(M)eat local?

Vegetarians can’t actually chew on local beef; here are options

Friend or faux?

Friend or faux?

Spring is upon us, and veggie burgers and dogs have long been the go-to options for backyard grillers and kitchen cooks looking for a meatless alternative. And never have there been so many choices for what to put between two locally baked, artisan buns—or such close approximations to the “real thing.” Below, we review the top contenders.

Boca Vegan Meatless Burgers (100 calories, 20 from fat) come wrapped in individual packets, and these perfect circles of organic textured soy flour and wheat gluten sport authentic grill marks across their tops. Like their other veggie counterparts, they must be cooked thoroughly for a quick eight to 10 minutes. While their outsides get crispy, they expel a gristly odor that might just fool your friends into thinking beef burgers are on the grill or stovetop.

After the first bite, however, the jig is likely up. Boca centers are mushy and, after some time rolling about the mouth, chewy bits are left behind. But these burgers are salty enough that such subtleties could be lost between the halves of a toasted bun, with local and organic lettuce, tomato and onion to complete a star-studded roster of taste.

The original Gardenburger (100 calories, 30 from fat) is more obvious in its vegetable origins. Its primary ingredients include a variety of mushrooms and onions, brown rice and rolled oats, as well as mozzarella cheese. The aroma of sautéed garden gems fills the kitchen as these patties brown; bite into one, pull back and watch the cheese create its telltale strings from food to mouth.

Mushrooms and onions are the first two ingredients in Amy’s All American Veggie Burger (120 calories, 25 from fat) as well, but this player is vegan, and its primarily organic components are more thoroughly blended into chewy, unobtrusively meatlike disks. That zesty little kick detectable beneath the gobs of ketchup is natural hickory smoke flavor, and walnuts have been included for a winning taste experience. While the Boca weighs in more heavily on the side of proteins and the Gardenburger on that of carbohydrates, Amy’s product features a more balanced combination of the two.

With balance on the table, the question must be asked: What would the burger be without its hot-dog sidekick? You can start with Lightlife Smart Dog Jumbo Veggie Protein Links (80 calories, 0 from fat). Cooking is simple, but must be followed to the letter. Water boils, water is removed from the heat, links are added for no more than two minutes. Their flavor is uncannily similar to traditional dogs. Their texture is more akin to the skin of a cooled-over pudding.

A bit firmer and a touch bolder in spice, the Yves Meatless Jumbo Dog (110 calories, 25 from fat) is also a winner in the tastes-like-the-real-thing arena. As with the Smart Dogs, the first three ingredients are water, isolated soy protein and wheat gluten. But with less sodium per link, this may be the veggie dog of choice for those concerned with their salt intake.

In order to best appreciate any of these products, it is advisable to put aside comparisons to actual animal protein. They are, first and foremost, veggie burgers and dogs, and most pleasurable when they are enjoyed for what they are, as they are. And although they contain less saturated fat than their fleshy forefathers, it pays to remember that packaged and processed foods are never as healthy as whole foods, locally grown and prepared carefully and lovingly in one’s own kitchen. If you are indulging in one of these veggie burgers or dogs, take heart that you have made a cruelty-free, vaguely eco-friendly choice.