The Great Vegetarian Jerky-Off

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Editor’s Note: Our intermittent vegetarian correspondent, Alex, recently took on an epic (and tasty) assignment for ES, with some assistance from her eager crew of med student friends/taste testers.

You learn a lot of important things in medical school, but far and away the most useful skill you attain is the ability to snack like nobody’s business. Studying for finals? Almonds and chocolate-covered espresso beans. Bummed about a quiz? Ice cream and wine. Just a run-of-the-mill study night? Well, technically you’ve already eaten dinner, but popcorn is like basically not food anyway.

Now, being a vegetarian, I had never considered any meaty snacks, but it occurred to me awhile ago that back in my carnivore days, I used to love (LOVE) beef jerky. And heck, they do everything veg now, so it led me to wonder — is there a veg jerky option?

Turns out, yes, holy cow, there are about a zillion. And thus the Great Vegetarian Jerky-Off was born.

Fourteen varieties of faux beef jerky. Several hungry medical students. One night. Some beer.

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The setup was highly organized for impartiality: blind taste test, with ES rep BS serving up the samples (and monitoring for legitimacy). Med students were selected for their snacking prowess, jerky expertise and, um, being my friends. Jerkies were supplied by Vegan Dream, Tasty Eats and Primal Strips. (Tofurky tried to help us out too, but unfortunately nobody in the Upper Valley sells Tofurky Jerky. Sorry Tofurky, we tried.)

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After much debate about categories and judging, we decided to just go with a straight winner. Best Jerky Overall. The One Great Jerky.

But then we couldn’t decide, so we went with two winners that demonstrated excellence in different areas.

And then we decided that some of them were so bad that the public must be warned.

So here they are, the winners and anti-winners of the Great Vegetarian Jerky-Off:

Worst Jerky

Primal

Unanimously awarded the Never Ever Eat This Jerky award, we have the Primal Strips Hot ‘n’ Spicy flavor. In the words of one judge, “It tastes like nothing and then it tastes horrible.” Another judge described it as a “chemical burn,” and our most sensitive judge just vommed a little in her mouth.

But giving Hot ‘n’ Spicy a run for its money was another Primal Strips flavor, Mesquite Lime. This one gave our med students major human dissection lab flashbacks, from the one where we opened the gallbladder. “Smells like cat food,” said one judge, while another remarked that he “just kept thinking of pigeons.”

Split Decision

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With the Most Controversial title, we had the Tasty Eats version of Hot ‘n’ Spicy jerky. This one got several votes for best AND several votes for worst, with those in favor saying that it takes you back to the flavor of Chicken McNuggets with sweet and sour sauce. But another judge remarked that it smelled like dogfood. That judge has a dog, so we trust him.

Best in Show

And finally, for the title of the One Great Jerky. We hemmed. We hawed. We chewed and swallowed. We argued a lot, with one judge remarking, “If these two had babies, that would be perfect.” And finally, the winners emerged, deadlocked and delicious:

Tied for first place, we have the Tasty Eats Tandoori Chicken flavor and, in a surprise show of versatility, the Primal Strips Hickory Smoke flavor.

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Tasty Eats Tandoori Chicken was the judges’ choice for best flavor, although some thought its texture was undeserving of the designation of “jerky.” It was described as “meaty, but not jerky-y,” and “delicious, but not jerky — I’m in it for the chewing.” Another judge agreed, saying “Jerky should be something to do AND something to eat.”

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So while TE Tandoori Chicken got the award for best flavor, Primal Strips Hickory Smoke took it for texture and durability of chew. Our most adventurous judge noted that she “would go cross-country with this,” her highest snacking accolade. Another mentioned that it “tastes a little like cigarettes, but I like it.”

And thus concluded the Great Vegetarian Jerky-Off. It was good. Sometimes, it was bad. It was emotional and meat-free. But eventually, as with all great snacks, the jerky ran out.

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13 thoughts on “The Great Vegetarian Jerky-Off

  1. Omg do I miss Jerky. Sometimes as a vegetarian i just crave something with a little more substance, like a steak or jerky. I definitely want to look into finding some of this stuff. Do you know where it can be purchased easily? Also what other brands were reviewed?

  2. Really interesting. I can’t say I’ve ever tried veg jerky actually but it sounds not terrible. I’m glad you guys did the dirty work on which ones to try 😉

  3. This is awesome (and love the hilarious judging comments!) – I have been thinking about veg jerky and now I know what to get!

  4. great experiment for such a worthy cause. but my favorite part of the post: the usage of “vommed.” brilliant abbreviation!

  5. you guys are brave. i’ve been vegi since 17 and have only tried vegi jerky once… only to never bother trying it again.

  6. Bummer you couldn’t have gotten a hold of some Tofurky jerky. It would have blown the others out of the water.

  7. Another good brand: Stonewall’s Jerquee.
    It’s a lot more dry and flaky (if that makes sense) than the other jerkys.
    Also any idea what main ingredient was best for jerky? ie. soy protein or wheat protein. Apparently the worst jerky is made of shitake mushrooms.

  8. Wow. I missed the taste test. I make V-Jerky and I always love to hear people’s comments about how it compares to other meatless jerky. If you are reading this and were part of the test, I would love to send you some free V-Jerky so you could let me know how it compares.
    Please check out my website at http://www.vjerky.com.

    Feel free to email me at neil@vjerky.com or call my cell at 217-493-4607.
    I would love to know. I have tried many and think I got a winner. Thanks, Neil Bernstein,
    Champaign, IL

  9. To say that the title of this article was in bad taste would be as bad a pun as the title.

  10. Just bought a whole bunch of Primal Strips in all their different flavors. Man I wish they make their jerkies a little bit less salty and watery. They tasted awfully like Chinese herbal medicines. I wish I can taste the natural dry shitake mushroom flavor and not so much the artificial flavoring. Well, there’s gotta be a better vegan jerkies out there…..

  11. WHAT??? Primal strips Hot & Spicy the WORST???????? OMG I love it. Whoever did this “study” had probably just polished off a cow. Seriously, vegetarians: Primal Strips Hot & Spicy is very tasty. So is their Hickory smoked BBQ. If you seriously want a great veggie jerky, try Louisville vegan jerky black pepper. And also Lumen Foods’ Stonewall’s “jerquee”. It is absolutely delish. Especially the “wild” and bbq and teriyaki.

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