By Carl Hanson

Versatile and easy to cook with, tofu takes on many roles and adapts well to the flavors of sauces and marinades.

Here are tips for picking out, storing, and prepping tofu. You'll see how to cook tofu -- including how to make different types of tofu -- and you'll discover top-rated recipes that will have you loving tofu in new ways.

Get the recipe for Breaded, Fried, Softly Spiced Tofu | Photo by L.Appel

What Is Tofu? Tofu is a power-packed plant-based vegan protein that's healthful, low calorie, and super-versatile.

What is tofu made of? Tofu is a curd made from soybeans that are cooked and mashed, then processed in a fashion similar to making cheese.

What does tofu taste like? In a sense, tofu tastes like whatever you want it to. That's because tofu lets other flavors shine in the spotlight. Its subtle flavor and satisfying texture are basically a blank canvas on which sauces and marinades paint their flavors. It's this quality that makes tofu such a wonderfully versatile ingredient.

Do you have to cook tofu? In many recipes, the texture of tofu benefits from a little cooking. For example, cooking tofu in a pan will crisp it up, creating a pleasing textural contrast between the crisp crust and the soft inside. But you do not need to cook tofu; you can eat tofu raw if you like -- in smoothies or puddings, for example.

What is the best way to cook tofu? As you'll see below, there are different ways to cook tofu. Cooking tofu in the oven develops a different texture than cooking tofu in soup or cooking tofu in the skillet. Below you'll also see what types of tofu are best for specific kinds of cooking. Let's get to it.

How long does cooked tofu last in the fridge?

Well, first of all, you'll notice on the packaging that tofu does have a use-by date. An unopened package of tofu will last in the fridge for several months. But it can go bad. But what about cooked tofu? Once you open the package of tofu and cook with it, you should eat it within several days.

How to Pick Tofu

Select the right tofu for the right dish. You'll find fresh tofu in the refrigerated section, packaged in water to preserve its moisture content.

L to R: Silken Tofu, Firm Tofu, and Extra-Firm Tofu | Photo by Meredith

Types of Tofu: Firm, Extra-Firm, or Silken Tofu

Firm tofu is the most common form. Often found packaged in the dairy section, it absorbs marinades well and can be cubed and added to green salads. Seasoned and quickly pan-fried, tofu has a crispy exterior and soft creamy middle. It can also be frozen and then crumbled, giving it the texture of ground beef.

Get the recipe for Tofu and Veggies in Peanut Sauce | Photo by LynnInHK

Extra firm tofu makes people say "tastes like chicken." This tofu has the lowest moisture content and is often used as a meat substitute in Asian or vegetarian dishes. How to cook extra firm tofu: Grilled or fried, it works well in pastas, sandwiches, and curries.

Get the recipe for Tofu Vindaloo | Photo by Chef'd

What is silken tofu? Silken or soft tofu is equivalent to a thin custard, or heavy cream. This smooth, delicate tofu has the highest moisture content of the fresh tofu types. How to cook soft tofu: Soft tofu works wonderfully as a base for dips and spreads. Puréed and used as a dairy substitute, it easily mixes into smoothies and soups, bakes up in tasty desserts, and it's a terrific substitute for eggs in scrambles.

Get the recipe for Tofu Fruit Julius | Photo by lutzflcat

How to Cook Tofu

First things first. Here's how to remove liquid from tofu: To make firm and extra-firm tofu even more firm, press the excess liquid out: wrap the block of tofu -- or strips of tofu -- in a clean towel (or paper towels) and set a weight on top (like a heavy skillet with a soup can or two). Leave the weight on for about 20 minutes.

How to Fry Tofu

Here's how to cook tofu in a pan. If you're wondering how to cook firm tofu, frying is a great choice -- for firm and extra-firm tofu alike. Fried tofu develops a wonderful contrast between crispy crust and delicate, airy interior. Frying is a terrific way to make tofu crispy. To fry tofu, press out excess moisture to avoid splattering, cut the tofu into slices or cubes. Then fry over medium-high heat in vegetable oil in a skillet, wok, or deep fryer until golden brown, about 3 or 5 minutes per side. To test if the oil is ready, dip a chopstick or wooden spoon into it; if bubbles rise up, the oil is ready for tofu. That's how to cook crispy tofu.

