Check out the different types of meat along with their health benefits, risks, its different cuts, and which types are best and worst for you so you can make an informed decision in choosing one.
While chicken, beef, lamb, or pork are what we see most often in grocery stores and restaurants, and probably what makes its way into your fridge most often if you’re a meat-eater, there are many more types of meat. Whether they appeal to you or not, you should at least know what your options are when it comes to exploring different types of meat.
Referring to the fleshy part of an animal that can be eaten, meat is known for its protein and is a good source of protein and amino acids, and collagen. Categorized into red meat, poultry, and seafood, like anything else, meat should form part of a balanced diet, eaten in moderation.
To learn more about the different types of meat in each of these categories, including what their health benefits or risks are, as well as the different cuts of meat and which types of meat are best or worst for you, read on! It’ll be a fun way to see how many you’ve tried!
Types of Meat
While there are three broad categorizations of meat, namely red meat, poultry, and seafood, there are many different types within those classifications. The term white meat can refer to poultry and seafood together, that is, any meat that is white or pale both before and after cooking, but they are distinct types of meat that should be distinguished from one another.
There are many different animals that all have their own meat, but when referring to meat that is most commonly eaten in western cultures, there are twelve main kinds that we’ll cover. Looking at what the meat is, its nutritional value and health benefits or detractors, as well as other products that come from that meat, or ideas of how you can cook it.
To this day, we don’t know whether it was humans who domesticated pigs or whether it was them who approached us to feed on our waste. Either way, there is evidence of domesticated pigs as far back as 10 000 BD in Turkey and Southeast Asia. It was the 19th Century when industrial pig breeding took off globally, though china is the world’s largest producer.
Pork flesh should be pink or white, with firm white fat. Much of it is also used to produce deli meats, such as hams, pates, and terrines, not to mention processed in other ways for sausages and the like.
Aside from protein, pork is rich in B vitamins, especially B1, and also in selenium and zinc. Low in iron, pork meat varies in its fat content, depending on the cut, but can be quite fatty and high in omega 6 fatty acids. It is considered unclean in some cultures and has typically been prone to carrying parasites such as tapeworm.
Pork is more susceptible to food-borne illnesses than other meats and needs to be cooked thoroughly. Farmed pigs are monitored carefully for parasites and take medication to eradicate them, which also happens when they are cooked. They are prone to the salmonella bacteria too.
There are many popular breeds in different parts of the world, as they have been cross-bred to be leaner but meatier animals, much more profitable for commercial purposes. Pork pairs well with bacon, rosemary, chestnuts, honey and cabbage, and is commonly accompanied by mustard.
Pork is a widely eaten meat, as it comes in various forms, which makes it more consumable than other varieties of meat. It is easy to prepare, relatively cheap, and can have great flavor. Types of pork include bacon, ham, salami, sausages, pancetta, coppa, prosciutto, and other products, as well as various cuts of pure pork meat.
The ancestor of cows as we know them today are known as auroch, which has been hunted by man since the beginning of time. They were domesticated in 8000 BC, and today there are hundreds of breeds of cows, but only a few dominate the market. They were sacred animals in a number of ancient civilizations and still are in India today.
From steak to burgers, beef jerky to Bolognese sauce, beef is a firm favorite in many meat eaters’ diets. Paired traditionally with horseradish sauce, this meat comes in many forms and is enjoyed in many ways.
The age of the cow, from which beef comes, as well as how mature the meat is, and the animal’s distribution of fat all play a crucial role in how the meat will look, taste, and smell. Beef contains a lot of protein and is richest in iron. Most of the fat is saturated fatty acids that come with cholesterol, but how much fat depends on the cut of meat.
The nutritional content of beef varies greatly, mainly depending on the fat content in the meat. It is generally high in vitamins, zinc, and B12. The primary fatty acid in beef is oleic acid, which is also the same fat as in olive oil, which is particularly good and known as a ‘heart healthy’ fat.
