Review: The Revamped Beyond Bratwurst And Hot Italian Sausage Are Shockingly Better Than Pork Links

As climate change continues to impact the food industry and the world at large, more consumers are looking for environmentally-minded and climate-conscious ways to limit the extent to which the foods they eat negatively impact the globe. Simultaneously, a greater awareness of animal cruelty has driven a desire for more ethical and humane practices of consumption. Enter the plant-based food market, which has taken off in the last two decades, broadening the appeal and product line for vegetarian and vegan alternatives with the smell and taste of meat.

Founded in 2009, Beyond is at the cutting edge of meat-alternative products, including burgers, steak, and their beloved sausages. Beyond entered the retail market in 2012 with chicken strips and beef crumbles, but became something of a household name thanks to their Beyond Burger, which has been featured at the likes of McDonald's and on the menu at popular burger outposts like Carl's Jr. and Slutty Vegan (the latter of which made our list of best burgers in the U.S.).

In 2017, Beyond Meat introduced its now-famous sausages, which are available in Hot Italian Style, Brat Original, and Sweet Italian. Now, Beyond is back with a new iteration of sausages that are designed to be even juicier and meatier, hoping to replicate and ultimately replace pork sausage. We tried the new sausages launching this week, the former Beyond sausages, and two variations of pork sausage to finally settle the score on how well Beyond sausage holds up to its pork counterpart.

What are the ingredients?

You may be wondering: how can you make sausage without meat? Beyond Meat has built their entire business on this question and the skepticism that often accompanies it. Without any animal products, can a sausage really taste like a sausage? What are Beyond sausages actually made of? 

All Beyond products are made with five key ingredients: protein, found here in the form of peas; fats that are less harmful including, cocoa butter, coconut oil, and expeller-pressed canola oil; carbs, most often from potato starch and methylcellulose, which is a plant fiber derivative; minerals like iron, salt, potassium, and chloride — the same ones we look for in animal meat; and natural flavors and colors made from beet juice and apple extract. 

Beyond's Brat Original and their Hot Italian Style sausage are vegan-approved by the Vegetarian Society, halal certified by the Islamic Services of America, OK Kosher certified, gluten-free, soy-free, and non-GMO. So what's the catch? There isn't a catch per se, but beyond the five core ingredients, there is also less than 1% of vinegar, lemon juice concentrate, paprika extract, spices, pomegranate concentrate, onion powder, psyllium fiber, citric acid, Vitamins B1, B3, B5, B6, B12, and sodium alginate casing (a vegan sausage casing alternative). Beyond's new Hot Italian Style sausage is made with almost identical ingredients to their Brat Original sausage, save for paprika, konjac flour, garlic powder, and xanthan gum in the former, and the inclusion of sunflower lecithin, apple extract, and calcium chloride in the latter. 

Nutritional information

A casual glance at the new packaging for Beyond's Brat Original and Hot Italian Style sausage might lead you to an erroneous conclusion about the nutritional information. There are two columns of nutritional facts listed, one for the sausage when it's uncooked and one for when it's cooked. The inclusion of the nutritional facts for the uncooked sausages may lead some consumers to misinterpret the actual nutritional breakdown, which improves significantly after cooking due to the fact that the fat and calorie contents of the sausage change because the excess fats are released when they melt. 

When cooked, the newest iteration of Beyond's Hot Italian Style sausage boasts 16 grams of protein, 3.5 milligrams of iron, 50 milligrams of calcium, and 1 gram of dietary fiber. Those come with 11 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 440 milligrams of sodium, 6 grams of total carbs, 0 trans fat, and 0 cholesterol. On average, Beyond's Hot Italian Style sausage has 40% less saturated fat than a hot Italian pork sausage, which generally has around 20 grams of total fat. 

Unlike many pork sausages, Beyond sausages do not contain any antibiotics, hormones, or GMOS. All of their products are cholesterol free. Beyond's Brat Original has the same quantity of protein, iron, and calcium, as their Hot Italian Style sausage, as well as the same total fat, saturated fat, and carbs. Beyond's Brat Original has 2 grams of dietary fiber, 600 grams of sodium, 4 grams of monounsaturated fat, and 2 grams of polyunsaturated fat.