Some Fried Tofu Recipes:

Simmering or Braising Tofu

Here's how to cook tofu on the stove, part 2. Add tofu to soups and stews in place of meat.

Korean Soft Tofu Stew | Photo by Hungry Gopher

How to Cook Tofu in the Oven: Baked Tofu

If you prefer, you can bake tofu in the oven instead of frying it on the stovetop. To make baked tofu, press out as much moisture as you can from the tofu, then cut into slices, and bake on a lightly oiled baking sheet at 350 degrees F. To add flavor, marinate the tofu in advance or try basting the tofu with simple soy sauce-based marinades.

Some Recipes for Cooking Tofu in Oven:

VIDEO: How to Make Tofu Lasagna

A healthy and filling vegan lasagna, this recipe replaces the cheese with a tasty tofu mixture. In the video, you'll see how to layer the tomato sauce, tofu filling, and noodles. You could also add Vegan Tofu Ricotta to your lasagna.

Get the recipe for Vegan Lasagna I.

How to Grill Tofu

As with other high-heat cooking methods, the key to grilling tofu is removing as much moisture as possible from firm tofu. You'll get a crisper crust with drier tofu.

For grilling, cut tofu into relatively thick slices -- it will crisp up beautifully on the outside and the inside will stay tender. To avoid sticking -- the bane of grilling tofu -- start with a hot grill and very clean, well-oiled grill grates. Save some marinade or basting sauce for brushing onto your tofu once it's done. Incidentally, this grilling method also works wonders for broiling tofu, which is, essentially, upside-down grilling.

"This vegetarian bulgogi-spiced wrap recipe is big on taste with its beautiful blend of spices that perfectly complement the grilled tofu and vegetables," says MyNutriCounter. "It's really simple to make and so satisfying that it will keep your hunger wrapped up."

Photo by MyNutriCounter
Grilled Tofu Sandwich | Photo by Buckwheat Queen

How to Replace Meat with Tofu

By now you know that tofu is a terrific ingredient in its own right. But it's also a double agent, swapping in for meats to provide stealthy, healthier options. Crumbled or cubed extra-firm tofu can replace ground or cubed chicken, beef, or pork mightily. And in this recipe, breaded slices of tofu take the place of chicken in Tofu Piccata and yet again in Tofu Parmigiana. Here are a few recipes where tofu substitutes for meat proteins...and wins.

VIDEO: How to Make Tofu Bacon

Believe it. A very easy marinade turns slices of smoked firm tofu into crispy, flavorful fake bacon. Fry the marinated strips in oil or butter -- and devour on BLTs or crumbled over egg scrambles and salads.

Get the recipe for Faken Veggie Bacon.

Incidentally, tofu is also delicious mingling with meats in dishes like this pork and tofu recipe: Chinese Mabo Tofu. Adding tofu extends meat dishes -- and it's not a bad way to introduce tofu-phobes to the delicious, non-threatening world of tofu recipes.

Tofu Desserts

And let's not forget tofu's sweet side! Tofu pops up in some delicious sweet treats, too!

Tofu Nutrition: Health Claims about Tofu

There are many claims made about the health benefits of eating tofu and other soy-based foods -- from its effect on cholesterol and weight loss to cancers, memory loss, and osteoporosis. The Nutrition Source at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health took a steely eyed look at the health claims about tofu -- and it's worth a read. In summarizing the research on soy and heart disease, the author writes that even if soy protein doesn't directly lower LDL cholesterol levels, "soy foods are good for the heart and blood vessels because they usually replace less healthful choices, like red meat, and because they deliver plenty of polyunsaturated fat, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and are low in saturated fat."

How to Store Tofu

To store leftover fresh tofu, the key is to keep the tofu moist. Store unused tofu in an airtight container, covered in fresh water. Packed like this, tofu stays fresh in the fridge for about a week. For longer storage, stow it in the freezer -- wrap the leftover block of tofu tightly in plastic wrap or a Ziploc bag and freeze for 3 months or more. Allrecipes member Susan recommends freezing tofu before frying it: "I have a good trick for cooking with tofu. I freeze tofu first, then thaw it out and squeeze it gently to get as much fluid out as possible," she says. "Then I dice it up. This process gives tofu a much more cohesive and 'meaty' texture, and also causes it to marinate and brown more effectively."

Explore our collection of Tofu Recipes.