Beef is often blamed for high cholesterol and leading to certain cancers when consumed in large quantities. When beef is grilled, it releases carcinogenic compounds. Consuming a lot of beef can result in the amount of iron in circulation in your body being unhealthily high. Such excessive levels can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases and various cancers.
Overcooking beef can also be a health hazard, as it can form polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines, both of which are carcinogens and increase the risks of cancer. These can be easily avoided by cooking meat sensibly and by eating reasonable amounts of it, not exceeding the recommended daily allowance.
There are many different breeds, which tend to be popular in certain parts of the world. Beef pairs well with bacon, garlic, capers, carrot, and mint flavors.
Like their parents, cows, calves are also descended from the auroch. Eating veal or calf meat has been considered a sign of wealth and privilege since biblical times. All pieces of veal and veal offal can be used, so nothing goes to waste, including the feet used to make gelatin.
Veal is lean, low in iron, and rich in protein. However, the livers contain high amounts of iron, B vitamins, and vitamin A, though care should be taken only to eat free-range calf livers so that they are free from drugs. The offal is high in cholesterol. Veal pairs well with chestnuts, breadcrumbs, bell peppers, and white mushrooms.
The first animals to be domesticated by humans, probably by nomads in central Asia, sheep provided meat, milk, and clothing (leather and wool). They have accompanied different tribes on journeys worldwide and can now be found on every continent, with more than 200 breeds.
There are significant differences in both the quality and flavor of the meat, depending on the breed, geographical location, and what they’ve been fed, amongst other factors. All lamb cuts and offal can be used in cooking. It can be roast, grilled or pan-fried, braised or boiled.
Because sheep graze in pastures all day, the omega 6 to 3 ratio is not very high, making it one of the healthiest meats. Zinc, selenium, phosphorus, and B vitamins are high in lamb. Rich in proteins, lamb, also contains a lot of fat (lipids), particularly saturated fatty acids. It is also high in cholesterol, especially in the brain and kidneys.
Lamb has a distinctive flavor that many people either love or hate. Lamb, as opposed to mutton, comes from sheep less than one-year-old and is typically more tender and also more of a specialty. Lamb is often more expensive for this reason but has a good level of nutrients, making it one of the healthiest meats.
Lamb pairs well with curry flavors, coconut milk, rosemary, garlic, figs, and cardoons. It is cooked throughout the world with a variety of nuts, vegetables, wines, spices, and seasonings.
Chickens have been around since the Neolithic area and have been reared for thousands of years all over the world. Factory farming of hens began in the 19th Century, primarily for their eggs, and since the 1950s, raising chickens took off on all continents.
Roasted, broiled, cooked in casseroles, whole or pieces, there are countless chicken recipes from all over the world. There are many different types of chicken, and the color of the flesh will vary depending on the bird’s diet. Chicken pairs well with black truffle, almond, basil, white mushrooms, and crayfish.
High in protein and low in fat, chicken breast without skin or bones is one of the only meats that contain no saturated fat. This meat is highly versatile and eaten the world over, cooked whole with the skin on, in pieces, or used in other dishes to add flavor. One of the cheapest available meats in many countries, chicken is affordable and therefore very common.
As protein-rich meat, the exact size of a piece as another meat would contain more protein, so for those trying to cut down on calories while still consuming protein, chicken is a great lean option. Chicken bones have a much lower density than other meats too, so the collagen and the gelatin are easier to extract.
This means that chicken stock or chicken broth, made from boiling the bones of chicken meat, becomes a high source of gelatin. Selenium, phosphorus, potassium, and B vitamins are high in chicken, in addition, of course, to a variety of other minerals and nutrients found in the meat.
Raw chicken needs to be handled with care, and the meat needs to be thoroughly cooked, as it can become easily contaminated with strains of salmonella and E. coli.
Goats were domesticated thousands of years ago and have always been a source of both meat and milk for humans. Their hide and wool have also been a reason they’ve been bred by humans. They are one of the most widely eaten meats in the world, with the exception of Europe and North America.
