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Nov 28, 2013 11:24 AM

Deli meats

I prolly dozed off while sitting in on Deli Meats 101 at school ;-)

I regularly buy deli pastrami/corned beef, hams, roast beef etc from the supermarket. Recent directive from Mrs. LR suggests I stop buying them for health reasons.

My Q is ..... are the roast beefs, pastrami/corned beef that come in big slabs not "processed" (mushed up meats then extruded into artificial squares, rounds and ovals) but made using the original cuts as-is ? Sorry if this seems like a really silly elementary question.

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  1. i think this is a good question - many of us enjoy and cringe at same time ; )

    i know people who manage the typical supermarket deli - and i think I would ask them what the source is -

    for example - at Claytons Market in Sechelt BC (up on the Sunshine Coast) - they do daily rotisserie of roast beef (a baron cut - quite small size boneless - a round roast I think is what it is) - so it is the best so far in all my travels - much like the way it was at Woodwards -

    i must say - i am cautious about buying anywhere else (and yes - one day - I have to figure out how to make it myself) ---- i suppose it's pretty easy to poach some boneless-skinless chicken for at-home slicing for chicken salad sandwiches etc

    we just finished some salami sausage - speaking of food souvenirs in other threads on this board - brought it back from the Kitchener area of ON - went right up to the Mennonite farm door and bought it from the lady (they had a sign on side of road) - very interesting visit and a souvenir we actually used! it was obvious that the premises were very clean so I felt ok to buy and consume the product.

    1. Thanks GS :-)

      You'd think one can Google this and find an answer, but not so when it comes to the commercially-made deli meats. Not that I'd think that a "natural" slab of commercial roast beef is necessarily any healthier than a round tube of honey ham or Kentucky chicken loaf at Safeway, but if the meat itself was not processed as such, it may be the lesser of two evils.

      I've made my own poached chicken breasts and such for lunch sandwiches. While that's relatively ok once or twice a week, it gets time-consuming on a daily basis, and not that we'd want to have chicken sandwiches every single day. Roast beef ..... well the effort and costs just increase incrementally.

      1. From what i understand of cow anatomy there is no oval loaf shape of pure meat anywhere.....
        Almost all "deli meats" are processed and the most common concern is nitrates and preservatives aside from the higher sodium.
        Trader joes has all natural nigrate free deli meats and companies such as applegate make them as well.

        Consider alternate sandwich proteins as well- sardines and smoked fish are often over looked, a mashed white bean salad, sliced hard boiled eggs, avocado and cheese among others are unprocessed lower sodium whole food options.

        1. Deli meats certainly can be made and found in the form of real beef, pork or turkey cuts. It's really up to the consumer to find them. If your local market does not carry or offer them, then seek out a European Butcher or specialty delicatessen or market.

          1. As with most things, the answer is, "It depends." Some are and some aren't, even within the same manufacturer and line. For example, some processors have Turkey Breast Foodservice products for delis, some of which are ground and processed, and some of which are real whole roasted Breasts which are simply stuck together with a sort of benign "meat glue" gelatin to take a uniform shape.

            Ask questions and read labels, and if it feels like you are passing a stone when paying for the stuff, it's more likely to be real.

            Of course, this isn't necessarily a guarantee of quality. Boar's Head, I think, takes whole muscle round to make their Pastrami, but I think the pastrami aficionados out there would tell you no real pastrami comes from the round.

            And even whole muscle deli meats can sometimes have this odd gelatinous processed texture. It sometimes takes a while to find one you like.

            13 Replies
            1. re: acgold7

              You have the energy to post after after Thanksgiving/

              1. re: fourunder

                When you look at the texture of whatever deli meat you can tell whether it's from a whole piece of meat of not. Pretty much every type of deli meat that is in a tube/roll has been air blasted off the carcass then ground then 'shaped' then cooked.
                Price is also a tip-off.
                Also depending on what part of the world you're in you may be getting 'french style' butchering.....or not.
                French style butchering follows a specific muscle from end to end so you get just that type of meat. American style butchering basically 'cross-cuts'.

