Meat on the bone

Meat on the bone
Cooked T-bone steak showing "T" shaped bone
Cut of raw salmon showing bone in the centre

Meat on the bone, also called bone-in meat[1] is meat that is sold with some or all of the bones included in the cut or portion, i.e. meat that has not been filleted. The phrase "on the bone" can also be applied to specific types of meat, most commonly ham on the bone[2], and to fish[3]. Meat or fish on the bone may be cooked and served with the bones still included or the bones may be removed at some stage in the preparation[4].

Examples of meat on the bone include T-bone steaks, chops, spare ribs, chicken leg portions and whole chicken. Examples of fish on the bone include unfilleted plaice and some cuts of salmon.

Meat on the bone is used in many traditional recipes.[5]


Effect on flavour and texture

The principal advantage of cooking meat on the bone is that it adds flavour and texture. Albumen and collagen in the bones release gelatine when boiled which adds substance to stews, stocks, soups and sauces[6]. The bone also conducts heat within the meat so that it cooks more evenly and prevents meat drying out and shrinking during cooking[4][7].

Cooking meat on the bone

Meat on the bone typically cooks faster than boneless meat when roasted in a joint. However, individual portions such as chops can take longer to cook than their filleted equivalents[8][6].

Value for money

Meat on the bone is quicker and easier to butcher as there is no filleting involved. Filleting is a skilled process that adds to labour and wastage costs as meat remaining on the bones after filleting is of low value (although it can be recovered). As a result meat on the bone can be better value for money[7] however relative value can be hard to judge as the bone part of the product is inedible. Different portions may contain a greater or lesser proportion of bone.

Ease of handling

The presence of bones may make meat products more bulky, less regular in shape and less easy to pack. Bones may make preparation and carving more difficult[9] however bones can sometimes be used as handles to make the meat easier to eat[6].

Import restrictions

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is a contagious disease affecting cloven-hoofed animals. Because FMD rarely infects humans but spreads rapidly among animals, it is a much greater threat to the agriculture industry than to human health.

FMD can be contracted by contact with infected meat, with meat on the bone representing a higher risk than filleted meat[10]. As a result, import of meat on the bone remains more restricted that of filleted meat in many countries[11].

Health issues


Meat and fish served on the bone can present a risk of accident or injury. Small, sharp fish bones are the most likely to cause injury although sharp fragments of meat bone can also cause problems. Typical injuries include bones being swallowed and becoming trapped in the throat[12] and bones being trapped under the tongue[13].

Discarded bones can also present a risk of injury to pets or wild animals as some types of cooked meat bone break into sharp fragments when chewed[14].


Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as "mad cow disease", is a fatal brain disease affecting cattle. It is believed by most scientists that the disease may be transmitted to human beings who eat the brain or spinal cord of infected carcasses.[15] In humans, it is known as new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD or nvCJD), and is also fatal.

The largest outbreak of BSE was in the United Kingdom, with several other countries affected to a lesser extent. The outbreak started in 1984, and continued into the 1990s, leading to increasing concern among governments and beef consumers as the risk to humans became known, but could not be quantified. Many countries banned or restricted the import of beef products from countries affected by BSE.

Animal brain and spinal cord had already been removed from the human and animal food chain when, in 1997, prion infection was also detected in the dorsal root ganglia within the spinal column of infected animals. As a result, beef on the bone was banned from sale in the UK as a precaution[16][17]. This led to criticism that the government was overreacting[18]. The European Union also considered banning beef and lamb on the bone[19]. The UK ban lasted from December 1997 to December 1999, when it was lifted and the risk from beef on the bone declared negligible[20].

Use as a metaphor

The phrase "meat on the bones" is used metaphorically to mean substance. For example "I expect that we'll start putting some meat on the bones of regulatory reform"[21] indicates an intention to add detail and substance to plans for regulatory reform and implies that these plans were previously only set out in broad or vague terms.

The phrase to "flesh out" relies of the same imagery in which a basic idea is likened to a skeleton or bones and the specific details of the idea to meat or flesh on that skeleton.

See also


  1. ^ The Complete Meat Cookbook, Bruce Aidells, Denis Kelly, 2001 pp206
  2. ^ The larder chef: food preparation and presentation, Mario Jack Leto, Willi Karl Heinrich Bode, 2006 pp182
  3. ^ Food preparation and cooking, Rowland Foote, Malcolm John Ware, 1996 pp411
  4. ^ a b Delia Smith: Lamb
  5. ^ The Independent: Chop chop: Star recipes from Mark Hix's new restaurant
  6. ^ a b c The Sydney Morning Herald: Savour the flavour
  7. ^ a b LBC: Cooking in the credit crunch
  8. ^ The Evening Inn: Buying and Cooking Lamb
  9. ^ Highland Cattle World: Roast Highland Beef
  10. ^ Food and Agriculture Organization: Reports Archive: 33rd session - Appendix 17
  11. ^ AOL News: EU relaxes beef import restrictions for Brazil, Argentina
  12. ^ Fish bone injuries of the upper aerodigestive tract, Bombay Hospital Journal. 2000 Jul; 42(3): 508-9
  13. ^ Nasendoscopy guided removal of fish bones from the base of tongue and the vallecula, The Journal of Laryngology & Otology (1995), 109:534-535 Cambridge University Press
  14. ^ Turkey Bones Spell Trouble for Pets
  15. ^ "Commonly Asked Questions About BSE in Products Regulated by FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN)". Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food and Drug Administration. 2005-09-14. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  16. ^ British Medical Journal: [1]
  17. ^ The Independent: Beef on the bone is banned in new scare
  18. ^ The Irish News: Meat-on-the-bone lovers rush to beat the ban
  19. ^ BBC News: EU scientists want meat-on-the-bone ban
  20. ^ European Union DG Health and Consumer Protection: Scientific Steering Committee issues opinions
  21. ^ The Toronto Star: U.S. dollar weakness hurts G20

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