An Honest Review Of 8 Canned Meat Products
Have you eaten Spam? I figure most people have at least once in their lives. If not Spam, one of the Spamstitutes that's out there. Do you know how many pseudo-Spams are available these days?
How is it possible the canned meat that no one outside of Hawaii willingly eats has been knocked off so many times? Is there something awesome here I'm missing out on? I had to find out. I lined myself up with a can of good ol' American Spam, then some vulgar Canadian Kam, something called Klik, and the shrug in a can known as Luncheon Meat made by the good people at the "Fuck It, Whatever" corporation. I also grabbed a handful of other canned meats just because they were the next shelf over and look weird, including spicy pike, cod liver, and deviled ham in a can gift-wrapped with Satanic paper. If Satan's selling your meat, I am on board. Let's get this party started.
Round 1: The Unadulterated Test
For this round, we have nothing but what the god of canning provided for me. One slab of some kind of protein, straight outta the can. Nowhere to hide, no lies to tell. Just honest pseudo-meats.
First: Hereford Corned Beef
Oh look at it, look at that coating of newborn-esque vernix, like this little corned beef was just brought into the world and is now ready to start its offensive life on my plate. And don't forget a glimpse to the bottom right there, that ever-so-slightly off-yellow, translucent globule clinging to the side of the beef slab like a gelatinous, salty remora. How could you not love it?
I cut myself a slice and tucked into the corned beef with all the urgency and desire of a cat being force-fed pineapple. It has the texture of tiny bits of cardboard and cat food that have been mulched together and reconstituted as a cube of something one person gives to another to express disappointment in their life choices. That plus grease. That cold, slick film grease that coats the inside of your mouth.
Klik is a Canadian Spam wannabe. As you can see, it's produced by having an ogre clear his sinuses into a can. Why is it called Klik? That's the sound you make at the back of your throat after you plop it onto your plate and see this.
In the industry they call this "Klik smegma," I assume. I would. I just did. Spread the word. Klik has a fairly firm consistency and tastes very much of salt and ham's third-cousin once removed. I wouldn't guarantee I know what animal it comes from, but I bet I'd recognize it if I saw a picture.
Third: Deviled Ham
I can't help but laugh when I see the resolution of this photo. I tasted this shit, but when faced with a high-resolution, well-lit image of it I feel it in my soul. Why are there three clearly discernible colors here?
I bought this stuff only because of the cartoon devil on the label, and I should have known better. The devil is not here to amuse me; the devil is here to torment, and torment he did. This slurry of mulchy meat was damp and vaguely juicy and tasted exactly the same way dog food smells.
Fourth: Cod Liver
Packed in its own oil, this cod liver told a story. I'll retell it here, for you. It's a gray spring morning. The kind when the air is crisp and cool, but not cold. That invigorating sort of cool that makes you feel alive. It prickles your lungs as you pull it in, but you like it.
You go for a walk in the morning because you have the time today. Today you're free to do as you please. And though the sky is overcast and the wind has a slight bite, you enjoy it because it's so fresh and real, and you're not stuck in an office or working some schlub job. This is real life. And so you walk. And eventually you make your way to the pier, and you look out at the sea, all rough and choppy, and it seems to stretch beyond eternity.
You head down the pier nearly to the end, when you find a lone fisherman on a bench. You sit next to him, partially because you want to enjoy the view and partially because you're tired from your walk and want to give your legs a rest. So the two of you stare out at the sea, you and the fisherman. He's older than you, and he looks like Mickey Rourke's brother who made worse life choices. There's a thick smell of fish and sea about him, and you notice he has scales and fish guts ground into his old jeans. You see through your peripheral vision that his thick fingers have fish slime caked under the nails and around the untamed cuticles, along with dirt and who knows what else.
Slowly, the fisherman turns his head toward you, and whether out of fear or some misguided desire not to seem intrusive, you pretend to not notice. You stare ahead, while your peripheral vision catches his slow turn, the patchy stubble around his mouth and chin making it look as though he kept starting and stopping the morning shave. And he fixes you with his gaze, one eye cold and muddy brown, the other eye rheumy and white, staring at nothing. And slowly, just as slowly as his head turn, he lifts those hands, those disgusting, fish-encrusted hands, and takes your face in them. And now you realize you're frozen. Whether it be fear or some other spell, you can't move of your own free will. And the smell of fish and sweat and dirt overwhelms you as those rough, greasy hands take you on other side of your face and turn your head to face him.
He locks you with his good eye and says nothing, not one word, and you feel his right hand drift down your cheek, until his thumb and forefinger are on either side of your jaw, and he squeezes, forcing your mouth open. You sit there, slack-jawed, mouth agape like a dummy, staring into his good eye, wordless and confused.
