The best meat stick
Many diet plans allow followers to indulge in an occasional snack between meals, but finding an acceptable one can be a challenge. Some of the most common snack foods on store shelves are high in sugar, sodium or complex carbohydrates. High-protein meat sticks have become increasingly popular, because they provide hours of between-meal satisfaction without violating the restrictions of paleo, keto, or South Beach diet plans. Not all meat sticks are created equally, however, so it pays to read the nutritional information on the package before purchasing.
Most meat stick snacks sold in grocery stores are shelf-stable, meaning they contain enough preservatives to eliminate the need for refrigeration. Some higher-end or organic meat sticks, however, use very little sodium or chemical preservatives, so they must be kept refrigerated to avoid spoilage. Sugar content is also an important consideration, and some meat stick manufacturers do offer a sugar-free option.
If you would like to add meat sticks to your daily diet, read our helpful shopping guide. We compare both shelf-stable and refrigerated brands to help you choose the one that's right for you. At the top of our list are Mission Meats' Keto Sugar-Free Grass-Fed Beef Snacks, an all-natural and sugar-free option with a good variety of flavors to choose from and a generous portion size.
Considerations when choosing meat sticks
Types of meat
Meat is obviously the star ingredient in any meat stick, but consumers really do have a lot of choices on the shelves. Perhaps the most common option is beef, due to its exceptionally savory flavor profile, high protein content and strong mouthfeel. Many brands tend to offer at least one beef option in their lineup.
Other common meats include chicken, turkey and pork. Chicken and turkey are relatively inexpensive, and are especially lean. Pork contains more fat, but it also takes well to marination. Pork meat sticks can be marketed as teriyaki, barbecue, honey chipotle or other bold flavors.
There are also more exotic meat options, such as buffalo, ostrich or alligator. Some may want to invest in these unusual meat sticks strictly because of the novelty, but others actually prefer the taste of a game or exotic meat over the standard beef, chicken or pork.
Shelf-stable vs. refrigerated
Many people associate meat sticks with the bags of processed sausages or meat jerkies found on convenience store shelves. These shelf-stable meat sticks have been fully cooked, and contain enough preservatives to eliminate the need for refrigeration. This is a positive thing when it comes to portability and storage, but the trade-off can be higher amounts of sodium and a chewier texture.
Some meat sticks are stored in refrigerated food sections, and they need to be kept cool to prevent spoilage. On the plus side, a refrigerated meat stick is not as heavily processed, so it naturally contains fewer preservatives and less sodium. The texture of the meat is also softer, making it a more palatable choice for many people.
Meat sticks marketed as portable snacks are often packaged individually, or in small resealable packs. These are ideal for packed lunches or energy boosts on the hiking trail. The other option is bulk packaging, in which a large number of meat sticks are purchased at one time and doled out as individual snacks. Bulk meat snacks tend to be less expensive per serving than individual snacks, but the contents of a refrigerated bulk pack can spoil eventually.
Some meat stick producers prefer to enhance the natural flavor of the main ingredient, whether it be beef, chicken or pork. The seasoning is often minimal. Some consumers prefer a more seasoned or bold flavor, which means the meat is marinated in a flavorful liquid or heavily seasoned with spices. Others might seek out a popular combination of flavors, such as honey mustard or garlic pepper. It pays to experiment when it comes to discovering a favorite flavor.
Because package sizes vary widely, it may be easier to consider the price per ounce. An inexpensive meat stick with minimal flavoring can cost $0.50 to $0.70 per ounce. A quality mid-range product with traditional meats will cost between $0.75 and $1.25 per ounce. The highest-end organic or refrigerated products, including wild game or exotic meats, will run from $1.50 to $2.00 per ounce.
Q. I'm on a sodium-restricted diet. Can I have meat sticks as a snack?
A. Many processed meat snacks are notoriously high in sodium, but they are also recommended for low-carb diet plans. You should have a discussion with your doctor before starting a low-carb diet or regularly consuming meat sticks.
Q. I've seen meat sticks made from exotic meats such as ostrich or alligator. Are they healthy to eat?
A. It is not unusual for wild game to be processed into meat sticks or jerky. In terms of nutritional value, these exotic meat sticks are just as healthy as more traditional versions.
Meat sticks we recommend
Best of the best: Mission Meats' Keto Sugar-Free Grass-Fed Beef Snacks
Our take: These meat sticks mesh well with many low-carb diet plans and are among the healthiest brands on the market. We like the generous portion sizes.
What we like: Uses grass-fed beef and natural preservatives, no additional nitrates. Variety of flavors available. Casing is all-natural beef collagen.
What we dislike: Some reports of improperly sealed packaging on arrival.
Best bang for your buck: Old Wisconsin's Beef Sausage Snack Sticks
Our take: Very shelf-stable, which makes them ideal for camping or between-meal snacking. Generous package size.
What we like: Affordable price point. Resealable package prevents spoilage and dryness. Variety of meat flavors available, with a good smoky undertone.
What we dislike: Flavor profile can vary widely from pack to pack. Occasional "off" taste reported.
Our take: These jerky-style meat sticks are surprisingly low in sodium, and each stick only has 100 calories. Ideal for low-carb dieters who still want to reduce caloric intake.
What we like: Contains all-natural ingredients, including grass-fed beef. Lower in sodium than many other brands. Available in multiple flavors.
What we dislike: Texture is noticeably different than other brands we examined.
Michael Pollick is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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