I love beef, but as a food source it is decidedly problematic: even aside from the ethical concerns of eating animals at all, farmed cattle are environmental disasters on hooves, and red meat just isn't that good for you.

Unfortunately nothing quite romances my tastebuds the way beef does. I find myself straying away from my half-hearted exclusive relationships with wholesome chicken chicken breast and vegetarian options and having mouthwatering but unhealthy affairs with beef. Perhaps achieving a similar gustatory experience with non-beef foods will help me cut down on my beef cravings, so I'm here for some help. How can I break up with beef but not the beefiness?

I'm looking for suggestions for how to prepare other foods so that they substantially reproduce the flavors and meaty qualities that set beef apart. Substitutes can be other meats, preferably those both healthier and less environmentally harmful to raise, as well as vegetarian options.

My ultimate personal target for this question is the transcendental experience of eating a medium-rare loin cut (e.g., tenderloin, NY strip, or sirloin), i.e., beef-flavorful, umami, lean, smooth-textured, and tender-- but still with a little substance to sink my teeth into (the mignon can even be too soft for my preference).

However, I hope this post can be broader than that and cover beef products in general, in order to be helpful for a range of dishes, recipe adaptations, and stricter dietary substitutions.* For that reason, for each suggestion please try to identify specifically what characteristics of beef your substitution achieves and why. Food science is welcome!

How can I reproduce beefiness, especially flavor and texture, with other foods?

*For those interested, check out some of the many related questions out there:

How to reproduce meat flavor? (vegetarian)

How can I reproduce "gamey" flavor?

Substituting different cuts of beef for each other ("Beef parts interchangeability")


2 Answers 2


If you are loving cows in particular, because they are nice and give us milk, you could substitute some other hooved animal.

  • I cannot really tell the difference between farmed bison and beef. You can get bison meat in a lot of grocery stores now.

  • Venison or elk can be ordered from specialty groceries and also have that serious meat taste. Or maybe you know a hunter? Or maybe you can become a hunter! There are too many deer in a lot of places and it is a waste to just have them get hit by cars. Some localities are practically begging hunters to come and help with the excess deer.

  • Goaty goaty goat meat is arguably the most environmentally sound big quadruped meat. Goat curry Jamaican style is awesome and now I have a serious goat jones. Thanks.

  • Horse meat is hard to come by in the U.S. but apparently polish horse meat was called beef and fed to British people and they were happy until they found out. You would think after mad cow they would be happy for a beef substitute.

  • I had camel meat once in Australia. It is very much red meat with a serious meat taste. I see you can order camel meat in the states. I am thinking of all these camel is the best solution for you.

  • Whale is also pretty similar to these other options and doesn't produce methane emissions if that's a concern.
    – user50726
    Aug 21, 2019 at 23:16
  • 1
    @aris - it is easy to remember because whale rhymes with jail.
    – Willk
    Aug 22, 2019 at 13:52
  • 1
    Of course you shouldn't eat it if it is illegal in your country.
    – user50726
    Aug 22, 2019 at 20:18

You'll probably never be able to divorce the problems with beef from what you love about it. The suggestions below may help, but in general "replacing" beef is probably more work than just eating other stuff. If you find that nothing quite romances your tastebuds the way beef does, try tripling the amount of garlic, cumin, soy-sauce or whatever other spaces you're using.

Like Willk's answer, your mileage may vary on any of the below. As an added caveat, I've never been super fond of steak.

These are generally not exclusive of each other; some are just different ways of thinking about the same idea, and in general you can do all of them at once.

Making the most of the beef you do eat:

  • Take some control of the supply chain by asking questions and paying extra. Changing our diets is hard. You're absolutely right to eat less meat/beef, but, if you're not going to go 100%, you can still make sure you're buying the happiest cow in town.
  • Use the cow better.
    • The obvious "non-standard" cuts (tongue, heart) are obvious; you won't be changing anything in the world by eating them (but a cow tongue is great for a dinner party).
    • Liver, kidneys, etc aren't used as often (I've never actually had cow kidneys).
    • Every scrap, bones included, can be made into stock, and if you don't have time for all these details you can just buy beef stock.
    • A pressure-cooker will help you make the most of the animal; they'll pull flavor from bones and make otherwise gristly cuts of meat fall apart into stew.
  • Use smaller portions.
  • Dilute. This will obviously work better with ground beef than with beef-steak. Think of all the things that people put in veggie-burgers; replace half your hamburger with any combination of those, or just go really heavy on the onions. If you're having problems with the texture, one egg will typically hold it together.

Eat other animals:

  • Eating animals that that work in the local ecosystem is generally better than replacing the local ecosystem with a feed-lot.
  • In general, if an animal isn't "an environmental disasters on hooves", it's likely to have a stronger taste and texture than you're used to; a little pig can fix that. Goats don't make good steak, but ground goat-meat cut 20% with fatty pork-sausage is delicious.
  • Again, a pressure-cooker will help you make the most of the animal; they'll pull flavor from bones and make otherwise gristly cuts of meat fall apart into stew.
  • Bugs usually don't have the intense flavor you're looking for, but I'd be remiss not to include them in this section. Chapulines are great.

Maximize other sources of umami:

  • Try different kinds of mushrooms. Browning over high heat is usually recommended.
  • Get some tamari.
  • Do all the other stuff people do to develop umami. It's a whole science.
  • Some finely chopped anchovies are a good secret weapon.

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