Canned meat adds an essential dose of protein to your meals. Even better, as it’s pre-cooked, it can be eaten straight from the can or heated up in minutes.
Canned meat used to be synonymous with Spam. Fortunately, those days are long gone, and you can now find a wide selection of canned meat and fish in the grocery store and online.
We round up the best canned meat and what you need to consider when stocking up.
Best Bulk Canned Meat: Survival Fresh
If you don’t mind buying in bulk, Survival Fresh jumbo cans are our canned meat of choice. It’s tasty, healthy, and has a shelf-life of 25 years — far longer than the cans you’ll find in the grocery store.
The only product that compares in terms of shelf-life is freeze-dried meat, but freeze-dried isn’t as tasty and requires rehydrating before you can eat it.
So how do they do it?
Uncooked meat is sealed into the cans and then slowly pressure-cooked. This means you get a long shelf life without heavy processing and additives, making it a healthier option than most other canned meats.
You can either eat the meat cold from the tin or heat it. As there aren’t any added flavorings, the meat will be tastier when added to meals rather than eating on its own as a snack.
But most importantly, it tastes like (and is!) real meat — no mysteries here.
If you don’t want to invest in such a large amount or you want to test out different brands, here are the best of the rest…
Canned Chicken & Turkey
Poultry is a great low-fat source of protein and one of your healthiest options for canned meat. The big downside is that it’s very bland to eat.
We’d suggest adding canned chicken or turkey to freeze-dried emergency meals as a protein boost or mixing it with other ingredients to add flavor.
Best Premium Chicken: Wild Planet Organic Roasted Chicken Breast
If you’re concerned about your health and where your meat comes from, Wild Planet’s canned chicken is organic and low in sodium.
They’re one of the most highly-rated brands in flavor and texture, and the small serving cans are great for solo preppers or couples.
Best Budget Chicken: Swanson Premium Chunk Chicken Breast
Swanson’s cans of chicken have a few extra additives (thickeners and stabilizers), which contain ingredients sourced from genetically modified crops.
If this doesn’t bother you, the chicken has a good taste and texture and is relatively cheap.
Best Canned Turkey: Keystone Canned Turkey
Keystone’s canned turkey gives more protein per serving than its canned chicken (14g compared to 12g). It’s pricey for a tin of meat, but you get large chunks of meat with very little fat.
There’s a reason athletes and bodybuilders love their steak — it packs the most protein per serving of any meat. It’s also a great source of iron and B12. Unfortunately, beef is also one of the most expensive meats and can be high in fat.
Best Canned Beef: Keystone Meats All Natural Canned Beef
There aren’t many options on the market if you’re looking for pure, unadulterated canned beef. Aside from Survival Cave, Keystone is the other top brand.
You’ll find just beef, water, and salt in the can, and though you may find the fat residue unappealing when you open it, the meat inside is good, if a little salty.
Best Corned Beef: Libby’s Corned Beef
Technically, you can eat corned beef cold — if you can close your mind to the fact that it looks and smells like dog food. A much better option is to fry it up on its own or with potatoes and eggs.
Corned beef is cheap and a good source of protein and calories, but it’s also very high in sodium and fat.
The main criticism of Libby’s corned beef is that the key mechanism to get into the cans often breaks, so make sure you have a can opener to hand. Or check out these methods of opening a can without a can opener!
Another good source of protein, pork offers the most variety in canned meat. From pulled pork to bacon, sausages, and ham, there’s no excuse for getting bored.
However, the more processed the meat, the less healthy it’s likely to be — pork is the primary ingredient in many of the “mystery meats” listed below.
Best Canned Bacon
It’s not the healthiest meat, but crispy bacon slices could give you a blissful moment of normality in between dehydrated meals and unappetizing canned dinners.
This can is packed with bacon slices that can be eaten cold or heated up. It’s very expensive and contains sodium nitrite, but it hits the spot as an occasional treat.
Healthiest Canned Pork: Keystone Meats Canned Pork
Like the rest of the Keystone range, all that’s added to the meat in the tin is a dash of sea salt. Although this makes the pork taste saltier than you may be used to, this canned pork has the lowest sodium content of any we’ve found (equalling Survival Cave’s pork).
Best Pulled Pork: Vanee Foods Deluxe Pulled Pork
This pork is slow-cooked until tender with a spicy, smoky flavor. It’s a little higher in salt than the Keystone pork but is a tastier option if you’re eating it on its own or are short on spices and flavorings.
