HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


Need meat substitute recommendation

I make a mean pot of chili, using just beef, beans, onions, garlic, and spices (LOTS of spices!), but want to make a vegetarian version. I know next to nothing about the various types of meat substitutes. Can you recommend something that would approximate the texture of ground beef - or even better, if possible, cubed beef? I'm not overly concerned about flavor since, as I said, I'll be adding plenty of spice, but I'd like something with a convincing texture.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. there are products like tempeh, seitan and tofu, but they will not have the same texture. just. will. not.


    when i was a vegetarian i had various go-rounds with all of the above and they are just gross.

    2 Replies
    1. re: hotoynoodle

      I was going to ask if you had to include the beef? A veg. chili is great with just beans or you can use some veg. I agree with Hot that the typical protein subs aren't the same.

      1. re: melpy

        I know I could add veggies, but that would change the essential character and mouth feel of the dish. I'm trying to stay as close to my traditional recipe as possible but still vegetarian-friendly.

        I know I've heard reports of meatless burgers that come close to actual beef texture, so I'm wondering what's in them and if that sort of thing might work for this.

    2. Have you looked into the soy "crumbles"? It's supposed to be like ground beef. I'm a vegetarian and to me it's close enough (to my 20-year no meat memory) that i can't eat them.

      There's also Quorn products. They make a chicken pieces product that are supposed to be used for stir fry and the like. They might have a product closer to your cubed beef desire.

      Good luck!

      3 Replies
      1. re: LNG212

        Hmm...that does look interesting. I'll have to do a small experimental batch for myself before serving it to guests though.

        1. re: BobB

          Quorn is delicious. My mom is vegetarian and convinced my husband and I to try it. Now we will have it at least once a month just because we like it!

        2. re: LNG212

          I was vegetarian for over 20 years, and I discovered the Boca and Morningstar soy crumbles. The texture, in chili, really does resemble ground beef, and with all the spices, there's not much flavor difference.

          Even though I now eat meat again, we still sometimes use the crumbles instead of beef. However, I don't know of a "beef cube" veg substitute.

        3. Just had a thought - has anyone tried doing a chili using diced wild mushrooms instead of meat?

          2 Replies
          1. re: BobB

            I've used quartered white mushrooms to sub for chicken. I saute them in a bit of oil until they give up and then reabsorb their water, and then cook them in my chicken chili recipe. It makes a fine sub for chicken (which can be a bit rubbery in chili anyway) but I don't think it would sub for beef.

            1. re: BobB

              I used chopped portobellas, and they worked great.

            2. A few years ago, in an attempt to please a few veggie friends at a chili cookoff, I made a seperate batch of vegertarian chili that used textured vegetable protein in.
              I did an experiment where I bought both high quality veggie burgers and a tube of high end tvp. Browned them both in oil on high to get a very brown sear and then check firmness including trying to crumble the veggie the burger.

              I found the crumbled veggie burgers were too soft and would discentegrate over cooking in chili so went half very very well browned tvp and half very well browned sliced button and large slice and diced portobella mushrooms.

              The rest was typ chili and beans but using veggie stock.

              I thought it was acceptable and the ingredients held up well but no real substitute for meat chili of course due to texture but the vegetarian folks loved it.

              IIRC I remember seeing an episode of Guy Fieri's DDD where a Hawaii based female chef running a food truck made a killer full veggie chili.

              Also check the Moosewood cookbooks.

              I have a made a few chilis out of thier books but not in a long time. The books do have tasty and t&t'd recipes.

              1. "Smart ground" was always my fav ground beef sub. I made chili and stuff with it - I don't suggest tofu or tempeh or anything

                11 Replies
                1. re: Siegal

                  Thanks - is that a brand name?

                  1. re: BobB

                    Yes it's usually with the produce

                    1. re: Siegal

                      Morningstar frozen crumbles are good.

                      I like to freeze tofu, then defrost and squeeze the heck out of it. Then crumble into recipes. You can also marinate the crumbles before use, or sautee them.

                    2. re: BobB


                      Water, textured soy protein concentrate, soy sauce (water, soybeans, salt, wheat), less than 2% of: chicory extract (inulin), natural flavor (from plant sources), salt, barley malt extract, caramel color, evaporated cane syrup, barley malt, hydrolyzed soy and corn protein, molasses, yeast extract, dried garlic, dried onions.

