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Best vegan and veggie southern-fried chicken substitutes

Our consumer panel rated Quorn, Birds Eye and Linda McCartney vs supermarket southern-fried strips - find out which meat-free alternatives are tastiest
Vegan southern fried chicken

If you're a new vegetarian or vegan, or just trying to eat less meat, a like-for-like swap can be a great way to start making changes to your diet without losing out on your favourite food. 

But if that favourite is fried chicken, choose your brand wisely, as our tasters found that some southern-fried chicken substitutes are much tastier than others.

Our panel tried seven southern-fried plant-based alternatives and rated them on their looks, smell, texture and taste, as well as how convincing they are as a chicken replacement.

Big brands Quorn and Birds Eye Grills took the top spots. Read on to see why the brands are better, and which supermarket options fared best - plus we delve into how healthy plant-based chicken alternatives really are.

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Best Buy: Quorn Southern Fried Bites - 78%

£1.90 for 300g (63p per 100g)

Best for vegetarians

Quorn southern fried bites

These vegetarian Quorn bites hit the mark for our tasters, with their succulent texture and appealing taste earning them high marks.  What's more, they're the cheapest option too.

They're most likely to fool a meat-eater  - 90% of our panel thought they were a convincing swap for real chicken (and a similar proportion would happily eat it instead) so they're a great option for feeding reluctant flexitarians. 

They do however include egg white, so these Quorn bites aren't suitable for vegans.

Available to buy at Morrisons Sainsbury's and Tesco.

Best Buy: Birds Eye Green Cuisine Southern Fried Grills - 78%

£2 for 2 (180g, £1.11 per 100g)

Best for vegans

Birds Eye Green Cuisine Southern Fried Grills

There's not much to separate our top two, with Birds Eye's Grills hitting the same high notes as Quorn. It's the one to choose if you're vegan though as it contains no animal products. 

Our panel found it less convincingly chicken-y than Quorn's offering, but a solid 84% still thought it was a decent substitute.

We also tested Birds Eye's Southern Fried Strips, but, while the strips still scored well, these were the clear favourite of the two. Their texture and appearance was more popular, and our tasters also thought they tasted better too, with most finding they had just the right amount of spices and seasoning.

Available to buy at AsdaMorrisonsSainsbury's and Tesco.

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How Linda McCartney, M&S, Tesco and other southern-fried chicken substitutes fared

Various vegan southern fried chicken brands

It was a poor showing for supermarket own brands in our taste test, with M&S and Tesco's offering languishing behind the branded versions. 

Whatever your supermarket, you're better off opting for one of the higher scoring brand versions - some are cheaper than supermarket options too.

  • Birds Eye Green Cuisine Southern Fried Strips - 71%. These didn't impress our testers as much on flavour as the Best Buy grills from the same brand, but they still put in a good showing, and nearly three quarters thought they were a convincing substitute for chicken. £1.19 per 100g. Available to buy at MorrisonsOcadoSainsbury's and Tesco.
  • Linda McCartney's Southern-Style Chicken - 62%. These scored OK on appearance, smell and texture, but most tasters were underwhelmed by the weak flavour and half felt they lacked seasoning. £1.03 per 100g. Available to buy at Sainsbury's.
  • The No Meat Company Southern Fried Strips - 58%. The panel didn't rate their aroma or taste, with nearly eight in 10 rating them as under-seasoned. They're quite cheap, but you'd be better off with the cheaper and tastier Quorn bites, unless you're vegan. 67p per 100g. Available to buy at Iceland.
  • M&S Plant Kitchen Southern Fried Tenders - 55%. Our tasters rated them poorly across the board, with many taking issue with their colour (too dark), texture inside (too firm) and level of seasoning (too bland). £1.19 per 100g. Available to buy at M&S stores and Ocado.
  • Tesco Plant Chef Southern Fried Fillets - 54%. Too dry and the coating lacks crunch, according to our panel. Flavour was the main issue though, with three quarters saying they didn't have enough spices and seasoning. £1.10 per 100g. Available to buy at Tesco.

What is vegan chicken made of?

Vegan southern fried chicken with ketchup

There's no one standard main ingredient used in meat substitutes - it varies from brand to brand.

One of the most common plant-based swaps, used in most of the vegan chicken strips we tried, is a soya-based protein. 

Bear in mind this is unsuitable for people with a soy allergy. Alternatives are pea protein, which you can find in the Birds Eye Southern Fried Strips, and mycoprotein, Quorn's signature ingredient made from fungi that can be found in many of its products.

None of the pieces we tested are suitable for a gluten-free diet. Many use wheat protein to mimic the texture of meat, plus it’s used in all the breadcrumb coatings.

How environmentally friendly is soya? Find out how it compares to mycoprotein and pea protein in our full guide to plant based meat alternatives.

How healthy is vegan chicken?

These southern-fried pieces aren't as healthy as plain, unbreaded chicken, or plain vegan chicken, thanks to the crumb coating. However, all of them are still classed as low in saturated fat, apart from Quorn and Iceland's The No Meat Company. 

Quorn's bites have the least calories though, coming in at 181kcal per portion. Our other Best Buy, Birds Eye's Green Cuisine Southern Fried Grills, has the most (291kcal).

How we tested plant-based chicken substitutes

The chicken substitutes were tasted and rated in May 2022 by a large panel of consumers who regularly consume these products.

The make-up of the panel broadly represents the demographic profile of adults in the UK. Each product was assessed by 73 people.

The products were cooked according to pack instructions. The panellists rated the taste, texture, aroma and appearance of each product and told us what they liked and disliked about each one. 

The taste test was blind, so the panellists didn’t know which brand they were trying. The order they sampled the chicken substitutes was fully rotated to avoid any bias. Each panellist had a private booth so they couldn’t discuss what they were tasting or be influenced by others.

The overall score is based on:

  • 50% taste
  • 20% texture
  • 20% appearance
  • 10% aroma

How to recycle the packaging

Meat substitutes in a supermarket aisle

If you're considering buying meat substitutes to make more sustainable choices in your weekly shop, then it might be worth also considering the packaging it comes in - not everything we tested had recyclable packs.

The best brands for packaging are Linda McCartney and Birds Eye (for both its strips and grills). These all come in a cardboard box, so it's just a case of putting it in your home recycling when you finish the packet.

Tesco and M&S both pack their meat-free pieces in trays. While the box and trays are recyclable at home, the film is trickier. Tesco says this is recyclable at a large supermarket, whilst for M&S you'll have to throw it in your main bin.

Quorn and Iceland (No Meat Company) have gone for a plastic bag for their products. Quorn's is recyclable if you take it back to a supermarket with recycling facilities, whilst Iceland's isn't recyclable at all.