Tempeh Bacon

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Learn how to make protein-packed vegan bacon at home with this easy Tempeh Bacon recipe! By soaking tempeh strips in a simple marinade, every piece soaks in the classic maple-smoked flavors before being pan-fried to crispy and chewy perfection. Great for weeknight dinners or weekend breakfasts!
Prep 10 minutes
Cook 15 minutes
Total 25 minutes
4.9 from 35 votes

It’s not every day that you’d find “bacon” and “good for you” in the same sentence, but this Tempeh Bacon recipe is changing things up. 

This easy vegan bacon is the best way to indulge in the rich and smoky flavors of traditional bacon without any of the meat. Tempeh just happens to be loaded with protein and fiber too, helping you feel great with every bite!

Smoky, crispy, and sticky tempeh bacon is a seriously fun choice for anyone looking for a wholesome yet tasty breakfast, lunch, or dinner option (vegan and gluten-free!).

Stuff the bacon strips into an epic breakfast sandwich or vegan burrito, or quickly fry the strips for a smoky and hearty topping on a vegan Caesar salad or grain bowl for dinner. 

Table of Contents:
1. What is tempeh?
2. Why this recipe works
3. Ingredient notes
4. Step-by-step instructions
5. Tips for making this recipe
6. How to use tempeh bacon
7. Frequently Asked Questions
8. Recipe card

Tempeh bacon slices on a piece of parchment paper.

What is tempeh?

Tempeh is an Indonesian plant-based meat alternative made from soybeans. What is essentially a fermented soybean cake, tempeh is typically sold in rectangular blocks or strips and can be unflavored or pre-flavored. 

Plain tempeh has a meaty, nutty, and subtle umami flavor that’s similar to mushrooms. Its crumbly texture is unique but becomes more crispy and tender when cooked. 

Note: The tempeh brick will sometimes have dark black or blue-ish spots. This isn’t a sign of mold or spoilage. Even with these spots, the tempeh is still safe to eat and will taste fine.

Block of tempeh on a wooden cutting board.

Why this recipe works

Tastes so much like bacon!

One of the main secrets to making vegan bacon taste as close to real bacon as possible is a really great marinade.

Here, a blend of pantry-staple ingredients is used to give you a tangy, sweet, spicy, salty, and smoky marinade. The result? Tempeh bacon with the same rich, smoky flavors as traditional bacon. 

Another factor in creating a vegan bacon alternative is the texture. Look, I won’t tell you that the texture of tempeh is the same as bacon. It never will be. But there are things you can do to make tempeh a more satisfying bacon alternative. 

Here, I pan fry very thin slices so the tempeh not only cooks quickly but also ends up with satisfyingly crispy edges and a chewy middle. Baking the tempeh, in contrast, dries out the tempeh and doesn’t make it crispy.

Quick and easy

This is a straight-up quick and easy recipe because:

  • It takes less than 10 minutes to prep;
  • You can leave the tempeh in the marinade for hours; and
  • The bacon pan-fries and is ready to eat in less than 15 minutes.

It’s perfect for both weeknight dinners and weekend breakfasts or brunch. Layer the smoky tempeh bacon strips into a BLT for quick dinners or fry up some slices to pair with tofu scramble and vegan pancakes for brunch!

Protein-packed and made with pantry staples 

Tempeh is a nutritional rockstar. It’s very high in protein (18 grams in just 3 ounces!) as well as fiber (6 grams). You can pretty much find bricks or slices of tempeh in most major grocery stores nowadays

And there’s no competition when comparing the health benefits of real bacon vs. tempeh bacon – tempeh is the clear winner!

Plus, the marinade is made with mostly everyday pantry staples. 

Cooked tempeh bacon slices in a pan.

Ingredient notes

Ingredients for tempeh bacon laid out in bowls and labeled on a wooden cutting board.


Tempeh is a fermented soy product with a nutty, almost bitter flavor and unique texture. It’s a fantastic source of protein and fiber, soaks up flavor quite well, and only gets better when it’s marinated and pan-fried. If you’ve tried my Marinated Tofu recipe, then you know the power a marinade can have over plant-based proteins.