Price and availability

Since Beyond Meat hit the retail market in 2012, it has greatly expanded its distribution and is now available in 80 countries worldwide, in most major retailers, grocery stores, and more than 110,000 foodservice outlets. This includes big chains like Target, Walmart, Kroger, and Giant Foods, enabling average consumers to encounter meat alternatives without having to visit a specialty shop. Several fast food restaurants have also begun selling Beyond products, including Del Taco, Peet's Coffee, and Subway. More upscale restaurants have introduced Beyond on their menus, often with sophisticated fixings like brioche buns or layers of artisanal cheese or truffle condiments, demonstrating the versatility of meat alternatives to serve both elevated and everyday culinary needs. 

In a typical grocery store, you can purchase Beyond Hot Italian Style sausage and Beyond Brat Original for $8.99 per package, which includes four sausage links that can last in the refrigerator for several days uncooked. When frozen, they can safely last for at least six months. In comparison, Hot Italian pork sausage and pork Bratwurst can be purchased for around $7.49 with four sausage links that are of similar or higher quality, with no nitrates and meat exclusively from ethically raised animals free of hormones. Of course, if you're on a tighter budget, less concerned with nutrition, and/or animal treatment, you can find pork sausages for as low as $4.09 per package. So it's cheaper on average to purchase pork sausages, but how do the tastes compare? 

Hot Italian taste test

Beyond's Hot Italian Style sausage is incredibly fragrant, carrying an aroma of paprika and rich herbs that demand your attention as soon as you open the package. One of the most notable enhancements in Beyond's latest iteration of sausages is the inclusion of garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika, which are immediately apparent in both taste and smell. The cooking instructions recommend preparing the sausages in a skillet, two links at a time, for around 10 minutes — waiting until the sausages are nicely browned and reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. While cooking, we watched the sausage casing take on a rich caramel color that evoked the look of meat on a grill.

As soon as you bite into Beyond's Hot Italian Style sausage, you get a pleasingly sharp heat that's followed by a fennel-like sweetness. The flavors are complex and nuanced, delivering spice with a powerful richness. The sausage has a meaty texture, with a heartiness that is sure to scratch that iron itch. The only downside we experienced was that some of the casing of the Beyond Hot Italian Style sausage separated while cooking. Fortunately, because the casing is vegan, it browned instead of tasting like plastic as an animal casing might. When we added mustard to Beyond's Hot Italian Style sausage, the intense spice and herbs of the sausage stood up well to the topping, complementing the flavor without overpowering it. The spices in Beyond's Hot Italian Style sausage stayed with us.

Bratwurst taste test

We cooked Beyond's Original Brat sausage following the same instructions: in a skillet over medium heat for around 10 minutes until the bratwurst browned and held an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If you're unfamiliar with cooking plant-based meat or meat alternatives, you may be curious about the primary differences between cooking animal protein and cooking plant proteins. All Beyond products should be cooked all the way through in order to achieve optimal meatiness, texture, and taste. Even if you're someone who loves your meat rare or medium rare, it's wise to remember that while meat alternatives can absolutely mimic that same flavor, they need to be handled differently in order to achieve it.

Now let's get to the taste! Beyond's Original Brat sausages have an excellent ground meat texture that is hearty and intensely satisfying. The flavor of the Original Brats is gloriously herb-forward and simultaneously packed with a nuanced sweetness. The juiciness was evident in every bite, which never tasted greasy, but was always pleasantly moist — just like Beyond's Hot Italian Style sausage. The Brat Original's casing also often separates from the sausage during the cooking process, but when the right heat is administered, the sausage browns and caramelizes, adding a nice decadence to this classic brat. Afterward, we were left with the lingering taste of sweet herby goodness that made us want to cook up more Beyond sausages.

How do the new Beyond sausages compare to the original version?

Before we dive into how Beyond sausages stand up to traditional pork sausages, let's unpack the differences between the earlier iteration of Beyond's Hot Italian Style sausage and Beyond's Brat Original. From a nutritional perspective, the former versions of Beyond's sausages have the same amount of protein, slightly more total fat, a similar amount of sodium, and a shorter list of ingredients. Visually, there isn't a tremendous difference in appearance between the newest Beyond sausages and their earlier counterparts, but the taste and texture are noticeably improved. 

