Let's face it: 2016 is a scary time to be alive. Between widespread political and social unrest, melting ice caps, and Justin Bieber's new facial tattoo, the idea of an impending apocalypse grows realer and realer with each passing day. It's enough to send a person running for the hills -- or, at the very least, breaking ground on an underground bunker and stocking up on batteries, board games, and cases and cases of reliable, long-lasting canned meats.
So if you're considering prepping for our impending doomsday -- and if TLC's current programming is any indication, you fucking better be -- you'll definitely need to know which canned meats (the brand is irrelevant to what's inside the can) are the least disgusting. Spam, Vienna sausages, boiled ham, corned beef, something called "Potted Meat" -- I tried it all so you don’t have to (and also because I was curious to see just how much sodium I could take before vomiting and/or dying of heart failure).
As with any official very serious scientific experiment, there must be rules.
Meats were evaluated in terms of four distinctive categories: appearance, aroma, taste, and texture.
Each canned meat was consumed in its standard recommended form -- that means nuking the meatballs and hash, spreading the spreads on a cracker, and so on.
Pork, chicken, and beef products only. Canned fish is just too universal and boring to make the cut. Also, I really, really, really hate sardines.
Absolutely no vegetables allowed (except potatoes in the hash because that's the whole point of hash).
Now, let's get ready to RUMBLE.
11. Corned beef
Appearance: Revolting. A muddled pinkish brown marbled with layers of gray fat and oil. Aroma: Freshly spit-up cat food with a touch of musty rot Taste: Pronounced oil and fat notes with very little actual meat taste. It's not 100% gag-inducing but this for sure doesn't taste like actual food. Texture: Overwhelming, taste bud-melting mush, punctuated by substantial amounts of grit and slime. Throw me to the zombies -- anything is better than this. Bunker-worthy? I can't even imagine thinking about this stuff again, let alone eating it for the rest of eternity. Also, getting the can open was a nightmare.
10. Luncheon meat
Appearance: It's not so awful-looking. It basically holds its shape despite being the color of putrid, pale flesh. But the sucking sound it made when I pried it from the tin was like nothing I've ever heard. Or want to hear again. Aroma: A somewhat subtle mix of cat puke peppered with bursts of acrid window cleaner Taste: I honestly feel like an atomic bomb's worth of salt just went off inside my mouth, embedding itself within my DNA, ensuring that all my future descendants feel the effects of 2016's luncheon meatpocalypse. Texture: It looked solid at first, but as soon as my fork came within an inch of the thing it crumbled into a pile of cold, grainy mush. And stayed that way. Bunker-worthy? Hard no.
9. Roast beef hash
Appearance: It looks like a large can of dog food, which is frankly a nice break from the cat food aesthetic that seems to dominate. Aroma: It smells just like it looks -- like dog food. Taste: It's not altogether awful but I do pick up on a unsettling nutty tinge, like really old tahini or used peanut oil. Texture: It feels exactly how it looks. This is one book that can safely be judged by its cover. Bunker-worthy? Unless you can fry the shit out of it, no.
Appearance: Remember that photo of the pink slime on its way to becoming a McNugget that showed up on everyone's Facebook feed a few years ago? Aroma: It's so far beyond rank that a stray cat would probably turn up its little scabbed nose at it. Maybe a rat would indulge. Maybe. Taste: Spread on a cracker, it's surprisingly edible! It's really salty, of course, but it reminds me of pimento loaf, which I like, albeit pimento loaf pureed with a bunch of salt and oil. Texture: It's just so slimy. But if you think of it as a dip and not as a meat product, it's not the worst thing ever. Bunker-worthy? I wouldn't stock it, but I do appreciate how not-terrible it tastes. Good effort.
7. Chicken spread
Appearance: Straw yellow with a visually creamy texture, it's not terribly unappealing as far as canned chicken spreads go. Aroma: Pleasantly tangy, like deviled eggs made with some unidentifiable savory spices. Interesting. Taste: I was expecting so much more from you, chicken spread. Why do you taste like chicken noodle soup concentrate that someone ingested and then threw up baby bird-style back into a jar of expired peanut butter? Ick. Texture: It's mushy, but I knew that was coming and its velvety smoothness somewhat makes up for it. Bunker-worthy? I don't want to yuck anyone's yum here but like, what even is this? No way.