Just like in my BBQ Tempeh recipe, the naturally bitter flavor of the tempeh is masked behind a flavor-rich tangy, slightly sweet marinade. This method will truly change how you feel about tempeh (it turned me from a tempeh hater into a lover). 

Tips for buying tempeh: You can find tempeh alongside tofu and vegan deli meats in most major grocery stores and Target nowadays. We enjoy the brand Lightlife but any “original” variety should work well. 

Skip the “three grain” varieties, as they get too crunchy, as well as anything flavored (like pre-flavored “tempeh bacon” or “buffalo tempeh”).

Liquid smoke

This magical, naturally vegan shelf-stable condiment is made by condensing smoke from burning wood chips. All you need are a couple of teaspoons of liquid smoke to give the tempeh bacon a nice depth of smoky flavor, just like real smoke-cured bacon.

As Serious Eats puts it, “It replicates the flavor produced by smoke-curing without actually requiring you to smoke anything.” 

Tips for buying: I typically buy liquid smoke online (affiliate link). There’s no substitute for this, as the hickory flavor of liquid smoke really shines in a bacon substitute. In a pinch, you can go heavier on the smoked paprika.

Tamari or soy sauce

A small dash of gluten-free tamari or soy sauce gives the vegan bacon marinade its savory and salty depth of flavor.

Maple syrup

This infuses the marinade with a natural sweetness, helping to balance the stronger savory flavors and enhancing the rest of the salty, savory ingredients in the tempeh.

Smoked paprika

For another layer of smoky flavor in the marinade.

Smoked sea salt

Have you had Morton’s regular flakey sea salt? They’re like little crunchy chips made from salt only. Now smoke it and you have a divine finishing salt that adds that last hint of smokiness!

Where to buy: You can find smoked sea salt with other spice blends at well-stocked grocery stores and health food stores. You can also find it online (affiliate link).

Substitute: Regular flakey sea salt or kosher salt can be used as a substitute. Add a small amount to start, then taste and adjust accordingly. 

Step-by-step instructions

Make the marinade. Whisk the oil, sesame oil, vinegar, maple syrup, tamari/soy sauce, salt, cayenne, onion powder, smoked paprika, and liquid smoke together in a medium bowl.

Next, slice the tempeh into thin strips (as thin as you can). Transfer the strips to a sealable bag or shallow container, then pour the marinade over top.

Marinate the tempeh strips for at least 1 hour or up to 8 hours.

When it’s time to eat, heat a lightly oiled nonstick skillet over medium heat. Once it’s hot, lay the tempeh slices in a single layer in the skillet. Work in batches if your skillet isn’t big enough to fit all of the strips.

Fry the tempeh bacon. Flip after a few minutes, then brush on the reserved marinade on the top side of each piece.

Flip the pieces once more and fry until seared on the other side. Keep brushing on more marinade. 

To finish, sprinkle some smoked salt over the tempeh bacon for extra flavor and texture. Enjoy!

Tips for making this recipe

The slices should be thin

Use a sharp chef’s knife to slice the brick of tempeh into very thin slices, about ⅛ inch thick. The thinner the slices, the crispier the texture will be. Thicker slices will feel more like traditional tempeh and less like an alternative to bacon.  

How to marinate tempeh

The tempeh strips need to be marinated for a minimum of 1 hour to allow the flavors to absorb. 

However, in our tests, a longer marinade of 8 hours yielded two benefits. The tempeh (1) had a more developed and rich flavor profile, and (2) got a bit sticky and almost caramelized with really excellent crispy edges.

Always leave the tempeh in a sealed ziptop bag, airtight shallow container, or covered bowl in the fridge while it’s marinating.

Cook in batches

You must pan-fry the tempeh in batches if you want it to crisp up, even if you’re using a large 12-inch pan! Luckily, the tempeh only takes about 6 minutes to cook and the second batch always cooks faster because the pan is already hot.

While it’s frying, use a silicone basting brush or pastry brush to brush the reserved marinade on top of each piece. This infuses the tempeh with extra flavor and gives it a caramelized, crispy exterior. You should have little to no marinade left at the end.

Tempeh bacon slices on a piece of parchment paper.

How to use tempeh bacon

It’s an epic addition to breakfast or brunch. Serve it with toast or roasted potatoes and Tofu Scramble, or a store-bought alternative like Just Egg.

