tempeh on a cutting board

Learn how to make tempeh delicious with this Ultimate Guide on How to Cook Tempeh. Marinated, baked, air fried, pan fried, sautéed & crumbled– so versatile and the perfect high protein addition to any plant based meal!

triangle tempeh in a meal prep bowl pouring marinade over

TEMPEH! Have you tried it? The first time I had it, I immediately fell in love with it. The texture, the nutty-earthy flavour and how easy it is to cook.

It is defiantly one of those strange unapproachable foods but this protein packed ingredient has been growing a lot of popularity lately– and for good reason. It’s incredibly nutritious, gut healthy, economical and soooo versatile! So gather around, friends. Today I’ll be sharing everything you need to know about this amazing ingredient.

What is Tempeh?

Although tempeh just started to gain its popularity in North America, it’s been around for a LONG time and originated in Indonesia. Basically, tempeh is a bunch of whole soy beans (and sometimes other grains to feed the bacteria) that gets cooked, fermented and compressed together.

Tempeh is quite similar to extra firm tofu in terms of its firmness and is excellent at holding its shape when cooked. It’s also high in protein and very easy to add flavour to, making it ideal for swapping out meat in many dishes.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get into how to cook this nutrient packed ingredient.

tempeh marinating in a shallow glass meal prep container


There are so many ways you can cut up your tempeh but here are a couple common ways:

  1. Cubes (approx. ¾ – 1 inch cubes)
  2. Stripes (approx. ½ inch in thickness)
  3. Triangles (approx. ½ inch in thickness)
  4. Squares (approx. ½ inch in thickness)
  5. Torn Chunks (approx. ¾ – 1 inch pieces)
  6. Crumbles

TIP: don’t cut the tempeh pieces TOO small, especially when baking because they tend to dry out.

tempeh cut up in triangles, cubes, strips, crumbles, squares and torn


How to Steam Tempeh

Steaming tempeh prior to cooking (using the methods below) helps remove any unwanted bitterness it may have. This is completely preference and optional.

  • Equipment: steamer basket & small to medium pot
  • Temperature: medium high
  • Time: 10-15 minutes
  • How to Know it’s Done: tempeh looks slightly fuller (expanded)

Set up a steamer basket over a pot of water and place the tempeh in the basket. Bring the water to a boil and let it steam for 10-15 minutes. Cut into desired pieces and then it’s ready to be cooked with the methods below.

tempeh in a steamer basket

How to Simmer Tempeh

Again, simmering tempeh prior to cooking (using the methods below) helps get rid of the bitterness of tempeh. This method is best prior to pan frying tempeh so that you can do it all in one pan.

  • Equipment: sauce pan
  • Temperature: low heat
  • Time: 5 minutes
  • How to Know it’s Done: water is absorbed

Add tempeh into the sauce pan and add just enough water so the tempeh is covered. Place a lid over the sauce pan and let it simmer on low heat for 5 minutes or until water is fully evaporated. Now it’s ready to be cooked with methods below.

How to Bake Tempeh

Baked tempeh is a great way to prepare it for when you want to cook larger amounts to feed a lot of people or for meal prep. It’s virtually hands free and very low maintenance! It’s the most versatile method of cooking tempeh– delicious over salads and rice/noodle/buddha bowls!

  • Equipment: baking tray, silicon baking matt or parchment paper, tongs or flipper, cooling rack
  • Recommended Cut: cubes, triangle, squares, torn chunks, strips
  • Temperature: 400 F
  • Time: 22-25 minutes
  • How to Know it’s Done: golden brown and crispy on the outside

Cut the tempeh into desired pieces and then add them to a shallow marinating dish. Add sauce and marinate for at least 30 minutes. Transfer tempeh to parchment or silico lined baking pan. Bake at 400 F for 22-25 minutes, flipping them half way with tongs. After flipping, brush more marinate on the other side for enhanced flavour.

How to Air Fry Tempeh

Air frying tempeh is a quicker way to cook tempeh. It comes out very similar to baked tofu but more crunchy on the outside and perfect for meals for one or two. Delicious over salads (they’re like croutons!) and all kinds of bowls.

  • Equipment: air fryer, tongs, cooling rack
  • Recommended Cut: cubes, triangle, squares, torn chunks, strips
  • Temperature: 375 F
  • Time: 10-15 minutes
  • How to Know it’s Done: golden crispy exterior

Cut the tempeh into desired pieces and then add them to a shallow marinating dish. Add sauce and marinate for at least 30 minutes. Transfer tempeh to oil sprayed or parchment lined air fryer basket. Air fry at 375 F for 10-15 minutes, flipping them half way using tongs. After flipping, brush more marinate on the other side for more flavour.

