How to Cook Tempeh

Here, 5 different cooking techniques, including how to air fry it to crispy perfection.

May 18, 2022

Related To:

Tempeh green chili soy sauce


Tempeh green chili soy sauce

Photo by: AmalliaEka/Getty Images

AmalliaEka/Getty Images

By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen

Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.

Tempeh is a fantastic high-protein plant-based meat substitute. You buy it in sealed containers much like you buy tofu; however, unlike tofu, tempeh has a very firm, crumbly texture that allows it to stand in for ground meat. Read on for tips and tricks for preparing tempeh, and if you want to know about its nutritional benefits, head over to our story Everything to Know About Tempeh.

Photo by: /Getty Images

/Getty Images

What Is Tempeh?

Originally from Indonesia, tempeh is a cake of fermented whole soybeans. It's made from fresh or cooked soybeans and a combination of bacteria, fungus and yeast. The protein smells like fresh mushrooms and has a nutty flavor; it can be eaten cooked or straight from the package.

Tempeh satay with steamed rice


Tempeh satay with steamed rice

Photo by: AmalliaEka/Getty Images

AmalliaEka/Getty Images

How to Make Tempeh Taste Good

If you didn't grow up eating tempeh, its flavor can be unfamiliar. Here are some tips and tricks to ensure maximum palatability.

  • Maximize surface area. Cut tempeh into slices or small cubes to create maximum surface area for absorbing the flavors you'll be using.
  • Marinate It: Use a marinade with acid for brightness, oil to maintain juiciness and lots of herbs and spices for maximum flavor. You'll need 4 to 6 ounces of marinade for a pound of tempeh. You can marinate tempeh for as little as 20 minutes or as long as a day in the fridge.
  • Simmer the tempeh to soften the flavor. Before using tempeh in any recipe, you can soften its bitter flavor by simmering the cubes for a couple minutes in the microwave or in a saucepan on the stove. An alternative to simmering: set a steamer basket in a pot and steam the cubes for 10 to 15 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
  • Season it just like you would season meat. Season it generously with salt and pepper before cooking, during cooking and afterwards to taste.

How to Cook Tempeh

The easiest way to approach tempeh is to treat it just like meat. Once you’ve simmered, drained and dried your tempeh, you can cook it using the methods you would use for beef, pork, chicken or fish.

How to Steam Tempeh

Steaming is a great way to pre-cook tempeh before crumbling it and adding it to sauce for pasta, sloppy joes, tacos or any recipe using cooked ground beef crumbles (may we recommend Lentil and Tempeh Sloppy Joes?). Break the tempeh into chunks, cover it with water or stock, bring the mixture to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.

How to Grill Tempeh

grill sate and tempe at iconic traditional food angkringan photo taken in jogja yogyakarta indonesia java


grill sate and tempe at iconic traditional food angkringan photo taken in jogja yogyakarta indonesia java

Photo by: teguhjatipras/Getty Images

teguhjatipras/Getty Images

When you want to add crispy edges and smoky flavor to slices of tempeh that you’ve pre-cooked and marinated, the grill is your best friend. Throw slices of tempeh directly on the grill (and then add them to sandwiches galore, such as our Chicken Bahn Mi with Apple-Kale Slaw) or thread cubes onto skewers and make kebabs.

Here's how to grill tempeh. Slice tempeh into half-inch thick slices and pre-cook (steam) them as described above. Prepare a clean gas or charcoal grill for medium heat. Marinate the tempeh while the grill is pre-heating. Drain tempeh, pat it dry, brush it with oil and season it with salt and pepper. Grill the tempeh for 5 minutes per side, brushing it with extra marinade after each side is cooked.

How to Bake Tempeh

Baking tempeh is the easiest way to crisp it without a grill or a fryer. Once crisped, chunks can be used in a salad, stir fry or as a snack for dipping. Here’s how to get the best crispy baked tempeh.

  1. Cut and steam the tempeh. Cut cubes or thin, quarter inch-thick slices, and pre-cook as directed above.
  2. Heat the oven. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F; use the convection setting if you have the option. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.
  3. Marinate the tempeh in vinaigrette. While the oven preheats, marinate the tempeh. We like this recipe for Basic Vinaigrette because it gives you a guide to proportions but leaves the vinegar choice up to you.
  4. Dry and season the tempeh. Drain and dry the cubes. Toss them with olive oil and season them generously with salt and pepper. Spread them out on the baking sheet.
  5. Bake the tempeh, undisturbed. Bake tempeh cubes until golden and crispy, 30 to 35 minutes, until golden brown and crispy. Bake tempeh slices for slightly less time because they're thinner, 25 to 30 minutes.

How to Air Fry Tempeh

Air frying tempeh is as easy as air frying any veggie. Follow steps 1 through 4 for baking tempeh. Then set the air fryer to 380 degrees F. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, shaking 2 or 3 times as directed in owner’s manual.

How to Pan-Fry Tempeh

Cut tempeh pieces pan-fried in olive oil. Yellowish decorative background.


Cut tempeh pieces pan-fried in olive oil. Yellowish decorative background.

Photo by: annick vanderschelden photography/Getty Images

annick vanderschelden photography/Getty Images

Making tempeh in a hot skillet is a way to simulate searing steak.

Like cooking any protein, starting with a hot pan, adding oil and being sure the oil is hot before adding the tempeh to the pan is key to crisp, non-sticking tempeh steaks.

  1. Cut and cook the tempeh. Cut thin, quarter-inch slices and pre-cook as directed above.
  2. Marinate and season the tempeh. Marinate the tempeh for 15 minutes, drain and dry it as well as possible. Season the tempeh generously with kosher salt and black pepper.
  3. Heat the skillet over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add 1/8 inch neutral oil and wait for the oil to get hot (it will shimmer when you tilt the pan).
  4. Sear the tempeh on both sides. Cook the slices until browned and crispy on one side, 3 to 5 minutes, then gently flip and cook the other side.
  5. Drain the tempeh. Transfer slices to paper towels to absorb any extra oil.

You can also bread slices of tempeh the same way you would chicken, pork or veal cutlets. Turn to this recipe for Wiener Schnitzel (Breaded Veal Cutlets) to learn the breading technique.

Tempeh Recipes 

entwine, May 2011

entwine, May 2011

Photo by: Yunhee Kim ©2011, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Yunhee Kim, 2011, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

This Indonesian-inspired recipe is perfect for tempeh, which hails from Indonesia. The rich sauce really brings it.

Photo by: Citizen Pictures

Citizen Pictures

This recipe takes you from a bag of dry soybeans to your own, homemade tempeh. If you want to take an easier path, the batter will work for a half pound of tempeh with some leftovers.

Tempeh Bacon, as seen on Mary Makes It Easy, Season 1.

Tempeh Bacon, as seen on Mary Makes It Easy, Season 1.



A special tempeh marinade brings the flavor of bacon. We guarantee you'll be craving these TLT's for days to come.

We love the method used to season, marinate and cook the tempeh all in one pan. Then all you have to do is whip up the sauce in a blender.

This sandwich has cheese, sauerkraut and the essential Russian dressing. All it does is swap out the protein for tempeh.

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