Some of these irresistible hot dogs will convert even the most hardcore meat-eaters
By Angela Lashbrook
Historically speaking, vegan hot dogs don’t have the best reputation.
I was vegetarian for many years, and though I eat meat now, I still often opt for the vegetarian option at a restaurant, and I love a good veggie burger. Until recently, though, I didn’t go for veggie dogs. Their flavor was slightly off, as if their creator, who had only ever heard someone verbally describe a hot dog, attempted to re-create it with mashed-up vegetables (perhaps this is the case).
But a couple 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, 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 and YouTuber and author of the book Making Vegan Meat: The Plant-Based Food Science Cookbook. But now, “In Orlando there’s a vegan hotdog 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 often (but not always) fresh, with a coarser grind, thicker casing, and flavored with sage, nutmeg, and other spices—they’re served in a similar fashion, in a bun with mustard and sauerkraut. And in my experience (before writing this story, anyway!), 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 more closely match the taste and texture of a real meat brat.
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, three hot dogs. Spoiler alert, but frankly (sorry) the bratwurst blew the hot dogs out of the water. If you’re going to serve vegetarian sausages at your barbecue, you will 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,” says Paul Hope, a writer at Consumer Reports and the other evaluator for this story. Still, two of the three hot dogs make pretty good options, but they certainly won’t appeal to everyone—though I liked two out of the three veggie dogs, Paul preferred the brats. That third hot dog? Let’s just say we’d skip it.
Editor’s Pick: Impossible Sausage Bratwurst
The Impossible Brat is simple to prepare in a pan
Price: $9.19 for 4
Where to buy: Find locations.
This was a very, very difficult choice, 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 says, 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 it in the pan with a little oil for 12 minutes. Paul grilled one for 12 minutes, turning occasionally, and roasted another, rotating halfway through a 16-minute cooking time. While it’s 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 says. “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. Still, this is 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 labne.
Best Hot Dog for Avowed 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 dogs. This hot dog 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 actually 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 famously difficult to accomplish with veggie dogs. I found that it was flavorful enough not to disappear amidst a pile of sauerkraut and a thin layer of mustard.
Paul, though, expressed reservations about this hot dog, so if you’re planning on serving 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 says. “I could stomach it if I were really good friends with the person serving it.”
Another Bratwurst That Anyone 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 bratwurst are spectacular: juicy, garlicky, a tiny bit of sweetness that’s balanced by a rich savoriness that places this sausage firmly in the lunch or dinner category (despite that hint of sweetness, this does not taste like your traditional breakfast sausage). This sausage is “rich and aromatic, with notes of fennel and a deep umami flavor,” says Paul. “They clearly worked on this formula and it shows!” This sausage does not quite as effectively approximate meat as the Impossible—though it still comes pretty dang close!—but it compensates with greater juiciness and a satisfying snap.
Beyond recommends cooking these brats in a pan for 7 minutes or on the grill for about 6 minutes, turning frequently, until the internal temperature reaches 165 F. This makes it a quicker dinner than the Impossible Sausage Bratwurst, if that’s a concern. 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 fitted into a bun and topped with your condiments of choice.
Other Vegan Sausages We Tried
Best Hot Dog If You’re in a Hurry: Lightlife Smart Dog
The Lightlife Smart Dog
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 hasn’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 alternatively, 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,” said Paul. It gets swallowed up by strong toppings, so this is a dog you’ll want to dress simply. Worth noting that this hot dog is bafflingly, incredibly 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 is less than 5 minutes of preparation time once the water’s boiled.
The 😬 Dog: Upton Naturals Updog Vegan Hot Dog
The Updog Naturals Vegan hot dog
Photo: Upton Naturals
I literally spit this hot dog out. I tasted it for as long as was required to fully evaluate the flavor and then I deposited the remainder in the trash. I did this again, in a bun, as is my duty as a trustworthy Consumer Reports evaluator. But seeing as the criteria does not mention how this hot dog fares further down in my digestive system, I elected to leave room for foods that didn’t taste like sand that had 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 is mealy, pulpy, and “salty with a distracting texture.” Kind of remarkable that both of us independently went with floor comparisons when evaluating these hot dogs.
This is a tragedy. Nobody deserves this. I’m holding out hope that Upton Naturals improves its recipe and comes out in the next couple of years with a veggie dog that will make all 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 dramatically 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. As with meat dogs, we evaluated these according to a core set of criteria—with one addition.
Is it snappy? Sausages should have a snappy exterior when they’re cooked, whether they come in a casing or not.
Is it juicy? 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 tend 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.
As with real hot dogs or sausages, vegetarian sausages are not health foods; the absence of meat does not necessarily make them better for most people. 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 a plethora of reasons to eat vegetarian, of course, but a hot dog—no matter the source—is still a hot dog.
This product evaluation is part of Consumer Reports’ “Outside the Labs” reviews program, which is separate from our laboratory testing and ratings. Our “Outside the Labs” reviews are performed at home and in other native settings by individuals, including our journalists, with specialized subject matter experience or familiarity and are designed to offer another important perspective for consumers as they shop. While the products or services mentioned in this article may not currently be in CR’s ratings, they might eventually be tested in our laboratories and rated according to an objective, scientific protocol.
Like all CR evaluations of products and services, our “Outside the Labs” reviews are independent and free from advertising. If you’d like to learn more about the criteria for our lab testing, please go to the Research & Testing page on our website.
Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2022, Consumer Reports, Inc.