Unfortunate Food

Jack Link's Fully-Cooked Ground Beef
rating: :) :)

It's New!  It's Fully-Drained!  It has No Preservatives!  No Refrigeration Needed!  It's Equivalent To 1 Pound Fresh Uncooked Ground Beef!  It even comes with a personal guarantee from Jack Link himself!

"My new fully-cooked ground beef is fully drained and ready to eat, with no messy clean up.  I guarantee the same goodness and flavor as ground beef prepared in your own kitchen.  Just pour it into your favorite meal and heat.  Premium quality, great taste & convenience – you have my word on it!"

With all that going for it, how could you possibly go wrong with this wondrous new product of modern food science?

If you've gone down the "canned meat" aisle of the grocery store lately, you know that foil-pouched, pre-cooked, no-drain, ready-to-use meat products are a big thing right now.  It started out with foil-pouched, no-drain tuna fish, saving you from the hassle of having to drain out the oil or water before making tuna salad out of it.  Then they started doing it with chicken, and after that there was seemingly no stopping them.  I've even seen foil-pouched crabmeat (both the real "c"rab and fake "k"rab varieties) and oysters for sale – which, frankly, seems more than a little disturbing.  But when I came across this foil-pouched, cooked ground beef at the local HEB grocery store, it seemed like a reasonable idea on the face of it... While I suspected it wouldn't be very good for making hamburgers out of, it would be a quick and convenient way to make spaghetti sauce, Hamburger Helpers, and other recipes needing browned-and-crumbled ground beef.  No more keeping an eye on the skillet, no more trying to drain off the hot fat... just tear open the pouch and go, right?  So, flush with excitement over the latest accomplishment of Western Civilization, I picked up a couple of pouches to try it out...

In retrospect, maybe I should have figured there was a reason why HEB had this stuff on "close-out" sale for $1.00 a pouch.

Incidentally, this product comes in three different varieties – "Italian Style", "Mexican Style", and plain ground-beef style.  The plain stuff is actually somewhat tolerable as a Hamburger Helper ingredient, although it still comes up somewhat lacking compared to the real thing.  Notice that Jack Link doesn't guarantee the same texture as ground beef prepared in your own kitchen – and if you look at the next picture, you'll see the reason why...

The unpouched ground beef has a rather "potted meat"-like texture, and smells somewhat like it too.  It certainly doesn't look anything like the tasty-looking mound of crumbled ground beef in the picture, does it!  Well, what the heck, the picture on the package always lies, no big surprise there.  Once it's broken up and crumbled into the spaghetti sauce, who'll know the difference anyway, right?

On the other hand, the fact that the edge of the Italian Style meat slab had a green tinge to it definitely made me doubt the wisdom of proceeding any further.  Green beef-like food product?  How could this be?  Had the miracle of Preservative-Free, Foil-Pouched Food Science failed me?  Had the irradiation and vacuum-sealing process caused the meat-like substance to mutate into the beginnings of a new life form?  Was Sam-I-Am going to show up any moment with a plateful of green eggs and ham to go along with it?  Would the green beef and the red spaghetti sauce annihilate each other on contact, like matter and antimatter?

Well... apparently, none of these things.  A quick call to the company assured me that this was "normal" for the Italian Style variety – apparently, there's enough oregano and other "green" herbs and seasonings in the mix that it tends to color the fat along the edge as it sits in the pouch.  After tasting the results of using it in spaghetti sauce, I can well believe it.

This stuff has a lot of Italian Style spices in the mix!  An eye-crossing amount, actually; I had to dilute it with two cans of spaghetti sauce before it was edible.  When mixed with only a single can, the "Italian Style" still came through so strongly that it tasted like someone had just unscrewed the top of a jar of Italian Seasoning from the spice rack and just dumped the whole thing into the saucepan.  Even with a two-can dilution, it retained a pretty strong flavor that, for some reason, strongly reminded me of black licorice.  Not inedible – though I'm not at all fond of black licorice – but definitely strange, and I can't imagine what they were thinking.  I mean, I'm pretty sure if there was a market for licorice-flavored spaghetti sauce, someone would be selling it by now.  Then again, according to the back of the pouch, this stuff was "packaged under the Brazilian Government Inspection" (sic), so who knows, maybe licorice is considered an "Italian Style" flavor in Brazil.

I would have rated this product lower, but the relative tolerability of the "plain beef" variety in Hamburger Helper and other box-dinner cooking managed to redeem the product line somewhat.  (Although I haven't sampled the "Mexican Style" variety yet – and based on the Italian Style, I probably won't bother, since if the Mexican is as heavily seasoned as the Italian it could prove deadly!)  I can't say I really recommend the stuff, though.

Verdict:   Back to the drawing board, Jack.