6. Cured ham
Appearance: Rubbery but firm with a refreshingly small amount of fat residue on top Aroma: Smells a little like tuna fish but it's not very strong or offensive Taste: Based on its iconic can and relative popularity, I thought the cured ham would be strange and probably unpleasant but not gross. Sadly, it was like biting into a mildly fishy slice of bologna that had been left out in the sun. And then the rain. For three days. Texture: Somehow mushy, stringy, and rubbery at the same time. Sinewy, maybe. Bunker-worthy? Meh, there are worse things to horde. But it's still not great. I'm 50/50 on this one.
5. Chicken breast
Appearance: It looks exactly like canned tuna but paler and in bigger chunks. It's swimming in a murky bath of what appears to be skim milk but what is most likely water. Aroma: It smells exactly like canned tuna. Taste: It tastes exactly like canned tuna. I wish I was eating this stirred up with a ton of mayo and celery and Old Bay and relish. You know, like tuna. Texture: It feels exactly like eating canned tuna. HOW IS THIS NOT TUNA? Bunker-worthy? I mean, if you like tuna, sure.
Appearance: I have fond memories of eating Vienna sausages at my grandmother's house as a kid. But then again, as a kid, I don't think I fully grasped how unappealing and, um, disgustingly suggestive they look. Nope. Aroma: It smells like cold hot dogs, which is fine by me. Taste: It might be the nostalgia speaking (or the approaching meat coma) but these are pretty good! It basically tastes like a lukewarm dirty-water hot dog and I'm not mad at it. Texture: The inside might be a bit mealy but the outside offers enough of that sausage-y pop to cancel it out. Bunker-worthy? Oh yeah. Dice these babies up and toss them in some eggs and you've got yourself one tasty underground breakfast.
3. Smoked ham
Appearance: Visually, it looks soft and pliable, but when I poke it my fork bounces back up into my hand with a shocking amount of force, kind of like the fake food that comes with those Fisher Price play kitchens. Aroma: It smells salty and meaty like actual, honest-to-goodness ham! I was like "Wow! How'd they do that??" And then I realized that it was ham -- it's supposed to smell like that. Taste: Holy Toledo, it tastes like ham, too! Well, to be fair, it approximates the taste of ham, like an expertly made synthetic ham. I'm thinking the generous liquid smoke injection really helps the illusion. Texture: Way too rubbery. It's a nice break from all the mush but it feels not unlike chewing on an eraser. Bunker-worthy? Fine, I'll take it.
Appearance: It looks solid and firm, a real sight for sore eyes. And I can't make out any oil rings or obvious fat deposits, so that's good. Aroma: Again with the cat food. Not great. Taste: Wow! This is completely fine! Good even! No wonder this sucker's so famous. It's salty but so subtle compared to the other sodium bombs. Texture: This feels like actual meat! A little oily, sure, but it actually eats like food. I'm getting seconds. Bunker-worthy? For sure, but make sure you have access to some sort of grilling element down there. This stuff could sing with a little char.
1. Spaghetti with jumbo meatballs
Appearance: While the meat itself is gray and lifeless, the tomato sauce adds a much appreciated splash of color. And the balls are perfectly round, which is so strangely comforting. Aroma: This smells just like my suburban childhood. The only negative is that the sauce really overpowers any hint of meat smell. I can't believe I just used the term "meat smell." Taste: Oh man, I missed this stuff. Even though I really enjoyed this dish, the meatball itself did finish with a mild but lingering chemical flavor that I couldn't ignore. Texture: Each meatball is rather limp and frankly not very meaty. It could be anything, really. It could be a matzoh ball. It might be a matzoh ball. Bunker-worthy? I'm about two beers away from buying a sizable amount of SpaghettiOs stock. Who's with me?
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Meredith Heil is a staff writer for Thrillist. Evidently all she seen was SPAM and raw sardines. Tweet recipes at @mereditto.