With a shiny finish and whitish flesh, goat kid has a sweet and pleasant aroma. It is typically roasted, pan-fried or grilled, and flavored with seasonings but so much as to overpower its delicate sweet flavor.
Adult goat tends to be one of the tougher meats and also doesn’t have a particularly strong flavor, so it is best cooked slowly in dishes that allow it to soak up the flavor of other foods, such as in stews or soups. Cooking it over low heat for a longer time allows the meat to be infused with other flavors. Goat pairs well with honey, peppers, green beans, creme fraiche, and rosemary.
Known as being popular on the table over holidays, this is a great low-fat meat option to eat year-round. While being tricky to prepare without drying out, this white meat can be very tasty when cooked properly. It has a deeper, more robust flavor than chicken and is usually available in more processed forms than chicken, too, though less common in general.
One of the most protein-dense types of meat, this is a low-calorie, high protein option. Similar to chicken, turkey is high in selenium, phosphorus, B vitamins and potassium, and is relatively inexpensive. Like chicken and other types of poultry, turkey has a higher chance of being susceptible to harboring food-borne illnesses.
Originating in Asia, pheasants arrived in Europe in ancient times, and as they don’t fly much, they are literally sitting ducks for hunters, with hunting expeditions going out in autumn. Wild pheasants have a darker, redder color and stronger flavor, whereas the reared birds have yellower fat and lighter, whiter meat color.
Pheasants are great roasted or in a stew and can also be stuffed. Older birds will typically require a marinade. Nutritionally, pheasants are fairly lean birds, with little fat and very high in protein. They are high in B group vitamins and minerals and, like all game meat, high in purines and therefore not a good option for people who suffer from gout.
Pheasant pairs well with bacon, chestnut, black truffle, and cabbage flavors. The most common types are Colchis, Ring-necked, Green or Japanese, or the Common pheasant.
Domesticated in China thousands of years ago, ducks are now farmed throughout the world, though 75% of duck farms are still in Asia. Wild ducks are considered game birds and can still be hunted, though it is largely regulated.
Grilled, roasted, pan-fried, braised, and confit, duck can be prepared in a multitude of ways, with fruit such as orange or cherries, or vegetables. They are rich in protein and one of the highest sources of iron out of all poultry. While they are known as very fatty birds, the composition of their fat is similar to olive oil, mostly mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids, making it beneficial for the cardiovascular system.
The best-known species of duck include Mallard, Muscovy, Challans or Nantais, Duclair, Moulard, Pekin, and Rouen duck. They pair well with cherries, oranges, and fava beans.
The breast and the leg meat are the part of duck mostly commonly enjoyed, though the liver is frequently eaten as foie gras, a delicacy with a very particular flavor. With a very fatty layer underneath the skin, duck meat is often tender and moist and generally cooks well.
Fossils of rabbit bones dating back to 7000BC have been found, and they are thought to have originated somewhere around modern-day Spain. Rabbit breeds started multiplying from the 16th Century, as they were easy to feed and became a natural part of farmers’ diets.
Free-range rabbits are tastier than farmed rabbits, but the first prize would be wild rabbits that are hunted. As a reasonably lean meat, rabbit is high in protein and low in fat, with some B vitamins and minerals. High in vitamin B12 and selenium, rabbits are often stewed or fried; this meat is best for soaking up flavors around it.
With over 50 breeds of rabbit, they vary in flavor and nutritional content but are generally paired well with green olives, tarragon, white mushrooms, and mustard.
This category includes a wide variety of meat, from fish to shellfish to squid, and everything in between. As such, there is an extensive range of nutritional benefits in seafood, with varying amounts of fat, protein, and nutrients found in each, though they are generally high in omega 3s.
Once again covering a wide variety of meats, everything from Guinea fowl to venison and wild boar to ostrich. Not typically able to be counted on to find in grocery stores, these meats are less common and more likely to be found in specialty stores or only at certain times of the year.
