Popular Canned Meats, Ranked From Worst To Best

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While not as ancient as other food preservation options, such as salting or fermenting foods, the roots of canning food can be traced to the 18th century. Peter Durant of England developed a way to store food in cans in 1810. By 1912, Thomas Kensett of the United States had created a canning production facility. Canned food provided a way to keep bellies full and stretch out the slim rations of World War II. 

Today, canned goods are loved by the campers and outdoorsy crews, as well as those on a budget or looking to get less for more. If you want to explore the vast and exciting world of canned meats, there's plenty of variety, with some serving up more flavor than others. Here are our picks of popular canned meats, ranked from worst to best. This is where you should start your hunt for the most interesting canned meats on the market.

Canned Sausage

If we're being candid, the idea of salty meat from a can sounds like a match made in heaven. Salt is both a flavor enhancement as well as a natural preservative, so it's normal to expect a higher level of sodium in your canned food. 

When it comes to sausage, one might expect the type of ground meat that typically comes ground and formed in a patty or link, similar to what is often served for breakfast in the United States. Canned sausage aims to fit into this category, but when you open a can of it and dump it out, chances are, it'll be a runny mess instead of a solid mass of meat.

It's difficult to make sausage patties for cans, so you're often left with something that resembles a meat soup. If canned sausage could hold its shape, it would be a salty, meal-starter home run. Because it's runny mush, however, it fails in terms of canned meat — unless you plan to mix it into a soup, hash, or something that's softer in texture. 

"Flavorwise, it wasn't horrible ...'tripey,' vaguely sausage-like, but most of all salty," says one reviewer, who tried Banner's Sausage.

Chicken Spread

Chicken spread is one of those wonders of the food world that can either be miraculously delicious or disastrous. Most prepared chicken spreads consist of cooked chicken, broth, chicken skin, seasonings, and a host of other ingredients that give it some texture. 

You can mix it with mayonnaise for an easy dip, or try to make it into a buffalo dip if the current seasonings aren't too far off. Alternatively, you can use chicken spread to craft an easy chicken salad. You can expect a lot of salt in a canned chicken spread, but also an odd texture. 

There are some exciting canned meats out there, but this is just not one of them. If you do want to eat canned chicken spread straight out the can, you can expect the texture to be more of a finely mashed paste — don't expect tons of visible chicken chunks. One reviewer described a canned chicken spread as having more oil than expected. "It had a layer of oil on top, I tried to stir It and it was so messy," the person said. "When I put it on the bread and went to take bite it squirted out on all the sides of the bread. It used to be chunky and you actually had to spread it. This is just a mess."

Canned Ground Beef

Canned ground beef is an interesting canned meat because it sounds like a great base for any meal that uses cooked ground beef. There is almost always a chunk of solidified fat when you pop the lid off, but once you get past that, the taste is like any other ground beef — except for it's blander and often not seasoned very well.

We'll make an exception because it is a great camping food for quick chili or Sloppy Joes on cold nights around the campfire, but that's where the novelty ends. The texture is just too mushy and the salt is overpowering. There isn't real beef flavor, so instead, you get the taste of some kind of generic meat. "This product is in my opinion not the most appetizing product I've ever purchased. When you open the can there is a lot of [jelled] fat with it and it has kind of a pinkish hue," said one reviewer, specifically of Keystone Meats. "The smell is like what you would smell when you open a can of cat food and it has the consistency of that no matter what you do with it...[even if] you cook it all day in a sauce."

Unless you have a fondness for eating camping foods year-round, there's no reason to experiment with canned ground beef.

Potted Meat

Potted meat is what you get when you mix chicken, pork, salt, water, and small amounts of seasoning. It is salty and can be delicious, in some instances, but it's also pretty one-note. It tastes like meat that's facing an identity crisis because it doesn't know if it's pork or chicken, and doesn't taste too much like either. 

The texture of potted meat is soft, lumpy, and sometimes a bit runny, although it shouldn't be. If there was a way to help this meat retain a firmer texture to make it less like a paste and more of a spread, it would be more enjoyable. While there are plenty of brands that manufacture this product, the best example of potted meat is perhaps the blue-tinned Armour Star brand. 

Because it's so very mediocre, there are certainly other exciting canned meat options to try if you want to dip your toes in. 

Canned Whole Chicken

We'll be honest, the image of a whole chicken sliding out of a can is one we can't unsee. The idea of a whole chicken in a can is also befuddling but starts to make sense when you consider that the chicken is closer to the size of a cornish hen. Additionally, the can is larger than average and clocks in at nearly 3 pounds.

You should know what you're getting into with this because while the chicken is cooked, it's otherwise very naked and unfinished in terms of seasoning and preparation. The chicken skin is slimy and cold, and the meat is void of any flavor. "The meat was pretty bland—cold, wet, and a little too salty," restaurateur Dave Chang told The Takeout. "Also the consistency of the meat was pretty weak. There wasn't a whole lot of resistance or elasticity—it just fell apart in my mouth."

If you have the patience to pick the meat off the bones, you may have yourself a nice pile of meat to start a chicken salad — but what's the point of going through all the trouble when you can buy canned chicken meat?