Layer or crumble the bacon on your avocado toast or a Stuffed Breakfast Sweet Potato to take it up a notch. When you’re on the go, stuff a couple of strips of bacon into a Vegan Breakfast Burrito with Vegan Queso or shredded vegan cheese!

Use it to make the vegan breakfast sandwich of your dreams:

  1. Spread some vegan cream cheese on a bagel.
  2. Layer on strips of tempeh bacon, avocado, and sliced tomato.
  3. Top with sprouts or leafy greens, then enjoy!

Vegan BLTs are the answer when you need a satisfying, yet easy lunch, like in the photo below. Spread vegan mayo on your favorite bread, then add the tempeh bacon, lettuce, tomato, and if you’d like some heat, add thinly sliced chile peppers or pickled jalapeños. Finish with a layer of sprouts, then enjoy.

Make a killer sandwich for picnic lunches. Layer my Vegan Egg Salad on bread, and crumble the tempeh bacon on top as “bacon bits.”

When dinner rolls around, crumble the bacon over a vegan Caesar salad or Cobb salad with Vegan Ranch. It also makes for a protein-packed topping on all kinds of grain bowls, like my Mediterranean Lentil Grain Bowl

Person holding a tempeh bacon blt cut in half.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I bake the tempeh instead?

We don’t recommend it. When testing this recipe, we found that pan frying the tempeh bacon allowed the tempeh to hold onto the marinade best. In contrast, baking the tempeh dried out the tempeh. The baked version wasn’t as moist or flavorful.

Can tempeh bacon be cooked in the air fryer?

Although we haven’t tested this recipe in the air fryer, the strips would likely dry out quickly and change the texture of the dish entirely.

Is this tempeh bacon gluten-free?

Yes, as long as you use tamari or gluten-free soy sauce instead of regular soy sauce.

Can I use another type of vinegar in this recipe?

Yes, you can substitute the rice vinegar for apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, or red wine vinegar.

Do I need to use liquid smoke?

Liquid smoke adds an extra smoky flavor to the dish, as well as added depth. The marinade would be completely different without it, which is why we don’t recommend skipping it.

However, if you find yourself without it, add an extra 1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika, and be sure to finish the slices with smoked sea salt.

Can I make the tempeh bacon ahead of time?

Yes! This is a great make-ahead meal because the tempeh can be left in the marinade for 8 hours (or even up to 12 hours), then cooked in the morning for an easy breakfast. You could also pan-fry the strips in the morning, then serve them at dinner time.

Tempeh bacon slices on a piece of parchment paper.

If you love this Tempeh Bacon recipe, please be sure to leave a rating and review below! It’s always much appreciated :) And tag me on Instagram – I love hearing your feedback.

Tempeh Bacon

4.9 from 35 votes
Learn how to make protein-packed vegan bacon at home with this easy Tempeh Bacon recipe! By soaking tempeh strips in a simple marinade, every piece soaks in the classic maple-smoked flavors before being pan-fried to crispy and chewy perfection. Great for weeknight dinners or weekend breakfasts!
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Course: Breakfast, Lunch
Cuisine: American
Diet Gluten Free, Vegan, Vegetarian
Serving size: 4


  • 1 (8-ounce/230g) block tempeh (see Ingredient Note 1)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or neutral-flavored oil of choice, divided
  • 1 ½ tablespoons rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce (see Ingredient Note 2)
  • 2 ½ teaspoons toasted sesame oil (see Ingredient Note 3)
  • 2 ½ teaspoons liquid smoke (see Ingredient Note 4)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional for a little heat)
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¾ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Smoked sea salt for finishing


