Healthy turkey sausage!

In the course of reporting a story for one of our finer food publications, I learned something so revolting it had no place in the article. I was talking with a leading sausage maker, both of us extolling the wonders of beef and pork and fat, and I asked him what were some of the things that make an inferior sausage. He listed a number of factors and then said, "But the really disgusting stuff is mechanically separated meat." What…exactly…is mechanically separated meat, says I. He explained that animal carcasses from which the main muscles have been removed, that is everything good to eat, are dumped into some sort of industrial strength salad spinner, called a beehive, and whipped around so hard that all the scraps of meat still clinging to bone and cartilage fly off and through a sieve, and are collected as a kind of pink paste and used to pad out any number of meat products.

I said, So that means all kinds of other "material" could possibly be included? He said yes. I said, Like nerves and glands and cartilage and minute bone fragments. Yes, it’s measured for “calcium content” (aka pulverized bone), can only have a certain percentage by weight. The pink came from bone marrow. Spinal tissue? Apparently this is why you can get mechanically separated bovine dirt cheap these days.

I'm not going to judge anyone for choosing an agribusiness processed wurst over an actual pork sausage with the recommended 30% percent pork fat and delectible seasonings, but if you're feeling particularly proud of yourself for opting for that Healthy Choice turkey sausage, check the label for mechanically separated….

And remember, as always, the advice of the great cartoonist B. Kliban: never eat anything bigger than your head.

10 thoughts on “Healthy turkey sausage!

  1. What’s the quote–the two things you never want to see made are sausage and legislation? Anyway, thanks for the info…I admit to a Trader Joe’s chicken sausage habit (I like artisanal pork sausage much more of course, but sometimes succumb to the convenience of having some pre-cooked, lower-fat sausages in the freezer). I will check the label next time…and probably cross one more item off the “okay to eat” list 🙂

  2. Ack. I always kinda sorta wondered what “mechanically separated” meant but I don’t think I really WANTED to know. At least I don’t have to give up my beloved Hebrew Nationals!
    BTW, Heat was a *very* good and funny book. And your parenthetical explanation of why you aren’t ready to read it made me laugh out loud! That said, though, it’s not a book I’d care to revisit over and over whereas your books are…there’s something intoxicating about your writing that’s just not there with Buford. I am kind of curious as to why Heat has gotten so much press attention, my guess is the Batali connection…

  3. Eeek! Thanks for setting us all straight – I will make sure to steer clear of mechanically separated “meat”! I’ve really been enjoying your presence on megnut – thanks for the great posts!

  4. I ate an organic chicken/turkey sausage yesterday and noted the ingredients. It does have 4% calcium — surely that isn’t all bone chips!? In terms of the notation “mechanically separated,” is that actually showing up on the labeling on some products? I agree, that would cause me to pause a bit. However, the more immediate question is what to do with the 21% ‘daily value’ of sodium I digested!

  5. Check the label of your favorite baloney: “A 16oz package of Oscar Meyer Bologna contains the following: Ingredients: “Mechanically separated chicken, pork, water, corn syrup, salt, contains 2% or less of: flavor, autolyzed yeast, sodium phosphates, sodium erythorbate (made from sugar), sodium nitrite, dextrose, extractives of paprika, sugar, potassium chloride.”
    Here’s more:
    The bones not only have calcium, they have flouride in them. The flouride comes from the drinking water fed to the animals…

  6. My baloney has a first name, it’s g-r-o-s-s. Sausage and legislation indeed. At least we *can* avoid bad sausage.

  7. I have known about mechanically separated meat for awhile, maybe it was in Fast Food Nation or something similar I read before that came out?
    Unfortunately, I’m not really aware of hardly any commercially processed, large-company-produced, sausages of any kind that don’t have this kind of meat. I’m pretty sure Han’s sausages don’t start with this, but they’re not that widely available in many regular-old-grocery stores and their varieties can be kind of strange when you’re just looking for a plain-ish sausage. Spinach & feta in sausage is interesting, but not always what I want, know what I mean? Outside of being able to go to local butchers/meat shops that produce their own (which seem to have very limited hours/days across the board), you’re pretty limited.

  8. Hello from Berlin,
    All about the real Sausage – a typical German take-away dish – you’ll find on the original Currywurst Homepage. Find out everything about the Secrets of Currywurst. Disover the unknown Tales of German Sausage and have Fun with our new Currywurst Pictures or the nonofficial Currywurst Blog 🙂
    Greetings from Germany,

  9. Nice post Michael, but unfortunate about the title which could lead some to suspect all turkey sausages! I am in full agreement about the ‘mechanically seperated meat’ but would argue that wild or even free range turkey with the addition of a suitable amount of fat, not even necessarily pork fat, can if suitably spiced and flavoured, give us a perfectly acceptable sausage. Especially for those who are on a restricted cholesterol diet or who do not eat pork for whatever reason.
    Love reading your work and especially love the “Charcuterie” book!
    Regards from Indonesia.

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