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7 winning plant-based versions of your game-day favorites

These vegan and vegetarian recipes are worth rooting for.
The centerpiece of a tailgate party is often a selection of grilled or smoked meats, so once you decide to forego the meat, you might be a little perplexed about what to serve.
The centerpiece of a tailgate party is often a selection of grilled or smoked meats, so once you decide to forego the meat, you might be a little perplexed about what to serve. TODAY Illustration / Shutterstock

There are certain things we associate with watching football, like crisp autumn days and an abundance of tasty food. The typical tailgating or yardgating spread generally includes chicken wings, pizza, flavorful dips and some sweet treats. But millennials and other health-minded folks are changing the football food landscape with vegan offerings that are just as mouthwatering as the traditional fare. With 9.7 million Americans eating more plant-based meals, there are more options than ever for satisfying your tastebuds, animal-free.

Main Dish “Meat”

The centerpiece of a tailgate party is often a selection of grilled or smoked meats and sausages, so once you decide to forego the meat, you might be a little perplexed about what to serve. The early meat replacements or analogues that were introduced in the early aughts were mostly soy-based and didn’t satisfy the cravings of meat eaters.

Today’s meat-free alternatives are much closer to the real thing in terms of taste, texture and cooking performance and can be used in much the same way as you would use meat. Beyond Meat, Impossible and Incogmeato by Morningstar Farms all offer burger meat made from plants. These ground beef replacements can be used to make taco filling, meatballs, meatloaf, chili and really any recipe where you’d normally use 80/20 ground beef. When they hit a hot frying pan, the “meat” sizzles and browns like beef does thanks to either coconut oil or other plant oils. Simply season it for the specific recipe you’re making, like this Spicy Meaty Chili.

Spicy Meaty Chili

Bratwurst, traditionally made with pork or veal, is another popular tailgate offering. You can still offer guests a hearty and plant-based brat option and serve it up with tangy sauerkraut and spicy mustard. Tofurky, Beyond Meat, and Raised and Rooted all offer bratwurst-style sausages that brown nicely and are fantastic on the grill. Some of these plant-based sausages are made from vital wheat gluten, so they are not suitable for folks who follow a gluten-free diet.

For someone who wants a plant-based option that doesn’t come in a meaty-looking form, make a batch of Buffalo Cauliflower Bites. You can easily swap out the regular milk in this recipe for unsweetened almond or oat milk and you can skip the butter when you add the hot sauce. We like the results we got with Primal Kitchen’s dairy-free Buffalo Sauce, which is made with cashew butter. And if you love to dip your wings into blue cheese dressing, you can capture a similar flavor experience with Daiya’s Blue Cheeze Dairy-Free Dressing.

Snacks

Charcuterie boards and snack trays have surged in popularity over the past few years, in part because they’re Instagram-worthy, but also because you can serve up lots of different foods on one tray or board. But many boards feature salami, prosciutto and other meats as their main attraction. If you’re looking for vegan-friendly ways to bring some of those smoked and cured flavors to your board, there are some innovative ways to do it.

Jerky is great for those nail-biting moments in a game, like when the kicker goes for the extra point, and you just need something to sink your teeth into. Mushroom jerky is the closest thing I’ve found to the texture and flavor of beef and the Sweet & Spicy one from Moku really hits the spot. It’s got plenty of cayenne pepper and maple syrup for that spicy-sweet tang, plus hickory smoke for that “meaty” satisfaction. A crunchy way to get that smoky fix is with Wonderful’s No Shell BBQ Pistachios, which also bring plenty of fiber and plant-protein to the party.

Dips

There is nothing like dipping into a warm spinach-artichoke dip or some creamy queso as you’re cheering on your home team. But most dip recipes are made with sour cream or cheese as the base. Until recently, dairy-free cheese and sour cream were chalky and unappetizing.

Carla Hall, chef, author, and television host is a self-described flexitarian, and loves adding plant-based foods to her cooking repertoire. She’s a big fan of creamy dips and recommends making a spinach and artichoke dip with vegan feta and unsweetened oat or almond milk (she likes Califia Farms’ and is a spokesperson for the brand). The chef shared this fantastic tip for adding more sharpness to vegan cheddar cheese: when you’re melting it, stir in a little mustard powder, paprika and nutritional yeast. Brilliant!

Also, new brands like women-owned Core & Rind are making it easy to serve up queso and other “cheese” dips with no dairy in sight. Their cashew-based sauces are flavorful and the Bold & Spicy variety is amazing over nachos or simply with your favorite chips and crudites.

Dessert

All these savory dips and “meaty” main courses need to be balanced out with a sweet treat. Brownies are a crowd pleaser, but they generally call for eggs, butter and milk. Coconut oil works well in baking and is used in these Salted Miso Brownies, which also incorporate chia seeds instead of eggs as a binder.

Salted Miso Brownies

If blondies are more your thing, check out these vegan Chocolate Chip Chickpea Blondies, which use the bean for texture and body. Another classic, peanut butter cookies, can be made vegan with plant butter and an egg substitute, but they still satisfy that sweet-salty craving.

Drinks

When you think of alcohol, the labels “vegan” or “vegetarian” probably don’t come to mind. After all, most booze is made from plants of some kind. Vodka is generally made from potatoes, sugar beets or cereal grains. Rum is created by fermenting sugar cane and America’s favorite football-watching beverage — beer — is crafted from malt (cereal grain), hops, water and yeast. While yeast is a living organism, it’s typically considered a vegan ingredient.

Ingredients that might cause your adult beverage to not be considered vegan include honey, dairy, egg whites or ingredients used in the production of alcohol. For example, the “fining” process in wine making, which makes it clear, may use ingredients like albumin (egg whites), gelatin (from beef bones), or isinglass (made from fish). While these ingredients are filtered out after the fining process, traces of them can still be found in the wine.

If you want to make sure the booze you buy is vegan, look for The Vegan Society’s label, which certifies that all materials used in the production of the alcohol are vegan. You can also do a deep dive on a brand’s website to check out their production practices. Some vegan alcohol brands we like are Boochcraft hard kombucha, FitVine wine, Los Sundays Tequila, Batiste Rhum, and Stone Brewing’s Hazy IPA.

While you may not be going for a completely vegan tailgating experience, it’s nice to include at least a few of the options above at your next party. While the number of vegans is still fairly small, the vegan curious and plant-focused eaters are continuing to climb steadily. So don’t be surprised if your plant-based charcuterie board disappears faster than your traditional one. And if these new offerings get more people to eat more plants, that’s something I can definitely root for.

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