Beyond Burgers – A Showdown

Beyond Burgers. Beyond Burgers. Beyond Burgers. We’ve been hearing it everywhere, but what does this nonsense actually mean? Aside from the health and environmental concerns that go along with eating red meat in general, the burger is one of man’s greatest achievements. An impeccably adorned hunk of meat, dripping with grease and cheese and most likely some big, honkin’ strips of bacon (because duhhh). What could possibly go beyond that? Well, we decided to find out.

It’s difficult to believe almost anything you read these days, and the rise of the Beyond Burger is no exception. The biggest thing in food at the moment, the Beyond Burger is a plant-based burger from a company called Beyond Meat, and it seems to be taking the burger world by storm.

With investors like Bill Gates and Leonardo DiCaprio, Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burgers are a certified pop culture and culinary phenomenon, receiving both praise and ridicule from virtually every corner of the entertainment and food industries. Advertising itself as “the future of protein,” Beyond Burgers are made primarily from peas and beets and are the “world’s first plant based burger that looks, cooks, and satisfies so much like beef that it’s in the the meat section of grocery stores.”

Bold claims. And get this: they “bleed.”

Because of the beets, the burgers change color as they cook, darkening and seemingly “bleeding” just like a real burger. Or so they say.

After researching these Beyond Burgers a bit, and in the process reading a number of rave reviews, we were skeptical. And curious. And hungry. So we set about testing this hype the only way we knew how: a Great Burger Showdown (capitalized so you know we’re serious).

Now, we’re not professional burger cooks, but we are creatives who work long hours so we’re most definitely professional burger eaters, and we wanted to do our best ensure a fair fight. So we went over to the Mecca of meat substitutes, Whole Foods, and did it up.

We bought just about everything a decent burger should require, mainly 100% grass-fed, 85/15 ground beef (They didn’t have 80/20, arguably the ultimate ratio, but we didn’t make a scene, even though we really wanted to.) and, yes, a box (Really? A box?) of Beyond Burgers, which were NOT in the meat section, but instead in the fake meat section, which is a strange, dark place. A place we vowed never to venture. A place of seitan and vegan cheese and some guy with dreadlocks and sandals in the middle of November. Be with me Jesus.

After rounding up the feeexins and some pillowy, fresh-baked kaiser rolls, we headed home. We were ready. The showdown was about to commerce, and potentially disastrous consequences were imminent. Here’s how it went down.

Step 1: Never cook sober.

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Expensive local dinosaur beer. Check.

Step 2: Examine haul. Mentally prepare for Frankenmeat.

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J’accuse!

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Some good, Kosher American cheese, and if you don’t like it you can get your cheddar-lovin’ buns out of here. This is America.

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Fauwncy gentlemen’s ketchup for fanciness and some organic mustard for organic tang.

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Couple of sweet boys for to cut through all that fat.

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Some dirty, old mayonnaise. In our opinion the most underrated condiment for burgers.

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Rabbit food. Apples for scale.

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Pillowy, voluptuous little burger beds to tuck our masterpieces in before we feed.

Step 3: Commence burgering and skeptical banter.

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One of these things is not like the other. Our 85/15 is a gorgeous, bright red mass of beautifully marbled, grass-fed goodness, and our Beyond Burgers are perfectly-formed, brown pucks of what, if we’re being painfully honest, look and smell and feel a bit like catfood. Not a great start, but we’ve only just begun. Lot of time on the clock.

Patty these bad boys up.

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A little salt and pepper for the ground beef (the Beyond Burgers package said “Ready to Cook” so we took their word for it and left them alone) aaaand bingo. We’re ready to go.

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Another dinosaur beer and it’s off to races. Both burgers get a good start on medium to medium-high heat. Cast iron for the beef, because duh, and stainless steel for the Beyond Burgers because, frankly, they’re not even meat so we figured it probably didn’t matter.

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Oh, also we made fries and, yes, they were amazing but let’s focus here.

We’re about at the flip. The Beyond Burgers start to brown really nicely. We’re impressed. They do stick to the pan some so be advised. Either blast them with some serious heat to get them to release or consider a non-stick pan. We don’t notice any bleeding, and honestly we’re a bit disappointed by that but the jury is still out. Good news: they smell great. Like, really great.

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The ground beef boys are doing what they do, looking good and smelling uhhnnnnngggh. You know what we’re talking about.

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Full-on Homer Simpson waterfall of drool for these guys. But no time for reckless salivation, we’ve buns to toast.

