These Smoky Tempeh Bacon Strips are so flavorful and the perfect vegan substitute for bacon. All you need is 5 ingredients to prepare the smoky sweet marinade and 5 minutes to get them in the oven. Enjoy this easy vegan breakfast staple on Saturday morning or on a TTLA sandwich for a quick vegan lunch.
What is tempeh?
Tempeh is made by fermenting soybeans. This vegan-friendly protein is much firmer than tofu and has a slightly nutty after taste. It’s a great plant-based substitute for chicken or turkey because it is chewy once steamed and has roughly 20 grams of protein per serving. After making this tempeh bacon, use tempeh to make Vegan Tempeh Walnut Taco Meat, BBQ Tempeh or a TTLA Sandwich (Whole Foods Copycat)!
Note that tempeh is not always gluten-free. It is often mixed with other whole grains such as barley, which contains gluten. If you are gluten-free, make sure to double check the package. The Trader Joe’s tempeh is NOT gluten-free, but the tempeh by Lightlife is.
Why You’ll Love This Tempeh Bacon Recipe
- Hearty. The hearty texture and flavor of this smoky tempeh bacon makes it super easy to forget the real bacon! Tempeh is the best substitute for this breakfast favorite because it’s a hearty protein that keeps it’s shape and texture during a long bake!
- Meal-prep friendly. This smoky tempeh bacon stores really well in the fridge. Bake a batch or two on Sunday morning and enjoy it through out the week on Chickpea Egg Breakfast Sandwiches or as a side to Silken Tofu Scrambled Eggs for a quick and easy week morning breakfast.
- Quick prep time. Although this smoky tempeh bacon has a longer bake time, it only takes 5 minutes to prep and get in the oven. Super simple and perfect for busy lifestyles!
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
- tempeh – Tempeh comes in a few different shapes and by different brands, but any kind of plain or unflavored grain tempeh will work in this recipe. I’ve used Lightlife and Tofurky’s organic soy tempeh to make this smoky tempeh bacon and both work very well.
- tamari – In order to keep this smoky tempeh bacon gluten free, I like to use tamari, but you can substitute soy sauce or even coconut aminos if you want a lower sodium option.
- maple syrup – Maple syrup gives this smoky tempeh bacon the most classic maple bacon flavor. If desired, you can also use date syrup.
- liquid smoke – This ingredient is essential and cannot be substituted. I highly recommend the brand Lazy Kettle – I find it has the best flavor. Some brands of liquid smoke are too strong not very good tasting (they can over power a dish with just ¼ of a teaspoon).
- garlic powder – I like to use garlic powder because it makes this dish super easy to whisk together, but you can use fresh minced garlic as well!
How to Make Tempeh Bacon
- Slice the tempeh. Remove the tempeh from it’s packaging and thinly slice about 1/16″-⅛″ of an inch thick. You want to slice the tempeh as uniformly as possible so it all cooks through evenly. If desired, you can also slice the tempeh long ways to make longer strips of smoky tempeh bacon – your choice!
- Whisk together the marinade. In the bottom of a 9×13 casserole dish, whisk together the tamari, water, maple syrup, liquid smoke, and garlic powder until incorporated. You can grease the bottom of the casserole dish if food tends to stick to the bottom of yours, but I find it is not necessary as the marinade keeps the smoky tempeh bacon from sticking.
- Add in the tempeh. Lay the tempeh strips in the bottom of the casserole dish in a single layer, then pick up the casserole dish and gently tilt it back and forth to allow the marinade to run over the tempeh and coat the tops. If some of the smoky tempeh bacon is slightly overlapping, that is okay, you just don’t want too much overlap or the strips on the top won’t get to soak up nearly as much of the smoky sweet marinade.
- Bake! Once the tempeh is laid in the casserole dish, bake the smoky tempeh for 45 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until the smoky tempeh marinade has been fully absorbed and the strips get a little bit of a char on them.
Are tempeh and tofu the same thing?
No, tempeh and tofu are not the same. Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans whereas tofu is made from coagulated soy milk. Tofu is a much softer, neutral tasting protein. Tempeh is slightly nutty tasting and firmer in texture.
Where can I buy tempeh?
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.
Is tempeh gluten free?
Yes, tempeh is typically gluten free, but I have come across brands that include gluten in the tempeh or make versions that contain wheat or grains. The original 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.
Can tempeh have black spots?
Yes, sometimes you will notice that your tempeh will have black or gray looking spots. This is okay – it’s a sign that your tempeh has reached a mature fermentation.
- 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.
- Be sure to use liquid smoke. It is a necessity in making smoky tempeh. A little goes a long way.
- The best maple syrup to use is Grade A dark maple syrup. It has the best, most pronounced flavor.
The smoky tempeh will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months. For best preserved freshness, store in an airtight container. If freezing, store in an airtight bag such as a silicone Stasher bag and squeeze out as much of the excess air as possible. The less air the tempeh bacon is exposed to, the longer it will retain it’s optimal flavor and texture.
What to Serve Tempeh Bacon With?
Smoky Tempeh Bacon Strips
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
- Cut your tempeh into uniformly thin strips, about 1/16" to ⅛" thick.
- Whisk together the tamari, water, maple syrup, liquid smoke, and garlic powder ingredients in a 9×13 casserole dish.
- Add the tempeh strips into the marinade, laying in a single layer in the bottom of the casserole dish. Some overlap is okay.
- Bake the tempeh in the marinade for roughly 45 minutes, or until marinade is fully absorbed in the tempeh.
- After baking, remove from the casserole dish with a spatula while warm. If you allow it to cool in the dish, it is more likely to stick to the bottom. Enjoy immediately or refrigerate for later use.
- 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.
General 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.
This recipe was originally published November 14, 2019 and has been updated on March 26, 2022 to include new photos, step by step instructions and an improved recipe. Recipe inspired by: Lauren Toyota from Hot For Food.