Slim Jims are a convenience store staple: four-inch (or more) sticks of processed meat manufactured and sold by major food conglomerate ConAgra. Since they were first invented by a man named Adolph Levis in 1928, they’ve undergone a lot of formula changes. The current formula was devised by a man named Lon Adams, who worked for then-parent company Goodmark, in 1982. These things are a wonder of science, but are also about as processed as it gets. So how exactly are they made?
This very cool video from Wired puts the ingredient listing into layman’s terms, and it’s a little frightening. It starts with beef (most likely the lower grades from the oldest cows, called utility, cutter, and canner). It’s ground and mixed with mechanically separated chicken, which is the chicken equivalent of “pink slime” (even though the production process is different), essentially puréed chicken bones, nerves, blood vessels, skin, and a small amount of meat. Sugar, spices, additional flavorings, and a whole lot of salt (one-sixth the daily recommended intake) are then added, along with corn and wheat protein (for texture), and hydrolyzed gluten (which gives it an MSG-like savoriness). Traditional sausage-making ingredients lactic acid starter culture (which keeps the pH balance down) and sodium nitrite (which prevents botulism and keeps the meat red) are then added, and the slurry is piped into a casing and allowed to ferment until ready to eat.
Surprisingly, a lot of this process isn’t so different from how any cured sausage is made. The main concern is the quality of the actual meat. If you haven’t figured it out already, anything with mechanically separated chicken should be firmly planted on your “do not eat” list.