What is Mystery Meat?

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  • Written By: K. K. Lowen
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 07 October 2019
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Mystery meat is a term used to describe meat that a person cannot identify by looking at it or tasting it. The expression also describes meat products that contain numerous kinds of meat, non-meat fillers, or meat by-products. Some people use the term in conjunction with foods served at fast food restaurants, schools, and other places that serve a large amount of commercially processed meat at the lowest possible cost.

Many products and foods that people call mystery meat actually consist of meat by-products. Animal parts that are considered meat by-products include the internal organs, fatty tissue, and bones. The flesh and muscle that people generally think of as meat is worth more for general human consumption. Producing food from the by-products is a much cheaper option.

Hot dogs are a type of sausage made from a combination of ingredients and have been termed by some as mystery meat. While typically containing some actual meat, hot dogs utilize a mixture of meat by-products, fat, and other fillers. It may not be easy to see or taste the beef, pork, chicken, or turkey contained in a hot dog, which fits the definition of mystery meat for many people. Bologna and some sausages and links may receive the label as well.


Spam® is probably the best known type of mystery meat. Some people are aware that spam is made from pork shoulder meat and ham, but many people are unable to recognize the meats used just by looking at it or eating it. It does not look like a cut of meat, contains potato starch, and is covered with a gelatinous coating, so Spam® appears to fit the common definition of mystery meat.

Another type of meat that frequently receives the mystery meat label is Salisbury steak. A popular choice for cafeteria cooking, the meat is not easily recognizable. Although they are called steaks, a Salisbury steak does not resemble an actual beef steak. They are actually formed from ground beef and an assortment of other ingredients and shaped to resemble a steak.

People have brought lawsuits against fast food restaurants, school cafeterias, prison cafeterias, and other institutions, claiming that they serve mystery meat. The lawsuits come about when someone feels that food served in low-cost establishments has been misrepresented as being real meat or having a higher content of real meat. In some cases, the meat actually contains mostly meat by-products and fillers, lower-grade meat, or no meat at all.


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Post 3

My dad used to bring home mystery meat all the time. It didn't have a label, the packaging was usually off somehow and it didn't have any identifiable character from looking at it. It was ground up but it definitely wasn't all beef.

I'm not sure where he got it from but he must have had some kind of deal because he brought it home all the time. I was too young at the time to know how gross it was I guess it couldn't have been all that bad because my mom and dad ate it right along with me. It's amazing what people can stomach sometimes.

Post 2
People often think of mystery meat as being something bad. But there are some times when it is nice to not know what kind of meat you are eating. Let me tell you what I mean.

I love to make sausage at home and I have hooked up with a community of other sausage enthusiasts in my area who all experiment with their own recipes. As you probably know, you can make sausage out of just about anything. We have an event every year where people bring some homemade sausage to serve to everyone else and then we all try to figure out what is in it. It is a way to make your palate smarter. So it is quite literally mystery meat and then you have to use your tongue to solve the mystery. It is a lot of fun and you get to eat a ton of great sausage.

Post 1

Hearing about mystery meat makes me think back to my elementary school cafeteria. They served some food in there that was not beef, chicken, pork, lamb, goat, anything anyone could identify. It was mostly just chewy and salty.

That was one of the most common jokes on meat loaf day. People tried to speculate about what kind of meat was actually in the meat loaf. The more outlandish the better. Alien meat, eyeball meat, toenails, anything but what you wanted it to be. All jokes aside, it is a shame that we take the worst food that we can find and then feed it to kids going to school.

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