  • Whisk together ½ tablespoon of olive oil, sesame oil, vinegar, maple syrup, tamari, salt, cayenne, onion powder, smoked paprika, and liquid smoke in a medium bowl.
  • Slice the tempeh crosswise into thin strips, almost as thin as you can, about ⅛ inch thick (.3 cm thick).
  • Marinate the tempeh. Transfer the tempeh to a ziploc bag or a shallow pan (like a pie plate) and pour on the marinade. Seal the bag and massage to coat.
    Marinate in the fridge for at least 1 hour, or 8 hours or overnight for the most flavor. Gently shake or flip the bag a few times during this time to evenly distribute the marinade, or toss the tempeh in the shallow pan.
  • Cook the tempeh bacon. Heat a 12-inch nonstick frying pan over medium heat with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Once the oil is shimmering (it might take a few minutes), arrange about HALF of the tempeh slices or as many as you can in a single layer, leaving behind excess marinade.
    NOTE: Don't try to cook all the tempeh at once, or it won't crisp up.
  • Cook for 3 ½ to 4 minutes. About 1 minute before flipping, generously brush the top side of each tempeh piece with some of the reserved marinade.
  • Now flip each piece and cook on the second side for 2 to 2 ½ more minutes until seared on the other side, generously brushing more marinade on the top in the last minute.
  • Wipe out the pan.
    Repeat with the rest of the tempeh and ½ tablespoon of olive oil (you shouldn’t need a full tablespoon since there’s oil residue in the pan). The second batch usually cooks quicker because the pan is hotter, 2 ½ to 3 minutes on the first side, and 2 minutes on the second side.


  1. You’re looking for plain tempeh, not any pre-seasoned tempeh or any other varieties like “three grain tempeh” (the grains get crunchy and detract from the texture). 
  2. Use tamari or gluten-free soy sauce to keep this recipe gluten-free.
  3. Toasted sesame oil adds a subtle nutty flavor and richness that I love here. This is my favorite brand of toasted sesame oil. 
  4. Liquid smoke is really what gives the tempeh that smoky bacon-esque flavor. You can find it online. 

Calories: 211kcal | Carbohydrates: 14g | Protein: 14g | Fat: 11g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 7g | Sodium: 630mg | Potassium: 248mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 185IU | Vitamin C: 0.1mg | Calcium: 72mg | Iron: 2mg

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51 comments on Tempeh Bacon

  1. Aileen Trevino

    5 stars
    Delicious! I highly recommend making these. They came out wonderful.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      We’re happy to hear it, Aileen :) Thanks for the review!

  2. Daria

    5 stars
    Made this over the long weekend for brunch for my extended family and it was a hit! Even my meat-eating parents and cousins loved it.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Ah, that’s amazing, Daria! Thank you for trying the recipe and leaving a comment :)

  3. Howard Duvall

    5 stars
    I have been using Lightlife vegan bacon. This is better – more tasty.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      We’re happy to hear that, Howard :)

  4. Karen

    5 stars
    I made a VBLT (TBLT?) with some heirloom farmers market tomatoes and some of Nisha’s vegan aioli and WOW was this good. Excited to try this in different applications!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Wow, now I’m craving this! Sounds like an impeccable sandwich you had there, Karen. Thanks for the awesome review!

  5. Jesse

    5 stars
    This was really lovely, probably the best tempeh bacon I’ve ever had. Starting your day with something crispy-salty but still pretty wholesome and protein packed is a win in my book!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Your positive feedback is the best reward for our hard work. Thank you, Jesse!

  6. Jackalyn

    5 stars
    This recipe could not be easier! I did all the prep in the morning before work and fried it up quick for dinner to make BLTs, which is so wonderful for hot summer days when I don’t want to spend too long in the kitchen. Im so excited to add this to breakfast burritos and other sandwiches for a smoky and savory kick.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      We’re so happy that the tempeh bacon turned out well for you, Jackalyn. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment and for trying out the recipe!

  7. Aimee R.

    5 stars
    My grocery store had tempeh on sale, so I figured this was the perfect opportunity to try this out. I did the overnight marinade, like you suggested, and WOW was it amazing. We served it with Just Egg scramble, fresh sourdough gifted from our neighbors, and sliced peaches from the farmers market. New favorite breakfast!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      What a combo, Aimee! I’m drooling at the thought of that incredible breakfast. Thanks for trying the tempeh bacon and for sharing your experience with us!

  8. Brianna

    5 stars
    I was a little skeptical about this recipe because tempeh has usually disappointed me, but I’m so glad I decided to try this out. BEST tempeh recipe I’ve tried. Thank you!!!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      What a compliment, Brianna! We’re so happy you enjoyed it!