How to Pan Fry/Sautee Tempeh

Pan fried and sautéed tempeh is great for both thick and thinner sauces/marinades. When using a thicker marinade (think BBQ sauce) it comes out saucy but you still get a bit of crispy charred edges. When using a thinner marinade, it absorbed quick and the tempeh comes out super flavourful. Great for stir fries, sandwiches, wraps and grain bowls.

  • Equipment: fry pan, tongs or flipper
  • Recommended Cut: triangle, squares, strips
  • Temperature: medium high heat
  • Time: 15 minutes
  • How to Know it’s Done: darker in colour, slightly charred and crispy on the edges

Add tempeh to a non-stick fry pan over medium high heat. TIP: simmer tempeh as instructed above in the same pan to save time (this is optional). After water is evaporated, add sauce and let it cook for about 2-3 minutes and then flip the tempeh pieces. Let it cook for another 3-5 minutes adding a bit more sauce if needed. Once all the sauce is absorbed, let it cook for another 1-2 minutes until you get some browning/crispy edges. Remove from heat and serve!

How to Crumble Tempeh

Crumbled tempeh is a great option for when wanting to substitute something like ground meats. You can do it in the oven but I find it dries out very fast and prefer the stove top method. It’s great for vegan ‘beef’ bowls, made as bacon bits, tacos, casseroles, salads and all kinds of bowls.

  • Equipment: fry pan, wooden spatula or spoon
  • Recommended Cut: cubes, triangle, squares, torn chunks, strips
  • Temperature: medium high heat
  • Time: 10 minutes
  • How to Know it’s Done: marinate/sauce mostly absorbed and fragrant

Add a small amount of water or oil to a non stick fry pan/skillet over medium high heat. Crumble tempeh over the pan with your hands. Add sauce or seasonings to the pan and cook for 4-5 minutes stirring frequently until all the tempeh pieces are evenly coated with the sauce. Let the tempeh cook without stirring for 3-4 minutes until the sauce is mostly absorbed. Stir the tempeh once again and then let it cook for another 3-5 minutes or until sauce is almost fully absorbed and you get some charred pieces.

NOTE: In the examples above, I used the marinades from my 5 Best Tempeh Marinades post.

Tempeh FAQ

  • How healthy is tempeh? It’s packed with good-for-you nutrients and in particular is high in plant based protein. A 3 oz serving is roughly 17g of protein. It’s a great source of magnesium, riboflavin, phosphorus and manganese. As well, it contains a good amount of calcium and iron.
  • Tofu vs. Tempeh? Although both are made from soy, it’s made comepltly differently. Tofu is made by curdling soy milk and is NOT fermented. It’s smooth and comes in different firmnesses. IMO they are both nutritious and should both be a part of a healthy plant based diet (given you don’t have any allergies/food sensitivities to them). Tempeh does provide more protein, fiber, iron and potassium per serving because it usually uses grains to make it. As well, because it is fermented product, it can potentially improve gut health. Tofu contains more calcium and is lower in calories. Please note though, that some brands of tofu are fortified with vitamin B12, vitamin D and even more calcium.
  • Is tempeh gluten free? Most tempeh is gluten free but do contain some grains to help encourage the fermentation process. (My go-to brands are Light Life and Henry’s Tempeh and are both gluten free)
  • Do you have to cook tempeh? Technically no. But, I do recommend cooking it because it helps remove the slightly bitter flavour, makes it more tender and makes it easier to absorb marinades.
  • Where do you buy tempeh? Most grocery stores carry tempeh and be sure to check the freezer section as well. I know for sure Loblaws, Longo’s and Whole Foods carry tempeh.
  • Is there soy free tempeh? YES! I’ve been able to find chickpea, black bean and hemp tempeh but they are more difficult to find.
  • How to store tempeh? A uncooked open package of tempeh should be wrapped and kept in the refrigerator or freezer. If cooked, transfer tempeh to a air tight container or freezer safe bag and store in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • How long does tempeh last? An opened package of tempeh can last in the refrigerator for 8-10 days and up to a year in the freezer (although I do recommend consuming it within 3 months to prevent the freezer burnt taste).

Annnddd, I think that covers just about everything! I hope you took away something from this post and has left you inspired to experiment and cook with tempeh 🙂

triangle baked tempeh on a blue plate

Delicious Tempeh Recipes to Try!

how to cook tempeh pinterest graphic

If you try any of the methods of cooking tempeh let me know how it went and if you liked it by leaving a comment and rating below or by tagging me on Instagram @Okonomikitchen, I love seeing all of your tasty recreations!
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About Lisa

I'm Lisa, a home cook, recipe developer and founder of Okonomi Kitchen. Here, you'll find a mix of classic and modernized Japanese recipes, and creative, plant-forward meal inspiration using seasonal ingredients. I hope to share more about Japanese cuisine and culture through food and recipes.

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