He leans in close then, and over the fishy smell of his breath is something danker and worse, like old booze and leather and dirt, and suddenly this sound erupts, from deep inside him, this droning cacophony, this churning, wet, and viscous growl as he pulls from his briny soul and clears his throat in the most ear-shattering way you have ever endured. As his eye stares into yours, he launches the most perfectly gray and yellow brackish phlegm lozenge, like a sardine made of lung butter, straight to the back of your disbelieving throat, and then he forces your mouth shut and laughs and laughs and laughs.
That's a can of cod liver. Don't fucking eat it.
Fifth: Holiday Luncheon Meat
The crater-like surface on the Luncheon Meat here is a bit foreboding. Was this packed with yeast? What causes gas pockets to bubble up in canned meat? The taste was very similar to Klik but less satisfying and a little mealier. I cared for it not.
Sixth: Pike-Conger With Chili
This was the first sampling of meat that resembled a horror movie prop, and for that it earned my respect. This can could have been plopped on the set of The Walking Dead and it would have been fine. I avoided that giant spinal column you can see in the center of the screen there and took the lumpy finger-like piece above it.
Against all odds, this had only a chili flavor to it, no fish at all. It was that deceptive Asian chili that starts too sweet and then burns you slightly after a minute. The fish had a chunky texture and felt like it was resisting my attempts to chew it to pieces. Still, though, no fish. However, the chili sweetness was so sweet, the experience was unpleasant.
As you can see, Spam is ribbed for your pleasure. All the other meat cubes come in a can where you have to use a small metal key to unwind a band of metal that holds top and bottom together, allowing your meat to pop free. Not so Spam, which just has a pop top like a pudding cup, so once you peel back the top of the can you get to shake and wrestle with your Spam for a solid 10 minutes before the little shit comes clean.
Out on the table, Spam looks most like actual ham, which I think is the point of all of this. On the other hand, why not just eat ham? I can't say. Another point in Spam's favor is that it contains the least amount of afterbirth of all the canned meats so far. No wonder this shit is so popular.
As far as taste, it's not really much different than Klik or Luncheon meat. I would say it's superior, however. Luncheon Meat, in retrospect, tastes like Spam that has been eaten once already.
It's hard to tell in this photo, but Kam was much more robust-looking than the other meat. More red and vibrant. Darker. Bolder. Scarier. Why, Kam? But, for that matter, why are Kam and Klik both made by the same company when they're basically the same food? And what's with all the Ks? Is this white supremacist food? There was an inexplicable ghost of a flavor behind the Kam that forced me to eat several bites as I vainly struggled to guess what it was. The ingredients offered no answer, but there was something there, some essence. After several bites it occurred to me that the taste at the back of my throat was very much like the taste after you drink cream soda. Like a fruity kind of flavor that doesn't correspond to any natural fruit you've ever eaten. Fruit from the tree of lies.
Round 2: Into The Frying Pan
Better than a scab collection is my collection of fried, canned meats. Most of the cans had recipes on them to make your food choice extra delicious. The recipe was pretty much to just fry it and serve it with something else. How do you argue with sound logic and culinary wizardry like that?
Before I could do anything else with the deviled ham, my cat helped himself, and good riddance, I said. Out loud. To the cat. Likewise, the cod liver had to be accidentally hurled deep, deep into the trash and covered with other trash so that it may never see the light of day again. Fuck that product and whatever rancid, black-souled fiends thought canning it might qualify as anything less than a human rights violation. I ditched the sweet pike too, because screw that.
Dropping a slice of the five remaining cubed meats into my pan, I waited with whatever the opposite of anticipation is for them to fry up golden and crispy. Apprehension? Dread? Something like that.
In an unexpected twist akin to M. Night Shyamalan making a good movie again, the corned beef, once fried up crispy, is actually palatable and even non-offensive. I could probably make a pasta dish with this stuff in it and enjoy it. Or mix it into some hash browns and scrambled eggs and have a breakfast that won't cause wincing.
Fried Spam is supposedly the gold standard here; I think some restaurants run by people who have never had families even have this on the menu. If this is the standard by which to measure all other fried, canned meats, we haven't advanced far as a species.
Klik, Kam, Spam, and Luncheon Meat all basically become a brownish pink slab of salt when fried. It's like ham if the pig hadn't been told what ham is. You know that scene in The Matrix when Mouse is explaining how their protein slime tastes like Tasty Wheat to him, but how do the machines know what Tasty Wheat tastes like? And maybe everything tastes like chicken because they don't understand what chicken tastes like? I think this is that situation. Basically, I think Spam indicates on some level we're in the Matrix and the machines don't love us.
Learn about more taste-tested food and try not to barf when you read 6 Gross Foods From A '50s Cookbook (That We Taste-Tested), and experience the wonderful joy of Krispy Kreme grilled cheese in 10 Carnival Foods Invented By Crazy People (Taste-Tested).
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