This weekend, Americans will celebrate Memorial Day – the official recognition of all who have served in the U.S. armed forces and lost their lives in defense of the nation – and the unofficial start of summer. That means the day will be marked by parades, services, laying of wreaths and, of course, BBQs.
Grilling out has many advantages. But perhaps the most important one is that it is quite hard to do it wrong. For the artisans, masters and enthusiasts, there is specialized equipment, high-tech gadgetry, complicated preparation processes and a requirement for surgical precision when it comes to flipping the meat over the flames. For the more casual celebrant, on the other hand, slapping some burgers and dogs on a $30 charcoal grill and plating with chips and potato salad works remarkably well.
And now, a whole new menu of BBQ options to consider.
And many of them are very, very different.
Fake Meat Burgers – Now With Blood
There are few experiences more disheartening in life than being a vegetarian at a BBQ. Sure, there will be sides, maybe some grilled veggies, veggie burgers, perhaps some portobello mushrooms and tofu if the host is feeling fancy. But in reality, two things are true – and they tend to mean that vegetarians show up at cookouts feeling hopeful and they usually leave feeling hungry.
- The star of the BBQ is almost always meat.
- Veggie burgers, on their absolute best day, usually don’t taste all that great.
This is not to say there aren’t good vegetarian dishes out there – it’s just that in general, meatless burgers were not on that list.
Or at least, not until recently. It’s been a big year for plant-based meat substitutes in burger form. The twist? The products reportedly taste good on their own merit – and, in some cases, even resemble the experience of eating a real burger.
The best known and most recognizable of the lot is Beyond Meat (best known for its Beyond Burger), which has attracted a lot of attention with its IPO. It is the best-performing public offering by a major U.S. company in almost two decades, with its share price popping and spiking on day one and leaving the firm with a valuation north of $200 million. Critics praised Beyond Meats’ product, which can be found in grocery freezer sections and on some QSR menus nationwide (Carl’s Jr, most notably) as an innovative meatless solution. Critics have called the Wall Street valuation outsized and destined to fall, claiming that the Beyond Burger is and will remain a niche product.
And even fans have noted that while the Beyond Burger is really tasty, and definitely an order of magnitude better than the more pedestrian veggie burgers, it still doesn’t taste like a burger.
So, if you want the meat to actually fool you, that is a job for the Impossible Burger by Impossible Foods, according to reviews at the National Restaurant Association’s annual show earlier this week. The company snapped up a $2 billion valuation during its last fundraising round, and by all accounts ended up as the celebrity brand of the event. The big crowd pleaser was its newly redesigned and reformulated Impossible Burger, which was beloved for just how real it tastes.
“I was blown away – not by how it tasted, but by how closely it mimicked beef,” one review noted. “Whereas the old Impossible Burger had a squeaky texture to the patty (a bit like Beyond Meat’s), the new recipe tactilely felt almost indistinguishable from ground beef.”
But while Beyond Burger can be bought in grocery stores, Impossible Burgers cannot – at this point, they only sell to restaurants. But later this year, they are most likely coming to a freezer case near you, so you can gauge how real (or not) they actually taste.
And you might be saying to yourself, “Sure, the texture might be right, and the taste might be spot on – but if it doesn’t bleed, I’m not putting it on my grill.”
A reasonable position to take – though there is actually a solution to that as well: Dong Lee Farms has made a veggie burger that bleeds. Granted, it bleeds beet juice, but apparently it looks convincing enough to make the experience more real.
Bonus: It also sizzles when it goes on the grill.
And though Dong Lee’s bleeding veggie burgers are the least well-known of the hyper-realistic vegan burgers out there, they have quite a consumer following. The brand had trouble staying on shelves when it launched at mass-market retailers like Costco, Walmart, Whole Foods, Wegmans and Stop & Shop a little over a year ago.
And if you’re into the whole innovation thing but would still prefer for your burgers to be meat, no problem: There are other out-of-the-box solutions.
Burgers that mellow you out, for example.
CBD and Cannabis at the Cookout
A CBD burger might be hard to come by, as CBD’s legal status is a bit up in the air, thus they have not made it into the freezer aisle. But as Carl’s Jr. proved on April 20, people are hungry for CBD burgers.