                1. re: Puffin3

                  Thanks everyone for your insights.

                  OK Puffin3, you've honed in on the texture aspect. This is the type of typical eli roast beef I'm talking about:

                  (far back):



                  Yes it would be unfair for me to ask you guys about the quality (or lack thereof) and cuts of the roast beefs in my supermarkets. Problem is, the slabs don't have any plastic wrappings around them (hence no label of company) and sadly none of the store staff/deli counter staff I've asked know anything (and usually are indifferent) about the *actual* attributes of the meats I'm asking them about.

                  So using the roast beef pics above, where the slab is somewhat oblong and the cross section has visible veins of fat (distributed fairly evenly across the section), IS THAT generally a natural cut of beef or some kind of Frankensteined Sysyco'd protein processed and shaped via some ISO 9001 methods ?

                  In terms of pricing, the roast beef (or pastrami/corned beef) usually range from Cdn$1.50 to $2.25 per 100 grams, or approx. Cdn$6.75 to $10.15 per pound for those of you preferring US imperial. Again, that pricing is strictly for my little corner of the world, FWIW, and is dependent on many many factors.

                  1. re: LotusRapper

                    The meats you linked above look like real cuts. However, I caution you that if "none of the store staff/deli counter staff know anything about the actual attributes" you might want to go elsewhere. A deli should be able to tell you what cut it is e.g. top round, eye of round and explain the details to you. If not, walk away and find a deli that can.

                    1. re: fldhkybnva

                      Good point. These were supermarket delis, and honestly I don't expect their deli staff to know anyway (which they didn't). I should go buy from a butcher-delis instead. From my experience, generally local butchers around here don't sell ready-to-eat deli meats.

                      Another option is more upscale markets, such as Whole Foods etc., but I'd be paying top dollar there.

                      1. re: LotusRapper

                        Even in a supermarket I expect more. Actually I mentioned something to the manager recently at Whole Foods about an employee who didn't know what prosciutto was and the manager was quite angry. I'm sure the management expects them to know even if it's just a supermarket, even at Wegmans I've asked questions and they seem to know. If they didn't make it in house, there is a wrapper or box somewhere to consult for ingredients. It might be more but perhaps what you're paying for at Whole Foods is the opportunity to know what you're eating and to be able to utilize a knowledgeable staff. Also, I haven't found the deli department to be that much more expensive than the Safeway down the street, maybe a $1 or $2 per lb depending on what you get but often similar. If you have Wegmans nearby they have great deli meats and same price as Safeway, Giant, Harris Teeter and other stores around here. In fact, I recently bought roast beef there and not only did they have 2 different varieties as well as another sliced beef meat (London broil), they were able to explain the differences among them to me and offered a taste to guarantee I was buying what I wanted.

                        1. re: LotusRapper

                          Beefway on Kingsway, Herringers in Steveston, Sebastians in West Van... butchers who sell ready-to-eat, sliced meats.

                          1. re: KarenDW

                            Thanks Karen :-) I pass by Beefway every once awhile, but more importantly I go to Famous Foods often so it's only a few mins further for me.

                  2. re: fourunder

                    Yesterday actually wasn't too bad for us -- the restaurant wasn't technically open and all we mostly did was push out pre-orders and help the few people who didn't know we were closed and came by, panicked, in search of a Turkey and sides -- we made a few extra. We closed up around four and went home and, as we have Thanksgiving food every day, had steaks cut from a whole strip loin, using the patented fourunder method. Delicious as usual.

                      1. re: Puffin3

                        See poster above... Many posts from fourunder about low and slow

                        1. re: Puffin3

                          Fourunder's one of our most experienced meat experts on the boards, who has perfected the low and slow method for virtually every form of meat, from roasts to steaks.

                    1. re: acgold7


                      Deli turkey and chicken are usually ground and extruded. So is bologna, by definition. Roast beef, ham, corned beef, and pastrami aren't.

                      In terms of healthiness, deli meats are no worse than home made meats of equivalent fattiness and saltiness.

                      In moderation, all of this stuff is fine.