  9. Nadine

    5 stars
    Made some tempeh BLTs using your suggestion and the whole family devoured them. Smoky; savory, crispy! Definitely going into the rotation.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      That’s so lovely to hear, Nadine! Thanks for making the recipe and sharing it with the whole fam :)

  10. LeAnn

    5 stars
    LOVE love love this recipe! I couldn’t believe how good the tempeh tasted. I don’t hate tempeh but have never loved it until now. Thank you!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      We’re over the moon to hear you enjoyed the recipe, LeAnn. Thanks for your kind words!

  11. Cat

    1 star
    Sorry but this wasn’t a hit for me. Tempeh still had a bitter taste. Never was crisp.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      We’re sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy the tempeh bacon, Cat. Hopefully the next RPL recipe you make is a hit!

  12. Kim Edison

    5 stars
    Delicious! The tempeh version smells like bacon and tastes very similar. I added a few slices to my kale salad- yum! Thank you for the delicious vegan bacon recipe.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Kim, it’s great to hear you had success with the recipe. Thanks for the review!

  13. Jane

    5 stars
    I didn’t use the liquid smoke. I had two bottles of it, but…. I looked it up and it says it’s carcinogenic. I am slowly trying to be healthier.
    Anyhoo, I also didn’t have smoked salt. So I used black salt and stuck extra smoked paprika in there. As usual with your recipes it was blinking delicious. Thanks.

  14. Melanie Patrick

    5 stars
    This recipe was my second attempt at making a tempeh bacon. The first recipe I tried had too many solids in the marinade and it turned out terrible. I tried this recipe and made beautiful BLTs on sourdough bread. My meat eating husband didn’t expect to like it but he gave it 2 thumbs up. I made 2 batches to be conservative and the second batch tasted a little burnt. The next time I make this recipe, I’ll add more slices to the pan at once.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Melanie! Happy to hear you and your husband enjoyed the tempeh bacon :)

  15. Bethany

    5 stars
    Made this for dinner last night to serve in BLTs and it was so, so good! It is so flavorful and made for a delicious sandwich. I appreciate how easy it was to throw together with things we always have on hand too. I’ve been a fan of tempeh BLTs for years but this will definitely be my new go-to recipe for it.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      That’s awesome to hear, Bethany! I am looking forward to adding this tempeh bacon to BLTs with some tasty in-season heirloom tomatoes myself :)

  16. Vanina

    5 stars
    How can I store this? Do you think it might freeze well?

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Vanina, you can store the cooked tempeh bacon in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 5 days. I don’t think freezing would work out great, as you’d lose the caramelized crispy edges. The flavor of the marinade would still be nice though.

      1. Vanina Gabriela Salgado

        Thank you!!!!

        1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

          You’re very welcome! :)

  17. Helen

    Hi Nisha, looking forward to trying this recipe. Would you mind dropping the brand of tempeh used for this recipe please!!! Thanks much

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Helen, we can’t wait for you to try it either!

      You can find the answer to this under the “tempeh” subheading of the Ingredient Notes section! I’ve copied and pasted it here for ease as well: “We enjoy the brand Lightlife but any “original” variety should work well.”

  18. Teju

    Thanks for the recipe – it looks delicious! If I’m not stuck on a bacon-y flavour is there something I can replace the liquid smoke with? It’s not easily available where I am.

    1. Michaela

      Maybe you can find smoked salt…

    2. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Teju! Sure, if you’re not set on having the flavors of traditional bacon, go ahead and omit the liquid smoke. Or, you can add a little extra smoked paprika. Or as Michaela mentioned, smoked salt is also a nice option!

  19. Flavia

    5 stars
    Wow! It was delicious! I had this for dinner tonight and followed the recipe of the marinade, but omitted the salt. We had it to mini potato’s from the oven (the smashed ones) and asparagus! Highly recommend this recipe! Thank you for sharing!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Yum, sounds like a great combination, Flavia! Thanks for sharing!

      1. Michaela

        Hello😊, there was a small error/fault in the cm specification for the tempeh. 1/8 inch are not 3 cm.😉

        1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

          Hi Michaela, it says .3 cm!

  20. Kim Browning

    5 stars
    Amazing!!! Flavor profile nearly identical to bacon! I made BLTs for dinner and everyone enjoyed them. The texture is not the same as bacon but the flavor really is!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, Kim! It makes us happy everyone enjoyed the tempeh bacon :)

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