What Is Potted Meat? And Should You Really Eat It?

Over the years, Spam has become the butt of many jokes, most likely made by people who are too snobby to eat canned meat. But it has an important place in many cuisines, especially Hawaiian and Filipino. However, in the history of putting meat into containers, there are some traditions that, to be frank, are beyond my comprehension. May I present to you, dear reader, potted meat.

What is potted meat?

Whether cooked or raw, meat does not have a long shelf life unless it goes through some kind of preservation process. Today, we can throw some chicken into the freezer and it can stay in there for nearly a year and still be edible. But before modern refrigeration technology, people had to keep their meat in different ways.

Canning began in the early 19th century as a way to preserve food without refrigeration. It was extremely popular, delighting royalty and sustaining sailors on long voyages. Prior to the invention of the canning process, food was preserved in jars. And that included meat—potted meat.

How is potted meat made?

Way back when, meat was seasoned, cooked, and then shoved in a jar while it was still hot. Typically, people kept their chicken, beef, and pork separate. The meat was packed tight into jars, then covered in liquid fat, and the jar was sealed with a lid. As the fat cooled, it formed a nearly airtight seal over the cooked meat. This prevented airborne bacteria from spoiling it. Months later, you could go to your pantry and pull out a jar of pasty meat that’s ready to eat. Yum.

In the Industrial Age, when mass production of food took over, the process for potted (or canned, as it became) meat changed. These days, a whole bunch of “meat junk” is thrown together, regardless of the animal, mashed up into a paste, and sealed in a can. Today, there are a few brands of potted meat: Armour Star and Goya are still churning out cans of the stuff. 

hot dog on a bun

How Are Hot Dogs Made?

This article is not for the faint of heart. You’re very brave, perhaps, or very foolish? In any event, join me, won’t you, as I explain, literally, how the sausage gets made. 

What is in potted meat?

The label of Armour Star potted meat says it is made with chicken and pork. And that is true. However, they aren’t advertising which parts of those animals are included. Turn the can around to the ingredient list and you’ll see “mechanically separated chicken, partially defatted pork fatty tissue.” What does this mean? Modern potted meat is made of all the parts of an animal that are rarely sold separately in stores: feet, organs, etc. It’s also chock full of sodium and preservatives to extend its shelf life.

How do you eat potted meat?

If you are daring enough to crack open a can, it’s best to treat it like a pate since it has the same consistency. Choose your favorite cracker, smear it on (you can buy a can of Armour Star from Instacart), and try your best to enjoy.

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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