From crocodile meat to buffalo to eel, there are many types of meat that are popular delicacies in different parts of the world, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. Basically, any type of animal can be eaten, and there are cultures where meat from rats to dogs and horses to sharks is consumed.
Popular Meat Dishes
Whether it’s a hearty beef stew, a ribeye steak, or a roast chicken, there are many popular dishes with meat in them that are produced in multiple countries, each with their own variations and names for the dish.
We’ve put together a list of meat dishes that have become well known around the world and are prevalent in many countries, but most so in the USA, in no particular order.
- Lasagna: This creamy pasta and meat-filled baked dish is originally Italian and is now served all over the world. Cheese and meat layers make this a warm and rich dish.
- Stew: One of the most widespread meat dishes around the world, this is as versatile as it is delicious. With any type of meat, in whatever proportion you have available to you, and with whatever vegetables you have in season, this meat and vegetable combination in gravy can be eaten with a variety of sides.
- Steak: Usually beef, steak is typically fried or baked and served just as a slab of cooked meat, with sides ranging from chips to mashed potatoes and other vegetables. One of the rawest forms of meat dishes there is.
- A roast cut of meat: Be it a whole chicken, leg of lamb, or a rack of beef ribs, marinating and roasting a cut of meat is a popular way of consuming it.
- Meatballs: minced meat of any type, but usually beef, are rolled into balls and cooked in an often tomato-based sauce before being served with sides, often spaghetti or mashed potato for a warm and comforting dish.
- Burgers: An American food that evolved from the German Deutsches Beefsteak, burgers are available worldwide as fast-food options or as gourmet dishes served in more upscale restaurants. Traditionally made with beef patties, modern-day twists are seeing everything from lamb, chicken, fish, and even non-meat vegetable burger patty options.
- Meatloaf: Simple and versatile, this dish consists of pork and beef minced meat that has been bound together by eggs or dairy products and molded into a loaf or log shape before being cooked.
- Chicken schnitzel: Chicken breasts coated with fine breadcrumbs and fried to form a crispy outside, pork schnitzel is prepared in the same way and is also popular.
- Chili con carne: Thought of as a Mexican dish, this is actually American and made from finely chopped beef, chilies, seasonings, and water. Many people add tomatoes and beans to it as well.
- Pulled pork: An American barbeque technique of slow cooking pork over a low heat means that it is tender and can easily be pulled into small pieces. The shoulder cut is popular to use; otherwise, the whole pig can also be cooked like this after first marinading the meat.
Cuts of Meat
Within each type of meat, there are specific cuts that are more popular than others. While it is often possible for the entire animal to be eaten, particular parts of it are known to be better than others, more appealing to a broader palette, and both more accessible and tastier to cook with.
Depending on the dish being prepared, the ideal cut of meat to be used differs, with some being better suited to particular dishes than others. Whatever the type of meat, there are usually a number of more prestigious or sought-after cuts of meat.
For example, in beef, these include ribeye, sirloin, tenderloin, and fillet. Eaten alone as a steak or cooked as part of a dish, these are known as prime cuts. Other animals also have more popular cuts of meat, which differ depending on the animal, and are specific to each species.
Best and Worst Types of Meat for You
Selecting healthy animal proteins is key to maintaining a nutritious and balanced diet and has particular implications for your heart health.
Generally, red meats contain more saturated fat than fish, skinless chicken, and plant proteins. When saturated fats are consumed in excess, they raise your blood cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease.
Consequently, when choosing which meats to eat, bear this in mind. If you do choose to eat red meat, make sure that you are eating it in moderation, and select lean meat in unprocessed form. In general, skinless chicken is healthier, and so is fish and white meat.
Regarding processed meat, the more processed, the more has been added to it, or it is a combination of fat and pure meat, to varying degrees. This adds to the proportion of saturated fat and also generally means that you are less aware of exactly what you are eating. Try to stick to unprocessed forms of meat if that is your primary source of protein.