Some of these irresistible hot dogs will convert even the most hardcore meat eaters
Our favorite vegan sausages can hold their own against meat-based hot dogs and bratwursts.
By Angela Lashbrook
Historically speaking, vegan hot dogs don’t have the best reputation.
I was a vegetarian for many years, and though I eat meat now, I still love a good veggie burger. Until recently, though, I didn’t go for veggie dogs. Their flavor was slightly off, as if their creators had heard someone verbally describe a hot dog, then attempted to re-create it with mashed-up vegetables. (Perhaps this is the case.)
But a couple of months ago a friend served vegan pigs-in-a-blanket at her party, and I found myself going back again—and again—and again.
I think I ate at least a solid 25 percent of those pigs-in-a-blanket, and I’m not sorry. Instead, I was converted. In this day and age, a quality plant-based hot dog can hold its own against a hot dog made with meat.
“Quality” is the operative word here. We tried five vegetarian sausages—three hot dogs and two bratwursts—and while some were so delicious they even convinced my meat-loving husband of their excellence, others tasted more like the vegetarian hot dogs I remember from my youth. One of them was far, far worse.
Plant-based dogs have come a long way in the past 10 years, according to Mark Thompson, a food blogger, YouTuber, and author of the book “Making Vegan Meat: The Plant-Based Food Science Cookbook.” “In Orlando, there’s a vegan hot dog cart, which is like the staple of drunken downtown Orlando,” he says. “And it’s hysterical because, at 2 a.m., you’ll see a line around the corner for these vegan hot dogs.”
We opted to try bratwurst vegan sausages in addition to hot dogs because, while they differ somewhat from hot dogs, they’re served in a similar fashion, in a bun with mustard and sauerkraut. They’re often fresh, with a coarser grind and thicker casing, and flavored with sage, nutmeg, and other spices. In my experience before writing this article, vegan hot dogs often have an odd, unpleasant texture: too dense, spongy, and limp. We wanted to see if the plant-based meat greats, Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, were able to match the taste and texture of a real meat brat more closely.
Below, read about which veggie dogs and bratwurst we loved—and which, well, aren’t quite ready for prime time.
Our Favorite Vegan Sausages
We tried five vegan sausages: two bratwurst and three hot dogs. Frankly speaking (sorry), the bratwurst blew the hot dogs out of the water. If you’re going to serve vegetarian sausages at your barbecue, you’ll be a much more popular host if you choose the brats over the dogs.
“When I got to the brats I was like, these guys got it,” said Paul Hope, who writes about grills, cooktops, and ranges at Consumer Reports and was the other evaluator for this article. Still, two of the three hot dogs make pretty good options, but they certainly won’t appeal to everyone. That third hot dog? Let’s just say we’d skip it.
Editor’s Pick: The Impossible Sausage Bratwurst
Impossible Brats are simple to prepare in a pan.
Price: $9.19 for 4
Where to buy: Find locations.
Choosing the best vegan sausage was very, very difficult because Paul and I loved both the Impossible and the Beyond bratwursts. It came down to my husband, an unofficial evaluator, to break the tie: He preferred the Impossible.
“This is the best veggie sausage of all of them,” he said, noting that if nobody told him what he was eating, he’d assume it was a pretty damn good chicken sausage, which is to say, maybe a bit lighter in flavor than a pork or beef brat but nevertheless juicy, complex, and overall delicious.
Impossible recommends grilling, pan-frying, or roasting these brats, so I elected to pan-fry, popping them in the pan with a little oil for 12 minutes. Paul grilled one for 12 minutes, turning it occasionally, and roasted another, rotating halfway through a 16-minute cooking time. While it was a little dryer than the Beyond brat, it didn’t affect how much Paul loved this sausage.
“It’s unreal; I can’t believe it’s not meat,” he said. “Perfect, uniform, not overly processed, crispy as heck.” I found that it browned beautifully and tasted delicious in a bun, holding its own against a heap of toppings. This is also a good choice for a wide variety of sausage needs. I would love to roast it (or grill it, if I were blessed with a grill) alongside cauliflower and onions sprinkled with cumin, topping it with fresh parsley and a dollop of labneh.
Best Hot Dog for Vegetarians: Field Roast Classic Smoked Plant-Based Frankfurters
Freshly grilled Field Roast franks.
Photo: Field Roast
Though this hot dog doesn’t taste exactly like a real beef or pork hot dog, it comes much closer than the other two hot dogs. It will appeal to some meat eaters looking to veg up their palates and vegetarians or vegans who can’t bear the taste of meat. It has a balanced garlicky, spicy flavor, with a light dose of paprika and a strong but not overpowering smokiness. It was perfectly salted, and though it lacked snap (you have to remove the plastic casing before cooking), even after cooking for a few minutes in a cast-iron pan it had a smooth, hot-dog-like internal texture that’s difficult to accomplish with veggie dogs. I found that it was flavorful enough not to disappear amid a pile of sauerkraut and a thin layer of mustard.
Paul, though, expressed reservations about this hot dog, so if you’re planning to serve this at a barbecue, keep in mind that not every meat eater is going to be convinced. “It has a very strong soy taste,” he said. “I could stomach it if I were really good friends with the person serving it.”
Another Bratwurst That Most People Will Love: Beyond Bratwurst
Beyond Brats on the grill.
