These vegan bacon bits require only 5 ingredients and 5 minutes of prep time. They’re salty, sweet, and smoky – everything bacon bits should be!
Why This Recipe Works
Truth be told, I was never a big bacon fan. Regular bacon was not something I ever craved or looked forward to. It’s also no secret that bacon is not considered a health food. It’s so flavorful because it’s very high in fat and never made me feel very good after eating.
I wanted to create a recipe that was just as flavorful as regular bacon, but without the excess fat or oil. And I am happy to share that is exactly what we have here!
After marinading our tempeh in a super simple marinade and baking it, we have vegan bacon bits that give all the flavor without the fat and cholesterol. Win, win!
Tempeh is also a great substitute for pork here. It’s pretty neutral in taste and absorbs marinades very well.
As promised, this recipe only requires 5 ingredients.
- Tempeh – Made from fermented soybeans into a cake form. A great source of protein that is substituting the pork in our recipe.
- Tamari or soy sauce – For salty, umami flavor.
- Maple syrup – For sweet classic, maple flavor.
- Liquid smoke – This ingredient is essential for that smoky flavor and a little goes a long way! If you’ve never tried it, I personally prefer The Lazy Kettle Brand.
- Garlic powder – Enhances our salty flavor from the tamari!
- Water – Technically a 6th ingredient (sorry) but this is for steaming and thinning our marinade!
Step By Step Instructions
- Start by cutting your tempeh brick. I like to cut mine into long, ⅛ inch thick strips and then cut the thin strips into small squares. If you prefer to make bacon strips, you can cut into ⅛ inch thick strips and leave in long strips. Just note that this bacon does not crisp up like traditional bacon and is more the texture of traditional bacon bits. It falls apart after baking and may not stay in perfect strips.
- Next, whisk your marinade together in a 9×13 casserole dish. I like to use a full 4 tablespoons of maple syrup for a sweeter maple bacon. If you prefer a more savory bacon, I recommend using 2 tablespoons maple syrup.
- Add your tempeh squares into the marinade. Toss the tempeh to coat and press the tempeh squares into the marinade to absorb all the good flavor.
- After an hour of marinading, bake the tempeh directly in the marinade for 45 minutes, or until the tempeh has absorbed all of the marinade. While it is baking, you will want to remove from the oven a couple of times to mix the bacon bits around to ensure an even bake on both sides. This does not need to be perfect, and if they start to crumble while you are mixing them, it is fine! The end goal is bacon bits anyway.
- Allow the tempeh to cool completely and then use a spatula to help break it into bits. It should easily fall apart. Transfer it to a jar and add it to all of your favorite salads, soups, stews, and more.
FAQs and Expert Tips
Actually, yes! The McCormick Imitation Bacon Bits are actually made of soy protein and do not contain any vegan. A great store-bought option in a pinch, but this recipe is far better ingredients. The McCormick brand contains food colorings, added oil, artificial flavors, and MSG.
Sorry, no. Tempeh is a far different texture than tofu. Tofu is much softer and will not crumble the same. Tempeh is necessary here.
Yes! If you prefer to marinade the tempeh overnight add the tempeh, cover the casserole dish with saran-wrap and refrigerate overnight. Bake as regular in the morning until remaining marinade is absorbed, about 45 minutes.
Tempeh should be found in most grocery stores near the tofu or other vegetarian meats. I prefer to make this recipe with the plain, Lightlife tempeh brick, but I have also used Trader Joe’s tempeh and you can even make your own! Check out this recipe: How to Make Tempeh in the Instant Pot.
Yes, it should be. The Lightlife tempeh is only made with soybeans, water and brown rice. The Trader Joe’s brand does contain barley, so if you need gluten free tempeh, do not use their brand.
- Slice the tempeh thinly. I find about ⅛ inch thick strips work well. If you slice the tempeh too thick, it will not be as flavorful and may take a bit longer to bake.
- Be sure to use liquid smoke. It makes all the difference.
- Don’t worry about crumbling the tempeh before baking. It falls apart much easier after baking.
- The best maple syrup to use is Grade A dark maple syrup. It has the best, most pronounced flavor.
What to Put the Bacon Bits on?
- Vegan Corn Chowder
- Potato Cauliflower and Leek Soup with Smoky Bacon Bits
- Chickpea Egg Breakfast Sandwiches
- Santa Fe Salad with Grilled Tempeh
Recipe inspired by: Lauren Toyota from Hot For Food.
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Vegan Bacon Bits
- 1 (8 ounce) block plain tempeh - I used Lightlife brand
- Cut your tempeh block into thin ⅛" slices then cut the thin slices into small uniform squares.
- Whisk together the marinade ingredients in a 9x13 casserole dish. Use 2 tablespoons maple syrup if you prefer a savory bacon, 4 tablespoons for a more maple sweet bacon.
- Add the tempeh squares into the marinade. Toss the tempeh squares in the marinade and press it down into the liquid so it can marinate evenly. Allow to marinade for 1 hour or overnight.
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
- After 1 hour, bake the tempeh in the marinade for roughly 45 minutes, or until marinade is fully absorbed in the tempeh. While it is baking you will want to remove it from the oven a couple of times to mix it up to ensure even baking. It is ok if it crumbles during this process! The end goal is bacon bits anyway!
- Once the marinade is fully absorbed, remove from the oven and let cool completely.
- Once cooled, crumble the tempeh into bits using a spatula and store in the fridge in an airtight jar for up to 7 days.
- You cannot substitute the tempeh with tofu or any other vegetarian substitute. Tempeh has a unique texture that is essential here.
- Do not skip using the liquid smoke. It is crucial to creating a bacon flavor. I highly recommend the brand The Lazy Kettle Brand. It is by far the best I have tried.
- Be sure to thinly slice your tempeh! If it is cut too thick, it will not be as flavorful.
- This recipe is really written for bacon bits, but if you prefer strips, cut your tempeh into long thin strips and handle carefully when baking.
Note about salt
Please pay attention to the type of salt called for in the recipe (if applicable). Not all salts are made equal and cannot be substituted 1 for 1. If you are substituting table salt for kosher salt, you will need to cut the amount called for in the recipe by at least half.
Disclaimer: The Nutritional Information provided for this recipe is only an estimate. The accuracy of the facts listed is not and cannot be guaranteed.