Which is better - Chicken Meat or Chicken Meal?

There are some nutritionists, veterinarians, dog food reviewers who are under the impression that all Chicken or Turkey (meat) is more nutritious than Chicken or Turkey Meal, when used as ingredients in dog food.

This is a fairly common misconception.


It actually depends completely on the quality of the sourced chicken and turkey - not whether it is meat or meat meal.

Once in the dog food they are identical nutritionally if they are sourced from the same USDA inspected facility.


If both the meat and meal meet the following specifications:

"The raw material used to manufacture this product must originate from USDA FSIS (or equivalent agency) inspected facility and derived from animals that have passed a post-mortem inspection. No dead, dying, disabled or diseased animals shall be used."

then the ONLY difference between meat and meal is the amount of water in them when they are weighed to determine their position in the ingredient list if they are taken from the same parts of the animal as is usual with a quality supplier.

The Chicken & Turkey Meat  (Deboned Chicken & Turkey is another term for the meat with original water content) is shipped to the processing plant as a ground up liquid meat slurry that has been frozen into 40 pound blocks of ice that is typically;

68% water, 13% protein, and 14% fat.

The Chicken & Turkey Meal is derived from the same meat but has been precooked to remove most of the water. It is shipped to the plant as dry, concentrated chicken protein that is typically: 

5% water, 67% protein, and 13% fat.

Once the meat is added to the batch of dog food, and cooked, the excess water is cooked off, and at that point the meat and meal are nutritionally identical to each other. While there is no difference nutritionally, the meal contains 5 times more protein than the meat for the same weight.

The Ingredient List is supposed to help the consumer determine the relative amount of the ingredients in the food by comparing their weight but this is ridiculous when you compare one that is 67% water to the same ingredient in another form that is only 5% water. There is absolutely no nutritional value to the water and the comparison at best is meaningless and at worst is purposely misleading. 


In an actual Ingredient List below the Deboned Chicken is listed first and the chicken meal is listed second. The meat always lists higher on the Ingredient List than the meal, despite the meal having 5 times more protein than the meat for the same weight. It is no wonder the consumer has a hard time figuring out what healthy dog food looks like.

Actual Ingredient List: Deboned chicken, chicken meal, dried chicken, oatmeal, barley, brown rice, dried tomato pomace, salmon meal (source of omega 3 fatty acids), chicken fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols), natural flavor, flaxseed (source of omega 6 fatty acids), potassium chloride, direct dehydrated alfalfa pellets, salt, l-threonine, alfalfa nutrient concentrate, calcium carbonate, dried chicory root, dl-methionine, dicalcium phosphate, choline chloride, preserved with mixed tocopherols, sweet potatoes, carrots, zinc amino acid chelate, zinc sulfate, vegetable, etc.

Surprisingly AAFCO regulations allow the frozen block of Chicken or Turkey slurry to be weighed to determine its position in the Ingredient List list before the water is removed. So it is usually first on the list, because the other ingredients, like the meat meal, are weighed after the excess water is removed.

This is confusing and misleading to the average dog owner, and apparently to most dog food reviewers as well, who generally consider chicken meat to be nutritionally superior to Chicken Meal but which, in dog food, is identical.

Chicken Meal has a water content of 5% when it is added to the dog food and Chicken Meat, has a water content of 67% but once that excess water is cooked off the two are identical nutritionally.

Claims that Chicken is more nutritious than chicken meal are false and misleading on two accounts. There is no such thing as 'fresh' Chicken in kibble, since it is all cooked to be made into a kibble form, and; the Chicken Meal has 5 times more protein than the Chicken meat.

Claims that cooking food destroys its nutritional value are interesting since the age expectancy of Americans has been going up steadily and to my knowledge they cook everything they eat. Cooking may indeed reduce the nutritional value to some degree but it is minimal and high quality dog foods add nutrients to balance those lost in cooking 

Some Ultra Premium foods, like Brothers Dog Food, add digestive enzymes to replace those damaged by cooking, which is very expensive and few, if any, other dog foods do it.

This leaves us with the question why do some manufacturers list both Chicken and Chicken Meal in their Ingredient list since they are nutritionally the same thing?  It is a marketing ploy, with AAFCO’s blessing, to insinuate there is added nutritional value to the meat that is not in the meal.

Any company listing Chicken in addition to Chicken Meal is well aware of this misleading ploy, where the ingredient list is concerned, and engages in it deliberately, although one cannot blame them entirely for taking advantage of a rule written and approved by AAFCO that appears to be intentionally misleading.


It's hard to decipher the difference between fact and fiction in the world of dog food and even harder to interpret what is in the food given the complicated and confusing terminology and standards set up by AAFCO which seem designed to confound anyone looking for transparency or clarity.

There is chicken and turkey that goes into dog food that is absolutely awful as described so capably in Susan Thixtons' recent article, "A Buyers Guide to Compare Pet Foods" on her site "Truth about Pet food" so there is no need to reiterate what she has so capably and thoroughly explained. See her comprehensive treatment of the subject at:


Ultimately, I believe, it comes down to trusting the company that makes your dog food and observing the effect a food has on your dog. Healthy food produces healthy dogs.


Read the reviews and you will get an overall sense of the results, and therefore the quality of the food, although you will need to develop the ability to differentiate between fake positive reviews placed by the company, or false negative ones placed by a jealous competitor, versus those placed by real customers. After awhile, with practice, you can usually tell the difference.

If you have other concerns contact the dog food company and talk to the owners, or executives running the company to get answers. If you can’t access the people making the decisions then think about finding a company that you can talk to.

Written by Richard Darlington, CEO

Brothers Dog Food, LLC

September 23, 2023

Revised September 28, 2023