize I switched burgers until she asked me what was wrong when she smelt some foul odor she couldn't place. Most people seem to agree that the closest description of the smell is cat food, which isn't the most appetizing.
That just leaves the most important aspect—taste. They taste…okay enough, I guess. About the best word I can come up with to describe it is vaguely legumey. It certainly not offensive, and actually having the edge be burnt a little improves the taste into something I could even desire from time-to-time. But their biggest sin is that they taste nothing like meat. I wanted to like them, because it would be a great advancement in my opinion, but it just tastes like a patty made out of fried plants. That's not a bad thing, but it does make it taste nothing like a burger. Cheese doesn't even go very well with it. (Although ketchup and pickles do, in my opinion.) If your goal is to make an acceptable legumey sandwich, then I would say the Beyond Burger is a good option, but if your goal is to have a replacement for meat in your burgers, it feels like a total failure to me, because they frankly don't taste like burgers.