                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                        Thank you hoytoynoodle.

                        And thus we are back to the tvp/tsp I mention in my post.

                        There are many brands. Scour the vegetarian and vegan websites to find what brand and configuration is prefererd (tube/patty/etc.)
                        I can't remember what brand I used.

                        1. re: jjjrfoodie

                          i posted the ingredients to show these faux-meats are NOT a "healthy" alternative. at. all.

                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                            Quorn appears to be quite different - it's fungi-based, not soy-based, and has only three ingredients: Mycoprotein (88%), Rehydrated Egg White (from free-range eggs), Malt Extract.

                            I've researched it a bit and it looks like a good candidate. Thanks, all!

                            1. re: BobB

                              Quorn is one of the better faux meats- however, i have never seen any product from them that would be similar to a ground beef- maybe if you mashed some of the meatless balls?

                                1. re: BobB

                                  Yup! My store has the meatless balls but not that product....(their other stuff is sold frozen, the ground may be too)

                                  1. re: BobB

                                    Yes to the ground crumbles. Especially because soooo many fake meats products are incredibly salty. These are totally neutral, so they won't impart their flavor into your dish. I find Tofurky and Morningstar very salty FYI.

                    3. I would suggest to increase the beans, add some sauteed mushrooms, and skip the faux meat.
                      If you must, field roast makes a sausage that you could dice and add, it does not have the same weird ingredients as most faux meats.
                      Or, a crumbled tempeh-grate the tempeh on a box grater to make crumbles- its a high protein combo of whole grains and soy, avoid any marinated or flavored ones, just cook with the chili and it will absorb those flavors

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: Ttrockwood

                        Field Roast has several vegetarian sausages, I use the Mwxican Chipotle in chili frequently. I'm a meat eater - I just really like the flavor and texture of this product when making a quick chili.

                        I've worked in natural food stores since the '70's and have tasted about every fake meat on the market. Field Roast products are the best out there!


                        1. re: meatn3

                          I prefer to use diced beef rather than sausage in my chili (I do add a lot of chipotles in adobo). Do you think the wild mushroom loaf could be a good substitute?

                          1. re: BobB

                            It should do well! The texture of their products is meatlike rather than the weird chewiness of many fake meats.

                            The sausages are easier to find in my neck of the woods. You may have to do some hunting or request a special order for the loaf products. The Celebration loaf is often a seasonal item and easier to find Nov./Dec. The other loafs are harder to locate.

                            Edit: Just saw your location and locating it should be easier in that size metro market! Often natural foods stores with a big college age clientele have a larger selection of fake meat items in my experience. Good co-ops have decreased over the years but I think there is still an active Boston one going...

                            1. re: BobB

                              No- the "loaf" from field roast comes with stuffing in the middle. Don't think you want a sage flavored stuffing added to the chili....

                        2. Homemade baked seitan will give you a decent approximation for cubed beef. I've used it in a mole-style chili with very good results. When I do a more traditional chili, I use Morningstar Farms crumbles.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: guenevere51

                            This. Back in my veg days homemade seitan was the only way I would go when trying to make the closest approximation to actual meat (I make a mean vegan chicken and dumpling w/ homemade seitan that everyone raved about and none of the picky meat eaters realized wasn't chicken).

                            It's not that I hated the faux meat subs out there, though I know some veg*ns who do (Morningstars fake chicken patties and burgers are quite good), but they aren't the same and I certainly wouldn't use them crumbled as a substitute. I don't even mind TVP - but it's one of those things where I would be leaps and bounds happier with a veggie and/or bean chili (chickpeas add a more toothsome texture) than someone trying to fake their way though substitute-filled chili trying to make it exactly the same.

                          2. TVP comes close, but there are some suspicions of health issues with it. But many years ago I used it. I think if you put firm tofu in the freezer it becomes chewier and crumbly more like meat, too.

                            1. Someone just told me that when they make veggie chili, they use barley to get a thicker, meat-like consistency. I'm pretty sure it was barley.

                              Ok, I Googled it and people do use barley in chili!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: adenhailemariam

                                Interesting! I like barley, I'll have to give that a try.