Here's how to nail a plant-based burger this grilling season Jack Bishop of the PBS television show, America's Test Kitchen, explains to NPR's A Martínez how to cook a plant-based burger.

It's grilling season. Here's how to nail a plant-based burger

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A MARTINEZ, HOST:

All right, here are three words you don't often hear meat-lovers say in the same sentence - delicious veggie burger. Plant-based meats have a well-earned reputation for tasting - well, what's a polite way of saying this? - for tasting nothing like meat. You probably wouldn't serve veggie burgers at your backyard cookout unless you can get a famous television chef to make them.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTINEZ: Enter Jack Bishop. He's one of the hosts of the PBS show "America's Test Kitchen." Jack joined me to pull off two seemingly impossible tasks - one, make plant-based burgers tasty enough to satisfy a carnivore and, two, teach me how to cook them. All right, let's start with the veggie burgers. Jack says they have come a long way.

JACK BISHOP: We ran a tasting - it was probably about four years ago - that, frankly, was one of the most shocking tastings we've ever done in the test kitchen. People thought it was beef, especially when you put it on a bun, and you add ketchup, and you put lettuce and tomato. So we're going to see whether or not you agree.

MARTINEZ: OK, full disclosure - I'm not a bad cook; I'm a terrible cook. My wife is the chef in the family. She graduated from Le Cordon Bleu cooking academy. So I borrowed her chef's coat so I could at least look like I belonged in the kitchen when Jack joined me over Zoom.

BISHOP: All right. Those are the privileges of marriage - you can wear your wife's chef's coat, I guess.

MARTINEZ: (Laughter).

BISHOP: I want to know about your cooking skills, though. So, you know, the chef coat is telling me, oh, you're an accomplished cook.

MARTINEZ: So as I was getting the chef's coat out, my wife's taking pictures of the kitchen. I'm like, what are you doing? And she's like, well, this is for the insurance company tomorrow. So when you burn this kitchen down, at least we have something to show the insurance company. So that, I think, maybe can describe my level of skill when it comes to the kitchen.

BISHOP: All right. Well, this is so simple. Yes, you are going to have to turn on the stovetop, but you will succeed. I promise that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DANCING IN THE KITCHEN")

LANY: (Singing) Dancing in the kitchen. Dancing in the kitchen.

MARTINEZ: Jack and I started with a pound of plant-based meat. The brand I used was Beyond Meat, which just named Kim Kardashian as its chief taste consultant. Jack used veggie meat by Impossible Foods. We shaped them into patties and then tossed them in the fridge.

BISHOP: Plant-based meats tend to fall apart more than regular beef. And so if you want to cook them in a skillet, which is what we're going to do today, or if you're going to cook them out on the grill, then they're going to need to spend about 15 minutes in the fridge chilling.

MARTINEZ: While the meat chilled, my first scary moment arrived.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTINEZ: I had to slice a tomato.

The great thing about slicing a tomato, I think, for me is that it's red. So if I do bleed, no one will know.

BISHOP: I would prefer no bleeding. And the best way to prevent that is actually to use a serrated bread knife.

MARTINEZ: Serrated bread knife.

BISHOP: Professionals may frown on that and say, hey, you should use a super-sharp chef's knife. So you can use either one.

MARTINEZ: OK, here we go. The wild ride starts.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLICE)

MARTINEZ: Hey. That wasn't that bad. Look at this. How about that? That's not a bad slice there.

BISHOP: Yeah, that's perfect.

MARTINEZ: So I can keep going here.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLICE)

MARTINEZ: OK, so I ran into a little - well, it's like a three-quarters moon.

BISHOP: You know what? It's going to be tucked inside a bun with the burger. We can hide that easily. So I would call that a success.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET'S CALL THE WHOLE THING OFF")

ELLA FITZGERALD: (Singing) Potato, potato, tomato, tomato. Let's call the whole thing off.

MARTINEZ: Now it was time to cook the burger, which meant turning on the stove, which meant an open flame in my kitchen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIZZLING)

MARTINEZ: I'm hearing a sizzle. I can confirm a sizzle.

BISHOP: Yeah, that's - you know that you judged it right if you get a sizzle. One of the things you probably noticed is that your burger is speckled with little bits of white. The white is actually coconut oil. In the same way that beef fat is solid at room temperature, you see the little bits of white fat in ground beef. That's one of the innovations with the new generation of plant-based meats is they're using solid vegetable fats, usually coconut oil, that melt when they start to cook.

MARTINEZ: How quickly and how much of a difference is technology progress on plant-based meats going?

BISHOP: I think the biggest innovations have actually occurred in the last couple of years. And so, you know, the brand that I'm using, Impossible, actually has this legume-based protein called hemoglobin that's the same as what's in beef that allows it to basically stay pink when it's cooked. And so it's kind of remarkable, the technology. And I think why we're seeing plant-based meats now in fast-food chains is that they're really working. I've had a lot of veggie burgers that taste like beans or taste like quinoa, and - you know, and I like beans, and I like quinoa. But they don't really taste like a hamburger. That's not really the case anymore. The technology in the last couple of years has really been transformative.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAMBURGER HOP")

JOHNNY HICKS: (Singing) Now, if you want something that's good and hot, just eat a hamburger. It'll hit the spot. You can see them on the griddle going flippity-flop (ph). Makes you want to do the boogie to the hamburger hop.

BISHOP: You ready to sort of tell me what you think?

MARTINEZ: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. OK, so I'm going to give it a try here. Wow, Jack, this is a cheeseburger. Wow.

BISHOP: Yeah. I'm going to show you mine. I bit into it. You can see it's kind of medium rare in the middle.

MARTINEZ: Yeah.

BISHOP: It's a little pink. It's nicely browned.

MARTINEZ: I would not be able to tell first, visually, that this is not a beef burger. And then when I bit into it, I wouldn't be able to tell that it wasn't a meat burger. And it's dripping just like any normal burger would. There's nothing different. Wow.

BISHOP: Yeah, I think the texture is really - they've done a lot of plant engineering. You know, there's a certain chew, you know, that a burger has, and, like, this has that.

MARTINEZ: Well, this is a game-changer, Jack, because I honestly thought this was going to be a lot more difficult for someone like me because I have no experience doing this. And it just feels like a very nice, compact meal that's satisfying and tasty that I was able to accomplish all by myself, which I can't believe I have actually been able to do this (laughter).

BISHOP: I'm going to officially bestow you that jacket, and you can tell your wife that Jack Bishop from "America's Test Kitchen" says that that's now your jacket to wear as you like.

MARTINEZ: Thank you, Jack, so much. This was great. I really had a great time. Thank you.

BISHOP: Thanks, A.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHEESEBURGER IN PARADISE")

JIMMY BUFFETT: (Singing) Cheeseburger in paradise - paradise - medium rare with mustard...

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