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2.1.1: Meat Identification

  • Page ID
    • Marshall Welsh & William R. Thibodeaux
    • Finch Henry Job Corps Center & Nicholls State University

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     There are many definitions of meat but one of the most widely used definitions is " the flesh of an animal (usually a mammal) used as food." In this section we will explore common types of meat in the United States with emphasis on red meat. While some definitions of meat include poultry, we will be discussing poultry in the next section. 

    In the United States the two most commonly consumed red meats are beef and pork. While lamb is not eaten in the same volume as beef and pork it will be discussed in this section. 

    Beef Classification:

    Beef originates from cattle that are classified by age and gender:

    Steers: male cattle that are castrated while young. This is so that they will gain weight quickly

    Bulls: uncastrated males that are used for breeding purposes. The consumer does not see meat sold at the grocery store that comes from bulls as this meat tends to be tougher and less palatable. Meat that comes from bulls may be used in processed meats or pet foods.

    Heifers/Cows: Heifers are females that have not borne a calf while cows are female cattle that have borne calves. The meat from cows is seen as less desirable than that of heifers or steers.

    Calves: calves 3-8 months old are too old for veal but too young for beef. If they go to market between 8-12 months they are referred to as "baby beef"

    Veal comes from the young calves that are slaughtered between the ages of 3 weeks to 3 months. These calves may be either male or female and have been fed a diet primarily of milk. This results in tender, lighter colored meat. 

    Pork Classification:

    Most pork sold in stores is from young swine of either male or female gender that is slaughtered between 5-7 months of age. Pigs are less than 4 months old while hogs are older than 4 months of age. These terms are often used interchangeably. 

    Lamb Classification:

    Lamb and mutton meat both come from sheep. However, the difference in the two terms comes down to the age at which the animal was at slaughter. Sources differ on the age at which the meat derived from sheep goes from lamb to mutton it is usually noted to at the 12 month mark. In other words a sheep slaughtered before it is 12 months old yields lamb, and older than 12 months yields mutton. Lamb is typically more tender and lighter in flavor compared to mutton due to being fed a primarily milk based diet and having had restricted movements. 


    This page titled 2.1.1: Meat Identification is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Marshall Welsh & William R. Thibodeaux via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.