I compared the meatless Beyond Burger with a beef burger from Shake Shack — and I know which burger I'd rather eat

Dave JohnsonThe Beyond Burger at TGI Fridays.

Veggie burgers are finally having their day.

After decades of soy-based patties being the least bad option for carnivores trying to eat less red meat, plant-based products like the Beyond Burger are disrupting the meat industry.

The Beyond Burger is engineered to look, smell, and taste like real meat, upending the perception of veggie burgers. It’s the mission of companies like Beyond Meat, which makes the Beyond Burger and several other plant-based products, to create new items so similar in appearance and taste to meat that carnivores will eat them without giving it a second thought.

Last week, Beyond Meat had an explosive initial public offering that valued the company at over $US3 billion.

I hadn’t yet had an opportunity to try a Beyond Burger, so I compared its offering at TGI Fridays with a burger from my hands-down favourite burger joint on the planet, Shake Shack. Here’s what happened.


They say it’s always Friday at TGI Fridays. In fact, it’s inscribed right over the door. I didn’t need to put that to the test because I literally went there for lunch on a Friday.

Dave Johnson

Nestled among a variety of all-beef burgers was a single Beyond Meat cheeseburger. I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t especially low in calories and that it was expensive, at almost $US16. I could eat three Shackburgers from Shake Shack for that price.

Dave Johnson

When the burger arrived, I was initially impressed by its look. From the outside, it looked much more like meat than, say, a Boca burger. But the perfectly round patty did seem a tad artificial. I felt as if I could pick the Beyond Burger out of a lineup of hamburgers based on the shape alone.

Dave Johnson

This isn’t Beyond’s fault, but who ever heard of putting the lettuce, tomato, and pickles on the bottom? Come on, TGI Fridays, would you wear shoes on your head? Perhaps more to the point, I was disappointed that the cheese didn’t melt into contours of the patty. There’s something vaguely artificial about how it was just flat on top.

Dave Johnson

The first real test: I sliced through the middle to see what a Beyond Burger looks like inside. And there’s reason for cautious optimism. It looked meaty. The patty was slightly red and appeared moist — two very good signs. The burger clearly had a texture reminiscent of ground beef.

Dave Johnson

The first bite filled my mouth with a strong taste of char. This is worth emphasising: The burger was nicely charred, with strong grill lines, and it’s a good thing that the Beyond Burger responds to flame in much the same way a meat patty does. That said, char was the predominant taste.

Dave Johnson

I’ve had enough veggie burgers in my day to know what’s usually wrong with them. For starters, they don’t taste anything like beef, but more importantly, they tend to be dry as a bone. The Beyond Burger didn’t drip with juices — not even a little — but the patty was pleasantly moist. It was not entirely unlike eating a burger cooked medium.

Dave Johnson

Can I take a moment and ask TGI Fridays if it honestly believes this is the right number of fries to put on a plate with a $US16 burger?

Dave Johnson

It looked like beef, cut like beef, and had the mouthfeel you’d expect from beef, with a dense, beefy texture. But taking a bite on its own was interesting. It demonstrated that surrounding the Beyond Burger with a bun, lettuce, tomato, and sauce helps maintain the charade that it’s beef. On its own, it didn’t taste bad at all — but it didn’t taste quite like a burger.

Dave Johnson

After eating about half the burger, I started to notice what I was missing. There’s no crust on the top of the patty — the kind of burnt texture that counters the soft and juicy middle of the patty. It was uniform. That’s not a terrible thing, and probably not something you’d notice if you weren’t paying close attention. But burger fans will notice.

Dave Johnson

But as long as it’s part of an ensemble with the bun and toppings, the Beyond Burger tasted like an average burger. I am confident that if you served this to me and didn’t tell me what it was, I wouldn’t realise I wasn’t eating beef. In other words, it’s like eating a run-of-the-mill burger. That’s not an insult; it’s quite an achievement.

Dave Johnson

Off to dinner to complete the comparison. There was a time — before Shake Shack invaded Los Angeles — that I would plan family visits to New York around eating as many meals at the Madison Square Park Shake Shack as possible. I love Shake Shack.

Dave Johnson

There’s only one burger on the menu for me: the original Shackburger. Priced under $US6, it’s a veritable steal. The fries still cost a few extra bucks though.

Dave Johnson

There’s absolutely no question that this was made from actual, real-life cow. Look at the mouthwatering crust and irregularly shaped patty. See the way the cheese melts into the uneven surface of the patty. Yes, the Beyond Burger had a patty-like appearance, but you can’t fake this. At least, not yet.

Dave Johnson

For Shake Shack’s burgers, simplicity is key. The taste of the meat is really the main attraction here, so Shake Shack keeps the toppings pretty simple. And it appears to understand that the toppings do, in fact, go on top.

Dave Johnson

The exact composition of a Shake Shack burger is a company secret, but several online sources claim it’s simply Angus ground beef. Whatever the blend might be, every bite of this burger was heaven. You can see — and taste — the crust on the patty, and that’s something that a Beyond patty just doesn’t get.

Dave Johnson

Perhaps the Shackburger was more viscerally real because it’s messier. The patty was irregular and had the kind of char, crust, and pitting that tells your mouth you’re eating something that was cooked with fire. Every bite was moist, juicy, meaty, and richly rewarding.

Dave Johnson

Note to TGI Fridays: This is a side of fries.

Dave Johnson

I had really hoped the Beyond Burger would upend my world and become my favourite burger. While it’s a totally satisfactory meal, there’s no question that Shake Shack’s Shackburger looks and tastes significantly more delicious. If you want to step away from beef at least some of the time, however, make a date with Beyond Burger.

Dave Johnson

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