6 Canned Meats You Should Buy And 6 You Shouldn't

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When you think of canned meat, it doesn't conjure up the most beautiful mental image. But like all canned foods, canned meat is an affordable way to have shelf-stable ingredients on hand. It's compact, making it easy to keep a lot in your cupboard. As Werling and Sons explains, it also takes less time to prepare, since canned meat is pre-cooked and stored at room temperature, meaning it doesn't require time to thaw or cook. Certain canned meats are even nutritious. Tinned fish is rich in body and brain-boosting nutrients such as omega-3s and B-Vitamins, according to Well and Good. However, not everything about canned meat is good news.

Certain risks come with enjoying canned meats. As Healthline reports, the most common issue is that canned meats contain higher levels of salt and preservatives than their un-canned counterparts. Additionally, these foods may contain trace amounts of BPA, a chemical sometimes linked to health issues such as heart disease. In extremely rare cases, canned meat may contain the bacteria clostridium botulinum. You're more likely to get botulism from canned meat that's been packaged at home or comes from a damaged or dented container. Finally, some canned meats simply look, taste, and smell worse than the fresh alternatives.

But canned meat isn't all bad. To learn about what canned meats you should buy and which you shouldn't bother purchasing, read on.

Do buy: chicken breast

Each can of chicken breast contains small pieces of preserved, pre-cooked chicken. As PreparedCooks explains, canned chicken breast has been heated to a point where bacteria is killed off, then sealed for long-term freshness in a can. That means, like other canned foods, as long as the can remains undamaged, you don't need to worry about your chicken going bad. But canned chicken breast is uniquely worth buying due to its nutrients and taste. It maintains many of the benefits of fresh chicken, such as being high in protein and containing nutrients such as Vitamin B12, zinc, iron, copper, and others (via WebMD).

Per Mercury News, one downside is that its taste is subpar to freshly cooked chicken. However, it's similar to other popular canned meats such as tinned tuna. This makes it a worthwhile purchase, as long as you like eating cans of tuna. Plus, canned chicken is versatile. As Home Cooking Memories explains, you can use it for recipes such as chicken soup, chicken salad sandwiches, macaroni salad, and more. This canned meat is worth buying.

Do buy: mackerel

If you're going to buy one type of canned meat, you can't go wrong with mackerel. This tinned fish usually comes in shallow, rectangular cans that contain a few filets of preserved mackerel. Like other types of canned fish, it's beloved for being nutritious. As VeryWellFit explains, canned mackerel is rich in omega-3s, protein, iron, potassium, magnesium, Vitamin B12, and more nutrients. Per The Brilliant Kitchen, it even contains lower mercury levels than other types of fish. This means you can eat small portions of mackerel without worrying about the potentially negative impacts of high mercury levels in the body.

Along with being especially nutritious, canned mackerel is a good buy because it's extremely versatile. You can use tinned mackerel in soup recipes such as mackerel corn chowder or pasta recipes like mackerel linguine. Mackerel adds a rich, salty, savory flavor to any of these dishes. Just take one Amazon buyer's word for it: They wrote in a review for one canned mackerel product that "these boneless and skinless mackerel have a distinct and wonderful taste. They are meaty."

Do buy: sardines

Sardines are a popular type of tinned fish. Although you might lump them in with anchovies, canned sardines are larger and meatier. Still, these silver fishes are on the petite side. They're smaller than sea creatures such as tuna or salmon. This makes sardines ideal for snacking or putting on small dishes such as toast. According to GoodRx, sardines are also useful for getting nutrients such as omega-3s, calcium, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, and others. Like other tinned fishes, sardines' nutritional profile is also said to help improve brain health. Sardines stand out for being a low-mercury canned fish option that is safe for pregnant people to consume.

Per BBC GoodFood, you can use sardines in recipes like spaghetti, salad, or on toast. You can also eat them as a simple topper for crackers. In any application, they'll add salt, savoriness, and depth of flavor. Of course, sardines also impart a fishy taste that is not enjoyed by everybody. But to others, the taste is extremely satisfying. Some trustworthy canned sardine brands include King Oscar, Matiz Gallego, Fishwife, and Wild Planet.

Do buy: tuna

Tuna is another type of canned meat that we recommend buying. Eating it allows you to add nutrients like Vitamin D, selenium, and iodine to your diet. It's also high in protein but low in calories, according to Healthline. Unfortunately, tuna is higher in mercury than other types of canned fish, making it the type of thing to only eat on occasion. But when you do, you'll have some variety to choose from. Shoppers can opt for water-packed tuna — which is lower in calories and fat — or oil-packed tuna — which is more rich-tasting and moist (via CleanPlates). Choosing one type is a matter of personal preference, as both come with benefits.

