I cooked 4 Impossible Burgers at home, and it felt bizarrely familiar - these are the best and worst parts of the experience

Impossible Burger at home

Ben Gilbert/Business Insider

One of four Impossible Foods burgers I made at home.

  • Starting this month, Impossible Foods is finally offering its veggie-based version of ground beef in supermarkets.
  • Impossible already has burgers at Burger King (the Impossible Whopper) and White Castle, as well as a variety of smaller restaurants. This is the first time people can buy the ingredients directly and make their own Impossible meals.
  • On Wednesday, I made Impossible burgers for lunch and dinner - four in total between myself and my partner.
  • The experience was familiar, of course, but distinctly different from what I'm used to with ground beef.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Burgers, as we all know, are delicious - a near-perfect combination of fatty, salty meat with creamy cheese and fresh vegetables, all wrapped in a soft, crusty bun.

In my mind, the ideal burger is something along the lines of what you'd find at Shake Shack or In-N-Out: A smashburger. Not the chain, but the concept - a relatively small, concise burger.Advertisement

It's that type of burger, or something along those lines, that I set out to make on Wednesday with the newly-available Impossible Burger "meat." The experience was both fascinating and familiar.
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First and foremost: The raw version of Impossible's burger looks an awful lot like highly-processed ground beef.

First and foremost: The raw version of Impossible's burger looks an awful lot like highly-processed ground beef.

Visually speaking, Impossible's "beef" looks very similar to actual ground meat — albeit highly-processed ground meat, along the lines of Spam.

It has a kind of compacted feeling as well, no doubt due to the way it is sold: in an enclosed plastic pouch. It feels condensed, because it has been condensed.

This is a notable difference from ground beef that often comes in long strands, directly from the grinder. The best burgers are made from relatively loose ground beef that hasn't been "overworked," which felt like a strike against Impossible's "meat" right out of the box.

(Spoiler: It turned out to not be a problem at all.)

Yes, you can eat Impossible's burger "meat" totally raw. Honestly, it tastes pretty good uncooked.

Yes, you can eat Impossible's burger "meat" totally raw. Honestly, it tastes pretty good uncooked.

If you've ever eaten a terrine, or a Thai laab, or another type of chopped meat dish, you'll be right at home eating Impossible's "meat" totally raw. It could certainly use some salt, but the product straight out of the packaging packs a surprisingly savory, umami-rich punch.

Also of note: It's got a lot of chew, distinctly different from the paste-like consistency of paté.

To that end, Impossible Foods has test-served its "beef" as tartare — and that's unsurprising. With the right crowd, it would totally work.

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But let's not kid ourselves: My goal was making burgers, not eating veggie tartare.

But let's not kid ourselves: My goal was making burgers, not eating veggie tartare.

For each of the four burgers I made, I did the same thing I'd do when making a standard burger:

  1. Weigh out 3 oz. of veggie meat.
  2. Gently roll into a ball, then gently form into a thin patty.
  3. Generously season both sides with salt and pepper.

I used a standard stainless steel pan set over the highest flame on my hottest burner, slicked with a teensy bit of vegetable oil to prevent stick (1/2 tsp. or less). After two to three minutes, I flipped the patties and topped the seared side with a slice of white American cheese.

Outside of toasting the bun and preparing vegetables, this was the process I repeated for each of the four burgers I made. It is exactly the same process I use for making beef burgers, and it produces consistently delicious burgers.

What was most amazing, right off the bat, is how directly this process applied to Impossible's veggie burgers.

Impossible's burger cooks very much like a beef burger, which was shocking to me.

Impossible's burger cooks very much like a beef burger, which was shocking to me.

Anyone who's cooked lots of burgers knows how to look for when to flip: The edges of the patty facing down start to curl a little and change color, and a bit of liquid tends to pool on the top.

It's an age-old sign that it's time to flip, followed quickly by the burger getting topped with a slide of cheese that can melt as the second side sears.

Impressively, the Impossible Foods veggie version acts very similar. If anything, I found that the Impossible Foods version seared a bit faster than a standard beef burger.

Best of all: The Impossible Foods burger is incredibly friendly to eaters who like crispy edges on their burgers (like me). Part of what Shake Shack is so well known for is exactly this, and it's stunningly easy to re-create with Impossible's veggie patty.

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Visually, the Impossible burger is stunningly close to the real thing.

Visually, the Impossible burger is stunningly close to the real thing.

There are some pretty impressive visuals happening inside of an Impossible Foods burger.

It's got crags and a seared, crispy exterior, where melted cheese can blend with the patty to form something new. It bleeds, as you can see above, into the bun below it, just like a normal burger would — remember, I used almost no oil in the pan, so any juices coming off the patty are from the burger itself. The edges look like a loose amalgamation of protein strands, just like a ground beef patty does.