Beyond's newest innovation has led to a vegan sausage that more closely resembles its meat counterpart both in consistency and rich smokiness. The last generation of Beyond sausage was a little drier, a lot chewier, and on the whole, rendered with less intense flavor. Both of the new versions bare a striking similarity to ground meat in their textures and also include enhanced spices that are more nuanced, forward, and fully balanced. Specifically, the inclusion of onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika in the new sausages amp up their flavor profile. The cooking preparations for the new sausages remain the same as their earlier versions, but we noticed that cooking the new sausages led to less grease and oil in the skillet, perhaps because the new sausages contain less fat and/or because they hold their fat in more effectively, leading to that improved satisfying meat-forward flavor.

How does the Beyond Hot Italian Style compare to a hot Italian pork sausage?

Now, what is the experience of tasting a hot Italian pork sausage next to Beyond's Hot Italian Style sausage? The first difference arrived in the skillet. As we prepared the hot Italian pork sausages in accordance with the package's instructions — which advised adding ¼ cup of water and 1 teaspoon of oil — we noticed significantly more oil and grease expelled in the pan while the sausages cooked, which splattered all over the stovetop. Additionally, because of the pork sausages' animal casings — which are made from the skin or intestines of the animals — the pork sausages didn't achieve the browning or caramelized texture that the Beyond Hot Italian Style sausages did. 

When we sat down to eat the sausages, the hot Italian pork was harder to cut into and chewier than Beyond's. The primary flavor we experienced in the hot Italian pork sausage was fat rather than spice or heat. To that end, the hot Italian pork sausage had a noticeable greasiness in both its taste and its texture. The primary flavor note that emerged for us was dry pepper rather than the nuanced spices of Beyond. Overall, we found Beyond's Hot Italian Style much spicier than the hot Italian pork sausage and enjoyed its herb complexity as well as its moist, but less greasy texture. If we had to choose between the two, we'd cook up Beyond's Hot Italian Style sausages, no question.

How does the Beyond Brat Original compare to a pork Bratwurst?

When tasting a pork bratwurst side-by-side with Beyond's Brat Original, the first observable difference relates to flavor. While the pork bratwurst is undoubtedly juicier, all of its moisture is overwhelmingly greasy and fatty, which stands in the way of building a fully realized complex taste. Beyond's Brat Original is significantly less moist than the pork bratwurst, but more than compensates for that with a strong variety of herbs that ultimately provides more flavor than all of the oily fattiness of the pork bratwurst.

Just as we experienced with the hot Italian pork sausage, the pork bratwurst released an excess of oil in the skillet, splattering wildly. Each bite of pork bratwurst is mouthwatering because of that oil, but the taste just isn't fully there. The pork bratwurst achieves a greater buttery intensity than Beyond's Brat Original, but Beyond carries the overall flavors much better and is able to stand up to the pork bratwurst in terms of spice and meaty texture. The pork bratwurst has a mildly unpleasant consistency, which reminded us of the type of pork sausages you're likely to encounter at a continental breakfast buffet. When we added mustard to both bratwursts, the pork bratwurst was completely overpowered by the condiment because of its less flavorful fattiness. On the other hand, Beyond's Brat Original's taste was deeply amplified by the mustard, asserting that it has a stronger flavor profile than the pork bratwurst.

Are they worth buying?

As lifelong meat eaters, we were surprised to find ourselves enjoying Beyond's Hot Italian Style sausage and Beyond's Brat Original significantly more than their pork counterparts. We believe there are several reasons to reach for Beyond instead of pork. The first is the difference in the fat and cholesterol count. Pork sausages have been linked to various health concerns, including, but not limited to cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease. While Beyond sausages are certainly not health products, if you're looking to indulge your meat craving but are conscious of your cholesterol and overall fat intake, Beyond presents a strong alternative that delivers satisfying meatiness without severe health consequences. 

If you're someone who looks to meat because of a desire to build protein and iron, we're pleased to report that you'll get the same, if not more protein from Beyond's sausages, and a very similar amount of iron. Though the price tag is higher than for your average pork sausage, Beyond's higher price point ensures that the sausages are free of GMOS, antibiotics, and hormones. But perhaps most importantly, we just enjoyed the taste of Beyond's sausages more than the pork sausages. Beyond's new meatier iteration not only increases the juiciness of their sausages, they also wisely amp up the spices, with garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika, which elevates the overall flavor, holds up to the addition of condiments, and makes the Original Brat and Hot Italian Style sausages deeply satisfying.