This type of canned meat is one of the most universally beloved. "I freaking love low-sodium canned tuna. It is so versatile!" wrote one person on Reddit. They were not wrong, as you can use canned tuna in recipes such as tuna casserole, tuna salad, tuna melts, and various types of tuna-filled pasta recipes. Like sardines, many people eat tuna with crackers for a snack. Another easy application is adding tuna to boxed macaroni and cheese for a nutrient-rich upgrade to this pantry pasta

Do buy: salmon

Tinned salmon is a kind of canned meat with obvious appeal. Salmon has long been considered a "superfood" (via Whole Foods Market). While this term isn't scientific, it's the reason why nutrient-rich salmon is considered a useful addition to almost everyone's diet. Canned salmon comes with all those benefits — and more. It's even better because (unlike fresh salmon) you don't have to cook it. You can even eat it straight out of the can (via Pure Alaska Salmon). Because cooking salmon is notoriously finicky, this is especially great news for home chefs.

Purchasing canned salmon is a good idea because it's nutritious, tasty, and versatile. It's high in protein, omega-3s, and B-Vitamins (via SFGate). According to fans of this canned meat on Reddit, using canned salmon in your recipes will yield delicious results. You can use this tinned fish in salmon patties, salmon salad (for sandwiches, possibly), or fish soup. If you like fishy-flavored food, you won't regret purchasing canned salmon.

Do buy: anchovies

Anchovies are a type of canned meat that you've probably eaten without knowing it. These tinned fishes are used in famous recipes such as Caesar salad dressing and Worcestershire sauce. They add a powerful kick of umami that becomes complex when mixed with ingredients such as garlic. But anchovies are useful for more than just sauces. You can also put them on pizza (via Brit+Co). As one passionate Reddit user said, "99% of people who hate anchovies on pizza have never actually tried anchovies on pizza." If you don't want to bite into a whole fish, but want to add some anchovy flavor to a dish, you can even make an anchovy paste (or buy anchovy paste from the store).

More than being simply a flavor-boosting ingredient, canned anchovies are also healthy. They're low in calories and high in protein. This type of canned meat is also high in B vitamins, iron, and calcium (via Healthline). Most anchovies come packed in oil, which is perfectly acceptable for canned meat of this variety (via the L.A. Times).

Don't buy: corned beef

Although you don't see many people buying canned beef these days, you may be tempted to buy corned beef out of nostalgia. However, we'd recommend against it. You'll be much better off sticking to fresh corned beef (no can necessary). For one, canned corned beef is a type of processed meat. Processed meats have been linked to health risks such as cancer (via PBS). To make matters worse, it's made with red meat, which can also harm your health (via Healthline). Combine processed red meat with the preservatives needed to keep this meat in a can long-term, and things get even worse. Canned corn beef is high in sodium and saturated fat.

Not only is canned corned beef not the best for your diet, but it also doesn't taste or look as good as the real thing. In response to a picture of canned corned beef, one person wrote on Reddit, "That looks like canned dog food." Another Reddit user responded, "Honestly, it smells like it too." Even if you have a nostalgic craving for corned beef recipes around St. Patrick's Day, try to go out and buy the real meat. It will not taste worse than the canned version.

Don't buy: Vienna sausages

This old-fashioned canned meat originated in America around the early 1900s (via Indestructible Food). Back then, we didn't know much about what was good for us. Now, it is the 21st century — you don't need to be buying canned Vienna sausages anymore. Vienna sausages are made of a mixture of processed beef, chicken, and pork. Per DelightedCooking, the non-canned variety of Vienna sausages can be flavorful. Unfortunately, canned Vienna sausages are known for being rubbery in texture.

The dog walking company Rover doesn't even recommend feeding canned Vienna sausages to your dog because of the food's high levels of fat, sodium, and questionable ingredients. This isn't a good sign. Along with a bad texture and nutritional profile, Vienna sausages have a reputation for being flavorless. On Reddit, one person summed up the faults of canned Vienna sausages by saying, "Comes in a can all soggy, tasteless and doesn't really taste like meat ... I don't get why anyone would ever seek Vienna Sausage when there's a whole lot of food to choose from." There's no reason to buy this type of canned meat, in our opinion.