Canned Smoked Ham

Canned smoked ham is intended to be the pork equivalent of tuna — flaky, and easy to use in a recipe or just eat on its own. However, ham is a lot fattier than tuna. Instead of just some meat and water in a can, there is a lot more gunk when it comes to canned ham. Most canned ham will have an ingredient list of cured ham, salt, sugar, preservatives, and some smoke flavor. 

When you open the lid, there is just too much fat to sort through to get to the appetizing ham. If you're brave enough to dig through it, you may actually end up with a pile of usable ham, which you can then add to a number of recipes — ham and bean soup anyone? How about a ham salad sandwich? That wouldn't sound so bad if the ham was delicious, but it falls short in the flavor department.

"I tasted the overpowering smoke flavoring before the meat even touched my tongue," a reviewer wrote for Canned Meat Review. "After placing the smoked ham on my tongue the overpowering taste of a massive amount of salt drowned out anything but the faintest hint of ham. The consistency was fairly firm yet yielding."

While it won't be the most horrible food you've eaten, there are other solid canned meat options to choose from before you reach for this.

Canned Roast Beef

Canned roast beef is pretty bland, which actually might be a strategy of the producer. If someone wants to make a meal out of this meat, it's probably best that it's more neutral in flavor. If this is your goal, canned beef may be just what you need. The texture is surprisingly decent, and it does have a bit of flakiness to it, as you might expect with roast beef. Because it's been sitting in liquid, however, it falls apart — but if soft and moist meat is your thing, you might appreciate this. 

For an emergency or camping kit, this is a must-have. Because the flavor is so bland, however, it would not make for a decent meal. That being said, one reviewer made a very good point about the technicality of this meat. "This is NOT deli-style roast beef," the reviewer says. "It is small pieces of typically tasting pot roast with very little fat in a good tasting brown gravy. Heat it up and it makes a nice hot sandwich with bbq sauce."

Vienna Sausages

Vienna sausages take the third spot for being a weirdly delicious wonder of canned meat. The pork sausage in a casing can actually be traced back to Vienna, but the ones we know and love today are a far cry from the original product. What is eaten in North America today is a short, smoked wiener that dates back to around 1903.

They are nostalgic for many, which sometimes equates to being delicious. It's important to note that although taste is subjective, having warm memories tied to food can make it that much better. Vienna sausages are often made of chicken, beef, and pork, but there is no ruling body that determines what their exact ingredients should be. One reviewer summed up the taste by saying, "They're a bit salty and not really a sausage as opposed to a meat paste formed in the shape of sausages. I like that they have beef since I can no longer digest pork protein without massive pain. You can eat them warm or cold and have a pull-tab top so I keep some in my emergency preparedness kit. They're perfect for little kids on solids because you don't really have to have teeth to chew them."

Canned Corned Beef Hash

Canned corned beef hash is a cured corned beef, mixed with potatoes, and it often includes another kind of chopped beef. It's mushier than expected when you open the can, and it may not crisp up, but it's good. 

You can technically eat it right out of the can, but we do suggest heating it up and at least trying to get a nice crust on it — it doesn't need much more than that. Just add some oil to a pan to crisp it over the stove, and serve it alongside some runny eggs. Ketchup and hot sauce (if that's your thing) only elevate the taste even more.

While this is not the most attractive or glamorous of canned meats, it's perhaps the most complete. With the potatoes, it really is an entire meal if it comes down to it. You could make your own corned beef hash, but why? When it comes so perfectly salty and ready to eat, why waste time? One reviewer says, "I love this stuff. Brown it so it gets a little crispy, then put a couple [of] fried eggs on top, have some toast... perfect breakfast. Or lunch. Or dinner. Or late-night snack. Or midafternoon snack. Or late-mid-early morning snack."

Canned Chicken Breast

Canned chicken breast gets the number two spot on this list for two reasons. The first is that it bears a strong resemblance to its non-canned counterpart (looking at you, canned sausage), and the second is that it's versatile. 

When you pop open a can of chicken breast, you won't be greeted by a runny goo or a slippery pile of fat, but by a mound of shredded chicken. There may be a little water or oil to drain, but canned chicken looks appetizing. In fact, it looks like a lot like the chicken breast you can pull off the bone yourself. With way less work involved, you can get the same result.

You can then take this chicken and mix it with mayonnaise for a quick chicken salad or chicken dip — but how does canned chicken fair in the taste department? Believe it or not, it also ranks high in that category. Canned chicken tastes like chicken. With a little seasoning and spices, you can make it fit into whatever dish you please.

Canned Luncheon Meat

Spam is perhaps the ruler of the canned luncheon meat category, but we think all brands are winners. Some of the other juicier, more flaky canned meats come with a side of fat. It's a juicy, greasy, lump concoction that gives the meat flavor, but makes it look way less appetizing. Canned luncheon meat is salty, delicious, and all by itself in the can. It's certainly a sight for sore eyes. It's also sliceable and grillable, whereas some canned meats are loose in texture and can only be mixed into salads and soups.

We respect canned luncheon meat's longevity and versatility. Little Upgrades describes the taste of Spam brand canned luncheon meat with nothing but good notes and said, "Classic SPAM tastes like salty ham lunchmeat, with a moist and spongy texture similar to sausage patties. Newer versions of SPAM have a variety of spices, peppers, and additional ingredients that broaden the available flavors."