THE WASHINGTON POST – You’re hosting a cookout, so you make a run to the store. As you tip various ingredients and supplies into your cart, you realise you need a plan for the non-meat eaters. You haven’t really played around with them before, but you grab a couple of packages of plant-based burger meat and links.
The good news is that you don’t have to worry too much about a learning curve after that.
“It’s not as dramatic as I thought it would be,” said America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) executive food editor for cookbooks Dan Zuccarello, who recently released Cooking With Plant-Based Meat.
That’s one of the main goals for brands such as Impossible Foods, said the company’s director of new product development Laura Kliman.
“We’re trying to replicate the entire sensory and meat-eating experience,” and that includes how the items cook, she said.
Although cooks who are well-versed in grilling traditional meat will find plant-based options pretty similar, there are a few things to keep in mind to make the transition as easy as possible.
Burgers made with animal proteins can lose a significant portion of their weight in the course of cooking, causing them to shrink. The ATK team didn’t find that with plant-based options, Zuccarello said. If you’re trying to figure out portion sizes or adapt a recipe that calls for regular meat, count on the equivalency of 12 ounces of plant-based meat for every one pound of meat.
Similarly, ATK does not recommend making an indentation in the top of plant-based burger patties, since they won’t shrink and dome in the middle like a beef burger.
Kliman said the first version of Impossible’s burger didn’t do quite as well on the grill because it wasn’t as cohesive and tended to stick. She said those characteristics improved with the newer version released in 2019.
Overall, though, Zuccarello said ATK found it beneficial to chill plant-based patties after shaping. This helps them hold that shape and allows for better cooking, giving you enough time to brown the outside without overcooking the middle.
Because plant-based products tend to skew stickier, it’s important to wear gloves or moisten or oil your hands while shaping, according to Zuccarello. Similarly, be sure your grill is sufficiently heated, with clean, well-oiled grates.
Zuccarello said the ATK team preferred to take their plant-based burgers a little past medium-rare (125 degrees) to avoid a mushy texture. He recommended a sweet spot of 130 to 135 degrees, or medium doneness. At that point, he said you still get the look of a medium-rare burger with a juicy centre. ATK gives general guidance of two to three minutes per side of a thick plant-based patty, versus three to five for beef.
Because there’s no shaping involved, grilling plant-based sausage links is particularly straightforward. Just make sure your grates are clean and well-greased, and you should be good to go. Zuccarello recommended not taking the links all the way to 160 degrees, to keep them from drying out. Look for the sausages to brown well and the casings to crisp.
Especially with grilling, you may be interested in leaning into smoky flavours, Zuccarello said. Smoked paprika is one such enhancer, which can also help make up for the quicker cook time.
Zuccarello said the ATK team went into the plant-based book research with an open mind. “In general, we were pretty authentically surprised at the results,” he said. “At the end of the day, when you’re eating a cooked plant-based meat, you wouldn’t know the difference.”