Don't buy: whole chicken

Whatever you do, don't buy canned whole chicken. This type of canned meat is unlike any other, especially in its high cost. It's much more expensive than similar kinds of meat. It's over $10 a can at Foodland at the time of writing. Additionally, you won't get very much meat per can. According to Survivalist Boards, most of what's contained in each can is broth, not meat.

If you buy a canned whole chicken, you'll encounter something grotesque. This canned meat product comes in an oversized, mysterious vessel, explains S****y Food Blog. Inside, each can contains one entire pre-cooked chicken that's preserved and ready to eat. While this may sound convenient, the smell of a canned whole chicken is something you never want to encounter. Because the chicken is preserved in broth to help prevent it from spoiling, each can smells like expired chicken soup.

The visuals are even worse. On Reddit, when faced with the sight of a canned whole chicken, one person said they would rather eat canned bread. Another person referenced the popular canned whole chicken brand Sweet Sue, writing, "Sue might be sweet, but she makes hideous chicken." We don't even want to repeat some of the images that a canned whole chicken has been compared to. Just know that what comes out of the can is no longer "whole." It's more of a slimy mess. If you want to know what it looks like, check out this thread on Twitter.

Don't buy: Spam

People may be shocked to find that we don't recommend buying this canned meat. Spam is one of the more beloved types of canned protein. From spam musubi to spam fried rice, this shelf-stable meat is not an uncommon pantry ingredient. That may be due to its attractive appearance. Spam is a lively pinkish-red color, not unlike real ham. Its texture is firmer than other canned meats, helping it to resemble real protein. Also, many people appreciate the dish's nostalgic flavor. One Amazon purchaser of Spam wrote, "Same taste now as back in 1965 ... Yummy!" However, there are better canned meat options than Spam.

For one, eating Spam isn't going to do your body any favors. As Cheffist reports, this canned meat is high in sodium, fat, and calories. Illuminate Labs reports that one can contains over 1,000 calories. Per Medical News Today, that's roughly half the recommended calorie intake for a normal adult woman. We recognize that you probably won't eat an entire can per day. However, your Spam's shelf life is greatly shortened after opening, eliminating the purpose of having long-lasting canned meat in the first place (via Survival Freedom). At the same time, it has little to offer in terms of nutritional benefits. To make matters even worse, Spam contains potentially harmful preservatives like sodium nitrate. If you want to try Spam, try getting it from a restaurant. To us, there isn't a good reason to buy an entire can.

Don't buy: canned cheeseburger

A canned cheeseburger is a preserved meat that you've probably never heard of. For that, consider yourself lucky. This product consists of one entire cheeseburger shoved into a can. Per Trekking Burger (a maker of canned cheeseburgers), each can has all the components of a normal burger. There is a bun, meat, cheese, pickles, ketchup, and mustard. Of course, each of those ingredients is paired with salt and additional preservatives needed to keep a cheeseburger alive in a can. This product was made for backpackers and other extreme campers who need long-lasting, compact food. However, we think there are better ways to get nourishment. Buying this product will not satisfy your craving for a cheeseburger while outdoors.

Years ago, The Takeout tested one of these products and recommended that no one else do the same. Tasters said that the cheeseburger meat appeared gray and covered in film. On Reddit, people who encountered videos of this canned meat online had less than positive things to say about its appearance. "I would probably never eat one of these things myself," said one user. Another person said, "It looks like someone else has already eaten it." One more Reddit poster said in response to laying eyes on a canned cheeseburger, "Thanks for helping me with my diet." Luckily, you won't have to try hard to avoid buying this. Canned cheeseburgers are hard to come by.

Don't buy: pig brains

Pork brains used to be an important ingredient in Southern dishes like brains and eggs, explains Garden and Gun. This dish provided a way for farmers to make use of all parts of the pig in the tradition of whole-animal butchery. Per one Amazon listing, the ingredients of canned pork brains are relatively simple. Each can contains brains, milk, water, salt, and sodium nitrate. Aside from brains, it all sounds pretty familiar.

If you're not a farmer, there is no need to try this. Even if you're the type of daring person who wants to sample weird things — or perhaps, you've had brains before and liked them — we don't recommend the canned version of this meat. As one person said on the Amazon listing, "Bought this on a dare ... Be drunk when you attempt to eat it." For some people, being intoxicated may not be enough to stomach it. Please, please, please never purchase canned pig brains. No matter how badly you want to impress your friends or internet following, it is not worth it. We needn't say more. But in case you're still tempted, take the words of one Reddit user to heart. "It looked like grey scrambled eggs," they wrote.