Offal, or Organ Meats

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Animals have muscles because they nourish themselves on other living things and must move around to find them. And they have innards—livers, kidneys, intestines, and other organs—to break down these complex foods and separate the useful building blocks from waste materials, to distribute nourishment throughout the body, and to coordinate the body’s activities.

The word meat is used most commonly to mean the limb-moving skeletal muscles of animals. But skeletal muscle only accounts for about half of the animal body. The various other organs and tissues are also nutritious and offer their own diverse, often pronounced flavors and textures. The nonskeletal muscles—stomach, intestines, heart, tongue—generally contain much more connective tissue than ordinary meats—up to 3 times as much—and benefit from slow, moist cooking to dissolve the collagen. The liver contains relatively little collagen: it is an agglomeration of specialized cells held together by a network of connective tissue that, because it experiences little mechanical stress, is unusually fine and delicate. Liver is thus tender if minimally cooked, crumbly and dry if over-cooked.