Best Ham: Dak Premium Ham
Canned ham generally doesn’t live up to the real thing, and most have more in common with luncheon meat than a leg of pork. Dak is one of the better brands, and if you’re willing to glaze it and bake it, it makes a passable meal.
If you’re looking for something you can fry up or stick on a slice of bread in an emergency, then you’re probably better off sticking to Spam.
Canned fish is an excellent source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and essential minerals such as zinc, B12, and iron that you won’t find in most long-life emergency meals.
Cans or packets of sardines, mackerel, and tuna are small enough for your Bug Out Bag and will be a welcome savory relief from protein bars.
Note: It’s worth checking the shelf life of different fish products, particularly if you’re tempted to get flavored varieties, as these often have higher acidity and don’t keep as well. They’re also likely to be higher in sodium.
Best Canned Fish: Wild Planet Wild Sardines
Admittedly sardines are a bit stinky and not for everyone but as a protein source in an emergency, they are fantastic.
They’re packed full of nutrients, low in contaminants (due to being small and low in the food chain), and cheap to stock up on. Wild Planet’s sardines are sustainably sourced and come in extra virgin olive oil.
Try Season’s mackerel fillets if you prefer a slightly meatier fish with the same health and sustainability benefits.
Best Canned Salmon: Gold Seal Wild Alaskan Pink Salmon
Salmon is probably not the first thing that springs to mind when considering emergency food supplies. But a bit of luxury can do wonders for morale, and salmon is one of the healthiest fish you can buy.
Wild salmon is healthier than farmed fish (no antibiotics or toxins), and this Starkist salmon is skinless and boneless for hassle free eating.
Best Canned Tuna: American Tuna
If tuna is your go-to canned fish of choice, it’s worth having a good hard look at what you’re buying. While tuna is a good, cheap protein source, it can carry high levels of mercury.
American Tuna’s pole and line caught Albacore tuna are MSC certified and, unlike many brands, have no added salt. To reduce the risk from mercury, it’s best not to make it a simple addition to your menu.
Okay, so labeling regulations mean there has to be transparency around what you’re eating, but we’ve used this category to cover more processed canned meat. These products are cheap, and you can usually find them at your local grocery store.
We recommend testing them in advance if you don’t usually eat these foods. They’re not to everyone’s taste, and however desperate you are when the SHTF, you don’t want to be faced with shelves of cans that you can’t face eating.
Best Processed Canned Meat: Spam
Everyone’s favorite meat in a can!
Despite sometimes having a bad rep, Spam doesn’t taste that bad. In most taste tests, it outperforms almost every other processed luncheon meat.
It’s also cheap and doesn’t have to be refrigerated after it’s opened. On the downside, it’s not that healthy. Spam contains a lot of fat and sodium, including sodium nitrate.
Also see how long does Spam last?
Best Vienna Sausages: Libby’s Vienna Sausage
Vienna sausages are about as low on the food health chain as you can go. But they’re super cheap and have a certain childhood nostalgia that’s hard to beat.
The two biggest brands are Libby’s and Armour, and there’s not much to choose between them — both contain a mixture of meats (or meat parts) and deliver most of their calories in the form of fat.
Libby’s gets our vote due to its marginally lower sodium content.
Best Potted Meat: Armour Potted Meat
It’s a good idea not to think too hard about what’s in potted meat and get on with eating it. Preferably blindfolded – the ingredients list is “interesting,” and the meat isn’t much to look at either.
But it tastes surprisingly good. It’s very salty and definitely couldn’t be considered healthy, but it’s cheap, goes well with crackers, and will add some variety to your canned meat supply.
Why Canned Meat Should be Part of Your Emergency Food Supply
Although many people choose not to eat meat for dietary or ethical reasons, it’s one of the best protein sources. Animal products are classed as a complete protein, containing the nine essential amino acids our body can’t produce on its own.
Most plant-based protein sources only contain some amino acids, so if you’re vegan (more on vegan prepping), you need to plan your diet carefully to ensure you combine the right types of protein.
When the SHTF and food options become more limited, canned meat is a reliable source of protein, fat, and essential nutrients.
Is Canned Meat Healthy?