Honestly, it's very likely you could market and sell these burgers as beef burgers and most people wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

But anyone paying close attention would quickly realize the difference: Impossible's burger doesn't taste like beef. It's close! But it's not beef.

But anyone paying close attention would quickly realize the difference: Impossible's burger doesn't taste like beef. It's close! But it's not beef.

Do you know the word "unctuous"? It's kind of gross-sounding, so bear with me for a moment: It means "of the nature of or characteristic of an unguent or ointment; oily; greasy."

Some of the best meat dishes are so great because of their unctuousness. Your favorite roast, for instance, is made particularly delicious because of slow rendering of its fat, which both makes the roast more tender and more flavorful.

Simply put: Fat is a major component of what makes meat taste good.

And not just any fat — the type of fat and the type of animal it's connected to (to say nothing of what the animal ate or how it was raised) can make a huge difference in taste and complexity. That's all before we start talking about how a particular dish was cooked.

No matter how much coconut and sunflower oil Impossible adds to its fake beef, it cannot replicate naturally occurring animal fat in meat. It can come close! And it does come close with the Impossible Foods ground beef replacement, but it's missing a layer of complexity that standard beef is not.

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But just because it doesn't taste exactly like beef doesn't mean it's not delicious. Let me be clear: The Impossible Foods burgers I made were absolutely delicious.

But just because it doesn't taste exactly like beef doesn't mean it's not delicious. Let me be clear: The Impossible Foods burgers I made were absolutely delicious.

There are some massive upsides to making and eating an Impossible Foods burger over a beef burger.

For one, I didn't feel like I'd eaten several burgers after eating several burgers. It was clear that I'd eaten, but I didn't feel heavy or greasy or gross — I just felt pleasantly full.

For another, searing was even easier with Impossible's burger than a standard beef burger. It sits flatter against the pan, thus more easily pulling an even sear.

Perhaps more importantly of all: The Impossible Foods burger gets aggressively crispy, which is truly delightful insofar as it replicates one of the primary functions of a burger patty in a smashburger.

Let's talk downsides: the smell, the sliminess, and the lack of true beef flavor.

Let's talk downsides: the smell, the sliminess, and the lack of true beef flavor.

My initial impressions of the Impossible Foods burger meat were not positive.

When I took it out of the package initially, it reminded me more of opening a can of dog food (which I unfortunately do every day) than opening a butcher's package full of ground beef. There was a surprisingly strong scent, which ground beef usually doesn't have, and a general sliminess to the product itself. That latter bit was especially bad, because slimy ground beef is usually a good indication that the meat has gone bad.

About 25 seconds later, after I had more closely sniffed and actually tasted the veggie beef, things improved considerably. It quickly leapt from alien object to something more familiar: a kind of verisimilitude of beef that my brain accepted as real enough.

My wife wasn't quite as easily sold: the first burger I made in her presence she said smelled like chocolate. By the second burger, her impression of the cooking smell turned from "like chocolate" to "it smells weird."

Notably, she ate the burger and didn't say it tasted bad — but she did say "it doesn't taste like a burger."

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The biggest downside of all: the premium price.

The biggest downside of all: the premium price.

At most grocery stores, you'll pay anywhere from $2.99/lb. to $7.99/lb. for ground beef.

It's pretty rare to pay on the higher end of that spectrum — I had to call the fanciest butcher shop in Brooklyn, The Meat Hook, which prides itself on more labor intensive whole animal butchery, to find some ground beef that costs $7.99/lb.

But Impossible Foods is selling less than a pound of its ground "meat" for $9. That's 12 ounces for $9 — a pretty stark comparison to the $3 you could pay for a larger amount of actual ground beef.

I asked Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown about the price during an Impossible Foods event in New York City on Thursday. Here's what he had to say:

"We're priced in the range of what I would say is premium ground beef at this point, not the kind of super mass market ground beef. And that's because although, structurally our economics are vastly better than the animal-based food industry because we use less than a twenty-fifth of the land, a tenth of the water, less than a twelfth of the fertilizer input, and all the things that are driving expensive meat production. What we lack, that they have, is massive scale. We're scaling up right now from tiny to big, and it's only when we get to a bigger scale when we realize the advantages of our process. And our goal is to get our prices affordable to everybody in the world, not just even in the US but in the developing world, as fast as we possibly can. But it doesn't happen instantly, and we can't sell our products at a loss if we want to stay in business. Fortunately, we have more demand than we can handle at our current price."

In so many words: As Impossible's burger meat becomes more popular, its price should correspondingly decrease as its makers feel more of the financial benefits of the company's more environmentally friendly approach to food creation.

Let's hope that's the case, because at $9 for 12 oz., it's an awfully high price to make a veggie burger.