I would’ve taken pictures of the toasting in progress but I only had two hands, and they were fully dedicated to precise hand-toasting. Over an open flame, obviously. Bobby Flay up in this kitchen.

*Breaks for dinosaur beer*

Ok. We’re got our toasty burger beds ready to go.

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Our patties have been expertly cheesed and are nearly cooked to perfection. Our rabbit food has been cut and sliced into proper burger-adorning shapes. The feeexins are at the ready. Let the dressing begin.

Patties on. Evidence of diligent note-taking clearly pictured.

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Lookin’ good. We’ve got the Beyond Burger on the left and the ground beef on the right. The beyond burger appears just as it did in the package but with a nice brown, while–no surprise–the ground beef shrank into a sort of lump. (We still haven’t mastered the thin patty, but we did warn you: we’re no pros. Just blood-thirsty gluttons.)

Tuck these bad boys in for the long sleep and it’s just about time for the main event.

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Peek-a-boo, we’ll eat you.

Oh yeah, before we get to all that, you probably noticed two patties of each type sizzling away in the pan before? Yeah, we decided to started out with a no-frills, patty-only taste test (in the name of science) to ensure that all variables were eliminated and fairness reigned supreme.

Step 4: Search and Destroy.

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Gratuitous but obligatory spread-eagle shot to show state of inner perfection.

You’ll notice the Beyond Burger, while again nicely browned, appears to have the consistency and color of sweet potato, while the ground beef is just the classic, rough, nook-and-cranny fat trap with definite “bleed.”

“Shut up and stop stalling. How do they taste?”

Well, because you asked, the ground beef is amazing. Fatty and unctuous and salty and awesome.

The Beyond Burger is…surprisingly goodReally, really good. Unique flavor profile. Well-spiced. Smooth, silky texture. Frankly, it doesn’t hold a candle to the ground beef, but it’s no slouch!

Let’s try the full-on burger treatment! (With another dinosaur beer to wash it down, of course.)

The first few bites of each are un-freaking-believable. We said we like burgers, right? Well, as it turns out we still do. A lot. Both are seriously delicious, and in their own ways. The ground beef has that deep, fatty flavor that makes your eyes roll back into your head as you ascend to a state of pleasure so intense your soul transmigrates from the physical plane to some kind of euphoric ether made up of glitter and stardust and shoulder massages. Also, David Bowie is there.

The Beyond Burger, though, is the big surprise. Something about the spice seems to compliment our feeexins in a way that the overall flavor is even better than our ground beef burger! Notice I said “overall” and “flavor,” not the flavor of or the patty itself. The patty itself is fine, but with the American cheese and the sweet pickles and the rabbit food and the oh-dear-God-so-fluffy kaiser rolls it really delivers. I believe the hype. I…gulp…believe in Beyond Burgers.

Now, before any of us gets too carried away, the Beyond Burgers were admittedly good, but vegetables will never beat cow. It’s an inconvenient truth in an unfair world. The deck is stacked against anything that grows in the ground when it’s put up against a steaming hunk of nature’s most precious bundle of everything. Meat. Not fake meat. Actual meat. The Beyond Burgers did extraordinarily well for what they were. And that’s the big takeaway. They are excellent, with a big, fat asterisk. They are excellent, not for what they are in and of themselves, but they are excellent for what they aren’t: meat. They are excellent fake burgers. And most meat lovers will always see them that way.

Case in point, we were worried. Worried to try this showdown, worried to walk into the fake meat section and take the leap, worried to spend our Saturday night organizing and pulling off this medium-elaborate, medium-expensive, almost-not-even-half-assed-a-little-bit burger bash because if it failed–if the Beyond Burgers sucked–we would still have some killer real burgers but we’d be real bummed, too. If they didn’t live up to the hype, we would’ve felt pretty let down. Let down by Leo. Let down by Bill. Let down by the hype-machine. But then we remembered: and inconvenient truth in an unfair world. Vegetables never beat meat, and what is the ultimate meat? The one true saving grace of every awful meal? The only fool-proof safety net we’ve got?

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Bacon.

The great equalizer.

Vegetables can never beat meat. And nothing beats bacon. Meat-eaters will always know that, so unless Beyond Burgers starts stuffing their packages full of red gold they will never beat the real thing. But, and we are all prepared to admit, Beyond Burgers did live up to the hype, and they can stand on the podium and look up at the gleaming, greasy ball of beef that bested them and they can be proud of their effort. They can be proud of their second place finish. Proud to call themselves “burgers.”

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