Photo: Beyond Meat
I haven’t repurchased these yet after initially trying them. But I’m going to be honest: It’s only a matter of time before I’m ready for more. These bratwursts are spectacular: juicy and garlicky, with a tiny bit of sweetness that’s balanced by a rich savoriness that places them firmly in the lunch or dinner category. (Despite that hint of sweetness, they don’t taste like your traditional breakfast sausage.) They’re “rich and aromatic, with notes of fennel and a deep umami flavor,” Paul said. “They clearly worked on this formula and it shows!” This sausage doesn’t approximate meat quite as much as the Impossible, though it comes pretty dang close. And it compensates with greater juiciness and a satisfying snap.
Beyond recommends cooking these brats in a pan for 7 minutes or on a grill for about 6 minutes, turning frequently, until the internal temperature reaches 165 ℉. That makes it a quicker dinner than the Impossible Sausage Bratwurst. It’s also heartier than any of the other vegetable sausages (and actually even more filling than the meat hot dogs we tried), and it’s enough to make a meal on its own if placed in a bun and topped with your condiments of choice.
Other Vegan Sausages We Tried
Best Hot Dog If You’re in a Hurry: The Lightlife Smart Dog
Lightlife Smart Dogs cook quickly.
Listen—this one isn’t bad! I didn’t hate it. It tastes like a better veggie dog of yore, which is to say it hadn’t shed its distinctly veggie-dog flavor, which I would describe (fittingly) as slightly vegetal and surprisingly smoky. Maybe a little artificially smoky. But it’s somewhat meatier than those old dogs, and has a significantly improved, smoother, lighter texture, not dense, gritty, or spongy, which is how those early veggie dogs tended to taste.
Still, it’s on the bland side. “A little more spice would help make it feel more like a real dog,” Paul said. It gets swallowed up by strong toppings, so this is a dog you’ll want to dress simply. It’s worth noting that this one is bafflingly easy to cook, requiring only 2 minutes in a pot of boiling water that’s been turned off. Paul says he might give it a minute or two more so it’s nice and hot, but even still, that’s less than 5 minutes of preparation time once the water is boiled.
The 😬 Dog: Upton Naturals Updog Vegan Hot Dog
We'll skip the Updog Naturals Vegan hot dogs next time.
Photo: Upton Naturals
I actually spit out this hot dog. I tasted it for as long as was required to fully evaluate the flavor and then deposited the remainder in the trash. I tried another one in a bun, as is my duty as a trustworthy Consumer Reports evaluator. But seeing as I didn’t have to mention how this hot dog fared farther down in my digestive system, I elected to leave room for foods that don’t taste like sand that has been blasted with onion powder. Paul came to a similar conclusion, comparing the Updog to “pulp made from forest floor sweepings” and specifying that it was “mealy and pulpy,” and “salty with a distracting texture.” Kind of remarkable that both of us went with floor comparisons when evaluating these hot dogs.
Nobody deserves this. I’m holding out hope that Upton Naturals improves its recipe and comes out with a veggie dog that will make both of us regret we ever denigrated their product. But the Updog isn’t there yet. It’s not the one.
How We Evaluated Vegan Hot Dogs
Because plant-based sausages vary so significantly in composition, we opted to follow each brand’s individual cooking instructions instead of relying upon one set of directions, as with our evaluations of the meat-based hot dogs. And as with meat dogs, we evaluated these according to a core set of criteria.
Is it snappy? Sausages should have a snappy exterior when they’re cooked, whether they come in a casing or not.
Is it juicy? Vegan sausages should not taste or feel like jerky. They should be juicy, just like a regular sausage.
Is it flavorful? Sausages should be fatty and rich, with various flavors depending on the style. Bratwurst tends to be flavored with nutmeg, sage, and other herbs, while hot dogs are garlicky and smoky. They should be salty—within reason.
Is it smooth? Hot dogs should have a smooth, fully emulsified interior texture, with no discernible chunks or grit. (Bratwurst will have a coarser grind.)
What’s in a Vegan Sausage?
Like meat-based sausages, vegetarian and vegan sausages are heavily processed—and not especially healthy. The bulk of a vegetarian sausage typically consists of peas, soy, vital wheat gluten, or another vegetable protein, with oil providing flavor and moisture, spices for complexity, and starches or cellulose for texture.
Hot dogs are a celebratory food, something to eat with friends on hot summer afternoons, so the health side of the equation might not be relevant to your situation. But if you’re hoping to introduce them to your diet on a more regular basis, be aware that they should be chosen with care.
In a 2022 Consumer Reports analysis of veggie meats, our team found that some plant-based meats had less saturated fat and fewer calories than their meat-based counterparts, while others had a bit more fiber. But overall, it wasn’t enough to say definitely that plant-based meats are better for you than meat from animals. Most plant-based meats have lots of sodium, as is the case here. All the vegetarian hot dogs or sausages had more than 20 percent of the maximum daily value for sodium per link except Lightlife, at 15 percent. (It’s worth noting, though, that if you choose Impossible and Beyond’s Brats instead of a hot dog, their larger size results in about the same amount of saturated fat per link compared with the regular hot dogs we recently tasted.)
There are several reasons to eat vegetarian, of course, but a hot dog—no matter the source—is still a hot dog.
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