Large differences exist in the tenderness, juiciness and flavour of the various meat animal carcasses because of breeding, age, feeding and management. Within each animal carcasses and associated with the different muscles there are variations in tenderness that dictate how different cuts of meat should be prepared to yield the most palatable foods. Because of these differences in tenderness, juiciness and flavour, each meat cut should be merchandised according to its availability and palatability characteristics. Consequently, different prices should be charged for different cuts from the various meat animals so that consumers have choices. The tenderloin of beef is a relatively small cut and therefore of limited quantity but it is extremely tender and requires a minimum of cooking. Generally it is high-priced because of its high quality and consumer demand for a cut that is easy to prepare and serve. Roasts from the chuck or shoulder of beef are less tender than the tenderloin; however, when properly prepared by pot-roasting, they too will be tender, juicy, flavourful and will provide good nutritional value. Because there are more kilograms of chuck roast on any one beef carcass and because they require more time and effort to cook correctly, chuck roasts do not and should not demand the same high price per kilogram as tenderloin.

Throughout the world, countries have varied natural resources and capabilities for producing livestock and different methods must be used to utilize all meat products correctly and completely whether they are cut from cattle, goats, sheep, swine, deer or other animals and whether they come from the tender or less tender parts of those animals. In order to get the maximum eating satisfaction and also the maximum nutritional value, each cut must be matched with the correct cooking procedure. Loin cuts which are generally tender should be prepared by broiling or other dry-heat methods while cuts with considerable bone and connective tissue from the shanks should be either braised or simmered for stews and soups.

Comparative differences in various compositional aspects of marketweight beef, pork and lamb

Beef Pork Lamb
Average live animal weight (kg) 454–544 95–104 45
Age (months) 36 6 8–12
Dressing percentage (carcass/live weight) 60 70 50
Carcass weight (kg) 272–318 68–73 23
Carcass composition (%)
52 50 55
32 32 28
16 18 17

Generally, meat animals should be maintained in an environment that permits optimum growth and development. Animals gaining weight rapidly are usually in good condition and the meat derived from their carcasses will be fatter, juicier and richer in flavour. Additionally, the amount of meat in proportion to hide, bone and offal will be greater.

The age to slaughter animals varies depending on many things. The highest quality beef comes from animals that are under 36 months of age. Old cows produce highly acceptable beef if properly fattened and processed. Depending on the calf and the feeding regime, calves are best slaughtered between three and 16 weeks of age. Hogs may be killed any time after they reach six weeks of age, but for the most profitable pork production may need to be fed for five to ten months. Sheep and goats may be killed anytime after six weeks, but the more desirable age is from six to 12 months.

All meat animal carcasses are composed of muscle, fat, bone and connective tissue. The chief edible and nutritive portion is the muscle or lean meat. The muscle is seldom consumed without some of the attached fat and connective tissue. The carcass composition of animals slaughtered after usual fattening periods is shown in Table 3. It can be noted that the carcass composition varies little between species and is some what dependent on the fatness of the animal at slaughter.

The lean of each meat animal carcass consists of about 300 individual and different muscles of which only about 25 can be separated out and utilized as single muscle or muscle combinations. The separated muscles are not all the same. They vary widely in palatability (tenderness, juiciness, flavour) depending on the maturity or age of the animal and the body location from which they were taken.

Generally, muscles of locomotion found in the extremities or legs are less tender and more flavourful than muscles that simply support the animal such as those found along the back. The latter are usually more tender and less flavourful. Other factors may influence palatability but maturity and body location are probably the most important.

Colours of the lean and fat are important characteristics of a normal, wholesome products. Most diseased or unnatural conditions will change the colour from what is considered normal for the species. Generally the colour of the fat will be from pure white to a creamy yellow for all animals. Pink or reddish fat probably means that the animal had a fever or was extremely excited prior to slaughter. The colour of the muscle tissues for normal product should be:

Meat Colour
Beef Bright cherry red
Goat meat Light pink to red
Lamb Light pink to red
Pork Greyish pink
Veal Light pink to red
Venison Dark red

Almost always tissues from older animals are darker in colour. At times the fat on some carcasses from young animals will be dark yellow because of the breed which lacks the ability to convert yellow carotene to colourless vitamin A and/or because the animals have consumed large amounts of green forage. It is not uncommon for aged ruminant animals to have carcasses with yellow fat.

At times animals will suffer from stress prior to slaughter and signs of their reaction will be evident in the carcass. Stressed cattle often produce dark cutters in which the muscle is not the normal bright cherry red but rather is dark red and sticky. Hogs suffering from porcine stress syndrome (PSS) prior to slaughter may yield carcasses that are pale, soft and exudative (PSE) or dark, firm and dry (DFD). Exudative carcasses are watery and rapidly lose water. None of these conditions produced by ante-mortem stress renders the product inedible but both lower the palatability and eye appeal of the beef and pork and can be confused with other more serious disease conditions.