Meat quality is normally defined by the compositional quality (lean to fat ratio) and the palatability factors such as visual appearance, smell, firmness, juiciness, tenderness, and flavour. The nutritional quality of meat is objective yet "eating" quality, as perceived by the consumer, is highly subjective.
The visual identification of quality meat is based on colour, marbling and waterholding capacity. Marbling is small streaks of fat that are found within the muscle and can be seen in the meat cut. Marbling has a beneficial effect on juiciness and flavour of meat. Meat should have a normal colour that is uniform throughout the entire cut. Beef, lamb, and pork should also have marbling throughout the meat.
Another quality factor is smell. The product should have a normal smell. This will be different for each of the species (i.e. beef, pork, chicken), but should vary only slightly within the species. Any rancid or strange smelling meat should be avoided.
Meat should appear firm rather than soft. When handling the retail package, it should be firm, but not tough. It should give under pressure, but not actually be soft.
Juiciness depends on the amount of water retained in a cooked meat product. Juiciness increases flavour, helps soften meat - making it easier to chew, and stimulates saliva production in the mouth. Water retention and lipid content determine juiciness. Marbling and fat around edges helps hold in water. Water losses are from evaporation and drip losses. Meat aging can increase water retention and therefore increases juiciness.
Has been linked to several factors, such as the animal's age, sex or the muscle location. One important way to tenderize meat is by aging. Carcasses are aged by holding them at refrigeration temperatures for extended periods of time after slaughter and initial chilling.
Flavour and aroma are intertwined to create the sensation the consumer has during eating. These perceptions rely on the smell through the nose and on the sensations of salty, sweet, sour and bitter on the tongue. Meat flavour is affected by type of species, diet, cooking method and method of preservation (e.g. smoked or cured).