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The Green Life: Faux Gras: A Carnivore's Guide to Fake Meat

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April 23, 2010

Faux Gras: A Carnivore's Guide to Fake Meat

We know that many legume-loving vegetarians can't stand the smell of sirloin (and we're braced for their comments). But we also know that vegetarians make up only 3 percent of the U.S. population, and that most Americans bite into a veggie burger hoping it'll taste like ground round. With that in mind, we at Sierra magazine corralled a panel of professional carnivores and asked them to name their favorite meat substitutes. They didn't mince words.

RANCHER BILL NIMAN is the founder of Niman Ranch, which he has since sold, and of BN Ranch, in Bolinas, California, where he raises grass-fed cows, turkeys, and goats. He also serves as the sustainable-agriculture adviser for Chipotle restaurants.

"Without equivocation, Trader Joe's Vegetable Masala Burger is my favorite. They don't attempt to make it taste like meat, though it happens to be in the form of a patty. Delicious and easy, it's the go-to thing for my wife and me when one of us is alone. The taste is exotic, with curry, cumin, potatoes, and carrots. It's also soy-free, affordable, and goes well with mustard, ketchup, and pickles." $2.49 for 10 oz.

CHEF CAT CORA is an Iron Chef and the author of three cookbooks. During Iron Chef's "pig battle," she carved up a whole swine. Of Southern and Greek stock, she's not shy about using meat.

"My favorite is Morningstar Farms Meal Starters Grillers Recipe Crumbles. It's full of flavor, it tastes exactly like ground beef, and you can use it in just about any recipe that calls for ground meat. It's really a pleasant product to work with – I love using it in spaghetti or chili. Morningstar pays attention to how they season their products, using ingredients like evaporated cane-juice crystals, spices, onion, and garlic powder." About $5 for 12 oz.

FARMER JOHN WOOD is a fifth-generation meat farmer and the founder of U.S. Wellness Meats, a cooperative in Missouri and Wisconsin that specializes in grass-fed beef.

"I really like Lightlife's Tempehtations in the Classic BBQ flavor. It comes in pre-marinated pieces, so it's easy to throw in with fresh vegetables for a quick stir-fry. The sauce is tasty but not artificial tasting or overly sweet. Plus, the actual tempeh is good – they're not trying to mask an inferior product with a lot of sauce. I also like that Lightlife doesn't use unnecessary additives or things people don't expect in their food." About $4 for 6 oz.

RESTAURATEUR MARK STARK owns Stark Reality Restaurants, an upscale mini-chain in Northern California's wine country that includes Willi's Seafood, Monti's Rotisserie, and Stark's Steakhouse, which boasts its own meat-aging room.

"I always have a stash of Original Gardenburgers in the freezer. Toasted in a little olive oil, served on a soft bun with daikon sprouts, cilantro, and a good slathering of homemade Chinese-honey mustard with a cold beer, it would stand up to any Sunday football game. They always cook up crisp and moist, with a fresh, whole-grain goodness that thoroughly satisfies." $4.50 for 10 oz.

BUTCHER MARK SOLAZS owns the Bronx's Master Purveyors, a company his father started in 1957; it supplies some 10 million pounds of meat per year to restaurants nationwide.

"I've been pleasantly surprised at how far meat alternatives have come. Those from Seattle-based Field Roast are the most promising. You can use Field Roast Loaves almost any way you'd use meat – in sandwiches, soups, stews, and chili. They're grain-based and come in three zesty flavors: lentil sage, wild mushroom, and smoked tomato. They have an earthy, smoky character and a firm, meatlike texture that's appealingly tender. Dedicated carnivores will know it's not meat but won't feel deprived." $4.49 for 12 oz.

--Avital Binshtock

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