Veggie Girl: The best veggie hot dog you'll ever put in your mouth

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Just in time for National Hot Dog Month, we bring you a taste test of three different brands of hot dog/sausage. (We had to add the sausages because we could only find one company in the Denver area that sells an actual vegetarian hot dog -- and it's just as good as the "real" thing, if not better.)

The selection criteria was the same as for last week's veggie burger taste test: I was looking for the veggie 'dog or sausage with the most authentic taste and texture -- meaning a bun filler that's the closest to eating meat you can get without having to sully your cholesterol in such a manner. Maybe the meat-replacement industry has been working on the sausages and dogs longer -- or maybe it's easier to replace a lower-quality meat -- but overall, I found that each of these brands tasted much more authentic than the top-ranking burger replacement.

Here's how it all shook down:

#3, Tofurky Beer Brats, $3.89 for four, available at Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage. These are the brats you see in the top right corner of the plate. This is not a terrible beer-brat replacement by any stretch of the imagination; it has a nice, meat-like texture and is "made with microbrewed Full Sail Ale and real tofu, not Hexane Extracted Soy Isolates or powder," promises the Tofurky website. Although I appreciate that the manufacturer used a real microbrew in this "sausage," I have to say that it doesn't taste like a beer brat. It's not bad, mind you; it's definitely got some beery flavor going for it. But is it the same as biting into a juicy, greasy beer brat? Nope, not even close. My main thought while chewing on this sausage:"eh." Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

#2, Original Field Roast Grain Meat Co., Italian Sausage, $5.15 for four, available at Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage. These are the sausages in the top left portion of the plate. The discrepancy between the #3 and #2 position is minimal; the Field Roast sausage edged out the Tofurky beer brat for one reason only: I liked the taste a smidge better. That said, these sausages definitely have a somewhat weird texture. They're not bad right off the grill, but I wouldn't recommend storing them -- only cook what you know you're going to eat, because the texture gets worse as time goes by. Still, thyey have a spicy kick that I quite enjoyed. These sausages are made with grain meat (whatever that is) and "traditionally seasoned with fresh eggplant, zesty red wine, pungent fresh garlic and plenty of fennel." I didn't exactly love them, but I'll probably go back and try the Mexican Chipotle and Smoked Apple Sage varieties, just to see if they can "wow" me in a way the Italian Sausage couldn't.

#1, Light Life SmartDogs Jumbo, $3.59 for five, available at Sunflower Market. Pictured in the bottom portion of the plate. Not only are these the best value for your money, but they're also the winner by a landslide because of the authentic -- yes, I said it -- taste and texture. Seriously: If prepared correctly, you could feed one of these to a full-fledged carnivore and he wouldn't know it was a veggie dog unless you told him. That preparation can be tricky, though, because as with any veggie dogs or sausages, you shouldn't overcook them on a grill (those blackened grill marks that taste so good on a meat-filled casing just don't taste the same when the casing and filling are all vegetarian). For the best taste, turn them quickly and brown them, don't blacken. These also taste great microwaved or boiled, and reheating them is just fine. They're made with soy protein isolate and wheat gluten -- probably exactly the "soy isolates and powder" that Tofurky warned against. But like a real hot dog, the highest-quality ingredients do not produce the best taste in a veggie dog. I'd recommend getting the Jumbo dogs, simply because the Light Life SmartDogs are on the tiny side of the hot-dog spectrum; the Jumbo dogs will nicely fill out the bun where the original might leave an inch or so of bread for you to chew. And you don't need to feel guilty; each Jumbo SmartDog contains only 80 calories, 1 gram of fat and no cholesterol. Eat two and you still won't be ruining your diet. I've also tried the Light Life Smart Sausages Italian Style -- not grilled in a bun, but sliced up and baked in a ziti-style pasta dish -- and prepared like that, they are also indistinguishable from the real thing.

A final plug for Light Life: If you've been searching for the perfect vegetarian biscuits & gravy replacement, there's good news and bad news. The bad news is, you'll have to make it yourself (sorry, WaterCourse, your B&G doesn't cut the mustard -- er, gravy -- with this almost-Southern belle). The good news is, you can brown the Light Life Gimme Lean Ground Sausage Style meat replacement -- it comes in a plastic-wrapped tube, just like the real thing! -- in a pan and then use it to make a white gravy. After that, the hardest part will be baking the biscuits (I'd call Lucile's and see if they'll let you purchase some a la carte to take home -- they did win Best Biscuits at Brunch in this year's Best of Denver, after all).

Next week, I'll tell you about Hush Denver dinners -- vegetarian style.

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