And, as luck would have it, even if people can’t buy them pre-mixed, it is possible to DIY their own CBD burgers, as CBD oil is legal (or legalish) to buy in most states. It’s not quite buy-it-on-Amazon easy (its legally murky status means Amazon has thus far chosen to stay away from it), but with a small amount of Google searching, one can find a few online merchants that will ship it out. Plus, with Square confirming this week that it is “conducting an invite-only beta for some CBD products,” it looks like it’s about to get much easier for SMBs to sell the product.
A spokesperson went on to say that Square pays attention to changing public policies and aims to find new opportunities for its customers as a result of them.
It might not mean much for this year – but perhaps by Memorial Day 2020, the CBD burger will have a place at some American BBQs.
And if none of these things sound appetizing so far, we have one more brilliant suggestion for out-of-the-box holiday BBQ menu items.
Eat something ugly.
BBQ Bugs and Misunderstood Veggies
While the body positivity movement has perhaps made us all more sensitive to a variety of ways to be attractive, when it comes to food, being ugly means no one will ever love you.
Largely because they won’t get a chance – supermarkets routinely reject “ugly” fruits and veggies that they believe customer won’t find appealing. The twisted carrots, the misshapen apples and the stubby cucumbers of the world – which taste just like their prettier counterparts but don’t shine on the shelf – have, until recently, been cast aside and into the composting heaps.
But that is starting to change, as brands like Hungry Harvest are proving that people will eat ugly foods pretty contently if given half a chance. Founder Evan Lutz noted that in a world where people are hungry, there is no excuse to waste good food merely because it doesn’t photograph well.
“This is not an issue that has to do with not having supply; it’s about communication and distribution,” he explained.
The firm noted that consumers are somewhat less concerned about the appearance of food, particularly if they perceive its consumption as helping the planet. Ugly food, however, generally has to be purchased on subscription, whether through Hungry Harvest or one of its competitor firms like Misfits Market, which allows customers to receive weekly boxes of products for between $16-$50.
“Ugly doesn’t mean bad, moldy or rotten, so the quality is great,” Lutz said.
And those who are really willing to embrace “ugly eating” can turn that attitude to the main course, and eat something far less adorable than a cow or a chicken, yet meatier and more protein-rich than even an Impossible Burger.
We are talking, of course, about eating bugs at the Memorial Day BBQ. Not the ones in the backyard – heaven only knows where they have been. No, we are suggesting eating bugs raised to be cuisine-quality and prepared to be tasty.
For example, one can always dine at Yummy Eats in Brooklyn, a haute cuisine hotspot in the cool borough that specializes in all varieties of bug dishes. Popular selections include the Manchurian scorpion frittata and the mealworm popover.
Bugs may sound like a weird choice – but, depending on where you are in the world, the answer to the question “what’s for dinner?” is far more likely to be bugs than beef.
“Many people around the world eat insects out of choice, largely because of the palatability of the insects and their established place in local food cultures,” Joseph Yoon, chef at Yummy Foods and the executive director of the Brooklyn Bugs edible bugs festival in Williamsburg, told Forbes. “I’m trying to demonstrate the versatility of how we can apply a new food ingredient, something that is sustainable, something that can be delicious and something that can be farmed and harvested for human consumption. These are not the pests in your house or the bugs in your backyard. People have these wild notions about what eating insects means.”
Yoon’s food is highly reviewed – but like most haute cuisine, it is not cheap.
But, there’s good news: Search Amazon for “edible bugs” and you will find the options are vast.
We recommend trying out the cricket kebab for the Memorial Day BBQ, and then let us know how it goes. Alternatively, if anyone has guests who push back on the idea of eating a grilled Beyond Burger, keeping a kebab full of crickets on hand as a second choice might persuade them to give vegan eating a chance.
But whether your Memorial Day is full of absolutely bizarre dishes or the standard fare doused in ketchup, the important thing is to have fun, spend some time reflecting on those whose sacrifices made the day possible, and maybe try some new things.
Even if the new thing is a cricket on a stick.
Happy Memorial Day.