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Tempeh bacon is a protein-packed way to make a smoky, salty vegan spin that tastes like the real stuff! Perfect for BLTs and alongside scrambles.

Looking for a plant based bacon substitute? Meet tempeh bacon! Now, Alex and I typically dislike foods pretending to be other foods. Most of the vegetarian meats we’ve tried at the store are too salty or have a dubious texture. But you know what? There’s an exception to every rule. Slightly smoky in flavor and fairly meaty in texture, this vegan and vegetarian tempeh bacon recipe comes together in just 20 minutes! It’s protein packed and can be used on everything from salads to sandwiches. Ready to hear how it’s done?


What is tempeh?

Tempeh is a compressed cake of whole fermented soybeans (and sometime grains like wheat or barley). It has a hearty texture and slightly nutty flavor that makes it a good meat substitute. Plus, tempeh is bland enough that it soaks up the flavor of marinades, dressings, and sauces perfectly. Because tempeh is so firm, it can be fried or grilled without crumbling.

Tempeh is made from soy, but it’s totally different from tofu! Tofu is mushier in texture and contains a lot of water, whereas tempeh is packed tightly and is drier. Nutrition-wise they’re pretty similar. Personally, Alex and I tend toward tempeh more often than tofu: it’s great marinated and pan fried or in a stir fry. Head to 20 Tempeh Recipes or Tempeh vs Tofu for more info!

Vegan BLT with tempeh bacon

Tips for making this tempeh bacon

The birth of this smoked tempeh recipe all started with a BLT. Alex and I eat a mostly plant based diet, so though we sometimes splurge on bacon, our everyday eating style is a lot of plants. The other day we were craving BLTs. You know, that perfect combination of crunchy toast, savory mayo, juicy tomatoes, crunchy lettuce, and super salty bacon. Tempeh bacon to the rescue! We warily tried it, but it came out perfectly. Here are a few tips on making tempeh bacon:

  • Marinade for 10 minutes, or up to 1 hour or overnight. Our recipe specifies to marinade the tempeh for at least 10 minutes. But if you want a stronger, smokier flavor you can let it rest for an hour or even overnight! (We don’t have that much patience, so kudos to you if you can wait that long.)
  • Thinly slice the tempeh. The only difficult part of this recipe is slicing the tempeh thin enough for it to crisp up while it’s being cooked on the stove. Some tempeh brands crumble too easily to be sliced that thin, but we had good results with WestSoy tempeh. If your tempeh crumbles like our first few batches did, you can still fry it up like bacon bits.

Other ways to make vegan bacon

There are a few other ways to make vegan bacon outside of using tempeh! Here are our other favorite methods:

  • Shiitake bacon. Use shiitake mushrooms to make smoky, salty bacon! It’s perfect as a garnish for soups and salads, much like coconut bacon.
  • Coconut bacon. Large unsweetened coconut flakes are perfect for vegan bacon! The coconut is infused with a smoky flavor and is reminiscent of the crispy and fatty texture of bacon.

More tempeh recipes

Tempeh can used in dishes like stir-fries, salads, and sandwiches. Here are some of our favorite tempeh recipes:

This tempeh bacon recipe is…

Vegetarian, vegan, plant-based, dairy-free, gluten-free.

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Tempeh bacon

Tempeh Bacon

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  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x


Tempeh bacon is a protein-packed way to make a smoky, salty vegan spin that tastes like the real stuff! Perfect for BLTs and alongside scrambles.


  • 8 ounce package tempeh
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 ½ tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
  • 3 teaspoons liquid smoke
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons black pepper (not fresh ground)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cumin
  • 2 pinches cayenne


  1. Cut the tempeh into thin strips, about ⅛ to ¼ inches thick.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 ½ tablespoons tamari, 3 teaspoons liquid smoke, 1 ¼ teaspoons black pepper, 1 ½ teaspoons cumin and 2 pinches of cayenne.
  3. Place the tempeh in a shallow dish and pour on the marinade. Turn the tempeh several times to make sure it is fully coated. Leave to marinate for around 10 minutes.
  4. Heat a griddle or skillet. Add some olive oil and pan fry the tempeh on each side until browned (or until a bit charred, if you like it crispy!).
  5. Remove to a plate to cool. If desired, season with sea salt and fresh ground pepper.
  • Category: Snack
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: American

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes and the joy of cooking! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

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  1. Jennifer says:

    Nope! This was absolutely nothing like real bacon!

  2. Nyrb says:

    What do you mean by thick black pepper?

    1. Sonja says:

      That was a typo! It is just black pepper. Thanks for asking!

  3. judy says:

    tempeh is highly nutritious because of the fermentation of the soy. it’s similar to the Japanese and their version called natto. the latter has been purported to be the key ingredient to immortality, or if not, basically curing cancer (the Japanese take their natto very seriously). where we are, tempeh is always found in Malay stalls,and usually fried to a crisp and cooked in a thick, savoury chilli sauce, and served with rice. tempeh’s a great ingredient and it’s fun to see so many more people coming out to embrace it in so many different ways!

  4. Heather @ Whisk Flip Stir says:

    I love bacon-like tempeh. Amazing on sandwiches and, of course, great with breakfast. Looks delicious.