Mystery meat is a term used to describe meat that a person cannot identify by looking at it or tasting it. The expression also describes meat products that contain numerous kinds of meat, non-meat fillers, or meat by-products. Some people use the term in conjunction with foods served at fast food restaurants, schools, and other places that serve a large amount of commercially processed meat at the lowest possible cost.
Many products and foods that people call mystery meat actually consist of meat by-products. Animal parts that are considered meat by-products include the internal organs, fatty tissue, and bones. The flesh and muscle that people generally think of as meat is worth more for general human consumption. Producing food from the by-products is a much cheaper option.
Hot dogs are a type of sausage made from a combination of ingredients and have been termed by some as mystery meat. While typically containing some actual meat, hot dogs utilize a mixture of meat by-products, fat, and other fillers. It may not be easy to see or taste the beef, pork, chicken, or turkey contained in a hot dog, which fits the definition of mystery meat for many people. Bologna and some sausages and links may receive the label as well.
Spam® is probably the best known type of mystery meat. Some people are aware that spam is made from pork shoulder meat and ham, but many people are unable to recognize the meats used just by looking at it or eating it. It does not look like a cut of meat, contains potato starch, and is covered with a gelatinous coating, so Spam® appears to fit the common definition of mystery meat.
Another type of meat that frequently receives the mystery meat label is Salisbury steak. A popular choice for cafeteria cooking, the meat is not easily recognizable. Although they are called steaks, a Salisbury steak does not resemble an actual beef steak. They are actually formed from ground beef and an assortment of other ingredients and shaped to resemble a steak.
People have brought lawsuits against fast food restaurants, school cafeterias, prison cafeterias, and other institutions, claiming that they serve mystery meat. The lawsuits come about when someone feels that food served in low-cost establishments has been misrepresented as being real meat or having a higher content of real meat. In some cases, the meat actually contains mostly meat by-products and fillers, lower-grade meat, or no meat at all.