Iva Carter
Published by Iva Carter
Last Updated On: March 16, 2023

I’ve been a huge fan of deli meats since my childhood, and I’ve eaten countless amounts of them since I started my carnivore lifestyle a decade ago.

Today, I’ll explain everything you should know about cold meat products, including their contents, types, and their potential impact on your health.

Quick Summary

  • Deli meat is also called lunch meats and cold cuts. These are processed meat.
  • Lunch meats can be beef, pork, turkey, fresh chicken, or a mix of different meats.
  • Deli counter meat contains meat additives and isn’t very healthy.

What’s Deli Meat?

A close up image of deli meat on a cutting board

Deli meat is fresh or canned meat that’s precooked. It’s also called cold cuts and is usually available as loaves, canned, sliced, or prepacked in vacuum packages.

Deli meats can be divided into three categories:

  • Freshly cooked meat — These are pieces of freshly cooked and flavored meat with salt and spices. The most common fresh deli cut is baked turkey or roasted beef.
  • Moderately processed — These are pieces of excess meat removed from the bone and then ground. When the meat is ground, its emulsified into a batter to which flavors and additives are added. The meat is placed in a cylindrical package or in a mold to be moved to the smokehouse, where it’s cooked for several hours, after which it’s packaged as one piece or sliced.
  • Very processed — These meats go through a similar process as moderately processed meats. This is a mix of beef, veal, turkey, or chicken. The meat is ground to reach consistency, blended to a paste, emulsified, and added preservatives and sugar. The meat is cased into a shape and moved to the dripping room, where it’s aged for a few days, cooked, and smoked. Finally, the meat is packaged as one piece or sliced. An example is hot dogs and meat loaves.

You Might Also Like: How Long Is Deli Meat Good For?

Types of Deli Meat

A top view image of different types of deli meat

These are the most common types of deli counter meat:

  • Chorizo — Cured Spanish sausage, usually made from pork, black pepper, garlic, and paprika. It has a red color and a strong flavor. You can eat chorizo raw or cooked.
  • Prosciutto — Comes from the pork leg. The meat is salted and then left to age in a cold climate for about a year.
  • Ham — Comes from pork leg. This is cured meat. Nowadays, ham is usually wet cured, which means it’s treated with salt before cooking. This makes canned hams moist.
  • Pepperoni — Is a spicy, cured sausage. It can be made from pork or beef or a mix of both. Pepperoni is most commonly used on a pizza. You can keep it in the fridge for about two weeks.
  • Chicken Roll — It is made from chicken meat with seasonings. It can be added to sandwiches or used as lunch meat. You can chop the chicken roll and use them in salads or as pizza toppings.
  • Salami — Is cured sausage made from pork or beef with herbs and spices. Salami goes through a process of salting, drying, and occasionally smoking. It’s commonly used on pizzas and sandwiches.
  • Chicken Breast — Comes from whole chicken breast fillets. You can buy sliced or shaven chicken breast. It’s commonly used in wraps and sandwiches.
  • Turkey Breast — This is pure turkey breast meat roasted in the oven. It’s fat-free, so it’s healthy lunch meat. Turkey breast is often used in sandwiches and wraps, but you can also add it to a salad or pizza.
  • Beef Pastrami —Is made from corned beef with pepper and spices, which is then smoked for added flavor. You can find it at a deli counter as one of the popular deli cuts.
  • Roast Beef — Is made from beef that’s roasted in the oven. You can also get lean roast beef if you’re watching your calorie intake. Use roast beef well-chilled, so you get the best flavor.

Most deli meats have a short shelf life and should be kept in the fridge for about two days.

“If your only option is prepackaged lunch meat, you’ll want to read the food label carefully, specifically the ingredients and what’s been added. Look for nitrates and nitrites-free and low-sodium options and make sure you understand the serving size.”
- Julia Zumpano, RD. for Harvard Health

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What’s in the Deli Meat?

Different deli meats on a white plate

Here’s what you can commonly find in deli meats:

  • Sodium nitrate — Sodium nitrite can combine with amines, which is cancerogenic. That’s why the World Health Organization classified processed meats as Class 1 carcinogen, so this isn’t the best of ingredients [1].
  • Sodium— Sodium is added during meat processing for better taste and longer shelf life. Sodium can include salt, sodium nitrite, and sodium erythorbate. Because of this, many deli meats have a high amount of sodium.
  • Fats — Deli cuts that are a combo of meats, for example, pork and beef, are high in saturated fats.
  • Other ingredients — Other common ingredients deli counter meats have are sugar, natural flavors, emulsifiers, gelation, modified food starch, and others, many of which have potential health risks.

Also Read: Can You Freeze Lunch Meat?


What is Considered Deli Meat?

Meat that’s considered deli meat is meat that’s cooked and sliced in food processors for a sandwich or lunch. It’s also called cold cuts, sliced meat, and lunch meat.

Are Deli Meats Healthy?

No, deli meats aren’t very healthy. Processed meat consumption means getting a lot of saturated fat, salt, and sodium, which can cause cancer and obesity.

How Often Can You Eat Deli Meat While Pregnant?

You shouldn’t eat deli meat while pregnant. These meats can have bacteria that are dangerous for pregnant women.

Should You Have Deli Meats?

Deli meats are delicious and extremely easy to use. Just pop a deli turkey between two slices of bread, and you have a sandwich. Plus, there’s a wide variety of deli cuts — you can choose between chicken, turkey, pork, and beef deli meats.

However, a big downside is that this isn’t the healthiest meat. You can try making deli-style meat on your own for a healthier version.

Check out our round-up of the 11 best meat delivery services. Each of these services sells only high-quality meat, most of which is grass-fed, so you don’t have to fear you’re eating something unhealthy. Plus, each delivery service has a large selection of meat cuts. Choose the one that works best for you, and get delicious meat.


  1. https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/
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