White Meat
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White Meat is largely made up of “fast twitch,” “fight or flight” muscle fibers which are excellent for brief bursts of quick activity. Fast twitch muscles process a lot of energy quickly, but also tire rapidly. As opposed to the “slow twitch” muscles in Dark Meat powered by Myoglobin (which give Dark Meat its red color), the fast twitch muscles in White Meat are fueled by Glycogen that is stored in the muscles. When the Glycogen runs out, it’s like running out of the fuel. White Meat has a whitish-pinkish color and a translucent "glassy" quality when it is Raw.

White Meat is found in areas that do limited bursts of quick, fast work. Think of a Fish darting away from danger, or a Chicken making a short, hopping, squawking flight.  The White Meat will be found in the areas responsible for the short burst of activity, namely the Filet in the Fish and the Chicken Breast and Chicken Wings of a Chicken.

Endurance muscles (Dark Meat) will be found in body parts that do slow, steady work such as the fish tail or the Chicken Legs. Similarly, in other animals and species, if the muscle does more endurance work, like migration for Ducks and Geese, there will be much more Dark Meat with significant amounts of Myoglobin.

Varieties

White Meat in Beef

There are some fast twitch muscles in Beef, but never in high enough concentrations to yield White Meat. Veal (calf meat) is considered a White Meat, but in reality the meat appears white because the animal is too young to have developed much Myoglobin. Also, calves that are raised for veal often have their movement restricted in order to prevent the development of endurance muscles which creates tougher, beefy flavored dark meat.

White Meat in Pork

If pressed about whether Pork is a White Meat or a Dark Meat, there’s a good chance we would think of the pork marketing slogan, “The Other White Meat” and answer that Pork is White Meat. And we’d be wrong. Pork marketers, envious of the sales numbers and margins generated by the poultry producers, traded on the fact that Pork meat presents as lighter in color when they crafted that marketing message. Pork is a lighter color than Beef, but is actually all Dark Meat, complete with Myoglobin present in the muscles. Pork often appears lighter in color because the Myoglobin is less concentrated in Hog muscles, and also the hogs are typically slaughtered very young and haven’t had a chance to develop much Myoglobin and Dark Meat. Another reason the meat is pale is modern production methods don’t allow most Hogs free range and exercise; as a result, their muscles often atrophy and avoid creating significant amounts of Dark Meat.

White Meat in Poultry

Poultry can have both White Meat and Dark Meat depending on the amount of endurance work done by the animal. Breast meat is a good example of the dual nature of the avian muscles. Birds that do a lot of flying have large dark meat pectoral muscles. Think of Ducks and Geese where the breast meat is Dark Meat. Birds that are largely flightless, such as Chickens and Turkeys, have a White Meat Breast. The amount of endurance-type work performed or avoided drives the formation of Dark Meat or White Meat in Poultry.

Ducks and Geese are all Dark Meat. Both their wings (flying) and legs (swimming) do a lot of endurance work. Chickens and Turkeys have a mixture of White Meat and Dark Meat. In Chicken, White Chicken Meat is found in Chicken Breasts, and to some extent in Chicken Wings. The same is true of Turkey. White Turkey Meat is found in the Turkey Breast and in portions of the Turkey Wing.

Obviously, there is only so much desirable White Meat on any given bird. Poultry producers have been working on this problem and since the 1970s have altered the ratio of white breast meat to dark leg meat through selective breeding. When the programs started, breast meat accounted for 36% of an average chicken’s total retail weight. Today, white breast meat is closer to 40% of the total retail weight of the average chicken. We see it in the individual cellophane-wrapped, boneless, skinless packages of breast which used to weigh 8 ounces in 1980 but weigh nearly 11 oz today.

Industry is also trying to perfect a technique to transform less desirable Dark Meat into more desirable White Meat. In the late 90’s, the U.S.D.A. provided funding to Dr. Mirko Betti, working at the University of Georgia (now at the University of Alberta), to find new uses for Dark Meat. Dr. Betti synthesized White Meat with a product akin to Surimi, (the synthetic crab meat). He added water to the Dark Meat and then centrifuged the resulting slurry to remove the fat and Myoglobin. His experiments yielded a chunky white meat milkshake which you may soon find used in “White Meat” nuggets, burgers, etc. Caveat Emptor, or let the buyer beware.

Culinary Uses

Leaner, tender White Meat also cooks more quickly than Dark Meat, making it appropriate for some quicker Dry Heat Methods such as SautéingGrillingBroiling, etc. The difference in cooking times between white and dark makes perfectly cooking White Meat and Dark Meat together, a Whole Chicken for example, highly problematic. Many chefs solve this problem by separating the White Chicken Meat and the Dark Chicken Meat so that each can be cooked to a proper Final Cooking Temperature.

Because White Meat can come from a number of livestock animals, ranging from Pork to Poultry, it is impractical to try to cover all of the nuances of cooking it in a single sub-section of a Resource page. Instead we will discuss some generalities here and leave the rest for other Resources, Topics and Exercises.

White Meat is usually tender, though it can be a little tough if the animal is older. It is taken as gospel that Chicken Breast or Turkey Breast will be White Meat, and in most commercial birds this is true. The exceptions are Heritage, Wild or Free-Range Birds that do more work with their chests and wings by flying, Endurance Work builds Dark Meat, which is tougher. The bigger considerations with White Meat are flavor and cooking times. White Meat has a blander taste than Dark Meat and can more easily get too dry when cooked.  

In most cases, White Meat will not need Tenderizing with Marinades or Rubs, but can still benefit from the flavor enhancement such treatments offer.

White Meat should go into the pan (or onto the Grill) with the presentation side down first. At Smart Kitchen, that is almost always Skin-Side Down first (assuming it is skin-on). A nice golden brown skin makes an appealing presentation. We also like to start Skin-Side Down because placing the skin close to the heat allows any natural Fat in the skin to Render and add flavor to the meat before joining the other flavorful fats in the pan to cook the meat.

Different White Meats from different livestock or wild stock require different Finish Cooking Times for health and palatability. White Meat in Poultry should be cooked to an Internal Temperature of 165° F (74° C). White Meat in Finfish, on the other hand, should only be cooked to an Internal Temperature of 145° F (63° C). The difference in cooking temperatures is because White Meat fish is more delicate than White Meat Poultry, and seafood does not normally harbor the same pathogens as Poultry. 

It is important to remember that White Meat cooks more quickly than Dark Meat. This fact makes perfectly cooking a Whole Chicken problematic. One solution which many chefs prefer is to separate the White Meat from the Dark Meat when cooking both for a meal. Smart Kitchen’s Exercises on Roasting a Whole Chicken and Roasting a Whole Turkey are good examples of how to manage the process.

For more specific information on the nutrition, purchasing, storing and cooking of particular White Meat types or specific White Meat Portion Cuts, see Smart Kitchen’s Protein topics on each type of meat or the individual exercises for each Primal CutSub-Primal Cut or Portion Cut.

Nutrition

Because White Meat is not an endurance muscle, it is leaner than Dark Meat (slightly leaner by less than half a gram of Fat per 100 g of skinless meat) and has a milder flavor. Much has been written about The Health Differences between White Meat and Dark Meat. The short version is that White Meat has a little less Fat and less Connective Tissue than Dark Meat.

Low Fat

Yes

Low Calorie

Yes