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Cooked T-bone steak showing "T" shaped bone
Cut of raw salmon showing bone in the centre
Meat on the bone or, more rarely, bone-in meat 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, and to fish. 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.

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.

Effect on flavour and texture

The principle 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. The bone also conducts heat within the meat so that it cooks more evenly and prevents meat drying out and shrinking during cooking.

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.

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 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 however bones can sometimes be used as handles to make the meat easier to eat.

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. As a result, import of meat on the bone remains more restricted that of filleted meat in many countries.

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 and bones being trapped under the tongue.

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.


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. 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 Kingdommarker 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. This lead to criticism that the government was overreacting. The European Union also considered banning beef and lamb on the bone. The UK ban lasted from December 1997 to December 1999 when it was lifted and the risk from beef on the bone declared negligible.

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" 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


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