While meat has many health benefits, highly processed meats typically have high fat, sodium, and chemical levels. Some types of canned meat are so processed that it’s hard to believe it’s meat at all — hence our “mystery meat” category above!
Some consider two additives of particular concern: sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite.
While sodium nitrate itself is not carcinogenic, the acids in your stomach can result in a carcinogenic compound being formed. Ascorbic acid (which may also be added to preserved meats) helps inhibit this chemical process.
Sodium nitrate is also found in vegetables and some drinking water, and the quantities in cured meat are very low, so unless you’re eating large amounts of it regularly, it’s unlikely to be a serious health risk.
If you eat a lot of fish, you must be aware of the risk of mercury contamination. Mercury is more concentrated in fish higher up the food chain (e.g., tuna), but careful shopping can help minimize this risk.
What to Consider When Buying Canned Meat
The Expiry Date
If you’re buying canned meat or fish in the grocery store, most cans have an expiry date of 2-5 years. However, these dates are pretty arbitrary. Just because a can has passed its expiry date doesn’t mean the contents aren’t safe to eat. Check out our guide to canned food shelf life for more info on expiry dates and food safety.
If you want to play it safe and get something with a much longer shelf life, you’ve got two options: Survival Cave’s bulk tins of cooked meat or freeze-dried meat. Both have a shelf life of at least 25 years. Freeze-dried meat is lighter but more expensive and needs rehydrating.
Related: Can you freeze canned foods?
Most canned meat in the grocery store comes in either small, single-serving cans or standard cans that contain 2-4 servings. If you’re counting calories, it’s worth checking the serving sizes carefully – they may be smaller than you think.
Bulk cans can often work out better value and are a good way of stocking up on “real” meat. The downside is that once opened, any meat you don’t eat will need to be refrigerated and eaten fairly soon. This may not be an issue if you’re feeding a hungry family, but large cans may be less practical if you’re a solo prepper.
While canned meat is generally pre-cooked and can be eaten cold from the tin, the palatability of meat products varies considerably. Some products may need to be heated up. Others, such as corned beef and Spam, are better fried.
If you’re looking at freeze-dried meats, bear in mind that these need extra water and cooking time to hydrate.
Also read: How to pressure can your own meat
Leave a comment
Excellent and informative, plus the author’s witty remarks about some of these products (all true!) made me laugh. – James
Very good read. I never thought of Spam as mysterious or Viennas, potted meat. Have all 3 in my pantry. I guess I grew up poor but I didn’t think so then.
I even saw a Spam statue in Sarajevo. They ate a lot of it during the siege.
Excellent guide thank you.
I’m ” across the pond ” in the U.K so most of these brands except Spam are not readily available off the shelf. Not a mass issue aside from potential postal costs.
For those in the U.K or in Europe the Princes and Ye-Olde brands are decent and readily available.
Sorry, most of our articles are USA-centric. As for canned goods, I’ve found that Europe doesn’t have nearly as many options as the USA. Canned goods also tend to be much more expensive. :/ However, there are all sorts of cool canned goods to be found in specialty stores. I personally love canned dolmas, stuffed peppers, stuffed olives, Greek eggplant….
The recent run of “expiry dates” (at least the most recent generation thereof – they used to run in the 5+-10-year vicinity, but the preserved products were typically perfectly fine after 20+ years) are, I believe, pretty much a total corporate scam – they’re really, generally speaking, just so much BS aimed at making people throw away perfectly good packaged food and buy more. Few of those “expiry” dates are more than a year past the products’ appearance on shelves and similarly preserved products (canned, dry, etc, based on my personal experience) will last well over 20 years so long as they’re not abused by freezing, storing in 110º+ heat, allowed to be invaded by insects, etc.
THIS IS NOT THE SAME AS THE BUY-BY DATES ON DAIRY, etc. Those are actually pretty close to reality, although on the basis of the “sniff test”, milk is really often good for a couple weeks, or even months beyond those “buy by” dates – by about the same percentage as those packages one gets home from the store and finds they’re already “beyond the pale”, “halfway to stinky cheese”, etc.”.
SPAM should not be considered as a “Mystery Meat”. It has been around for close to 84 years. It helped us survive the Great Depression(ask your grand parents. or a Sr. citizen). Spam is one of the most hated foods served in America. Some people dislike it because they had to eat it back when they were poor. Others were served it too often while in the military. Some people want to appear to be wealthy or trendy.