Beef sticks are the ultimate convenience. They’re like mini steak sticks, full of protein and low on carbs. They have to be good for you, right?
What are beef sticks?
Beef sticks are smoked sticks of beef similar to sausages and designed to make eating beef on-the-go easy. They are made of seasoned beef and spices that are cured and stuffed into a convenient package.
Most beef sticks are softer and easier to eat than traditional jerky, and their shelf-life and nutritional value vary widely depending on the ingredients used. Many beef sticks also blend meats together to either cut costs or strategically improve flavor (e.g. blending high-quality pork fat into beef for extra taste).
Are beef sticks healthy?
When well-sourced and eaten as part of a balanced diet, beef sticks are a great high-protein, low-carb, and mineral-packed snack. You just need to be mindful of industrial beef sticks full of sodium, artificial ingredients, and high saturated fat.
In short, the brand you choose and the amount you eat determines most of its nutritional value.
Industrial beef sticks suffer from some of the worst impacts of mass production. Cattle raised for industrial meat are fed exclusively grain and are propped up by antibiotics to curb the inevitable disease that rips through feedlots due poor conditions. Those choices affect the quality of the meat that you eat. Most beef sticks are injected with artificial preservatives to extend the shelf-life without refrigeration as well.
Skip all of that by opting for grass-fed and grass-finished beef sticks. It will taste better, and you get increased Vitamin A and B per serving [*]. Habits steer our lives, and choosing healthy meat matters.
Here are a few specific health benefits of beef sticks:
High in protein
Beef sticks serve as a good source of high-quality proteins, which are essential for muscle repair and maintenance [*]. Most beef sticks have between 6 and 10 grams of protein per 100 calories. If you’re in the gym and trying to gain muscle, these can be a good option.
Good for energy
All the protein and healthy fats make beef sticks a convenient energy source. Most beef sticks have around 7-10g of fat and protein per stick, making them a reliable choice for hard workouts or long days.
Low-carb or zero-carb
Outside of flavored beef sticks or companies that include sugar in their beef, most beef sticks are zero-carb. This makes them a fantastic choice for people following keto or other low-carb diets.
Has healthy fats
This is only true of grass-fed beef from good sources, but good beef has a good ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, along with plenty of unsaturated fats. Fats have gotten a bad dietary rep, but they are an essential macronutrient and should not be viewed as fundamentally unhealthy — especially when low-fat products are often filled with additional sugar and refined carbohydrates.
Good minerals and vitamins
Beef sticks also include iron, zinc, and B vitamins. These nutrients play vital roles in energy metabolism, and immune function [*].
When are beef sticks bad for you?
In industrial production, beef sticks are reminiscent of hot dogs — blended bits and pieces slammed full of preservatives and flavorings to cover up low-quality beef and extend shelf life. That convenience and profit-minded techniques have a negative impact on the beef stick’s nutrition and are rightfully targeted by the health-conscious.
Most of the negative nutritional value listed below is related to those beef sticks, but some, like high sodium content, do apply to grass-fed beef sticks as well.
May be high in sodium
Curing beef is the process of adding some combination of salt, sugar, nitrite, and/or nitrate for the purposes of preservation, flavor, and color [*]. With salt comes lots of sodium, which is why all beef sticks have a significant amount of sodium.
The curing process makes sodium unavoidable in beef sticks, but keep an eye out on beef sticks with sodium of 400mg or more per serving. That’s a bit excessive.
Sodium intake beyond the daily recommended value of 1,500mg can contribute to elevated blood pressure and other cardiovascular issues [*]. This is even more important for people with health conditions who have been advised to cut sodium.
May contain nitrates and nitrites
Manufacturers add nitrates or nitrites (a form of salt) to meat to preserve them. They’re the reason why cured meat is pink or red. In meat, nitrites turn into nitric oxide. This reacts with proteins in the meat, changing its color and helping with preservation [*].
The jury on nutritional risks of consumption of nitrates and nitrites is still being debated, but carcinogenic compounds called nitrosamines form when these ingredients are put under high heat. Nitrosamines are some of the main carcinogens in tobacco smoke, for example [*].
Some nutritionists advise removing these compounds from your diet when possible for this reason.
If you want to avoid nitrates and nitrites, look at the ingredients label for sodium nitrate, sodium nitrite, potassium nitrate, and potassium nitrite.
Outside of that, try to buy local, opt for grass-fed beef and pasture-raised pork, and avoid burning meat like bacon [*].
May contain lots of saturated fat
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and can be problematic for people sensitive to cholesterol [*]. While studies are increasingly showing that increased health risks from cholesterol are more genetic than dietary, if you do have cholesterol risks you should consult with your doctor before consuming too much saturated fat.
For most people, The American Heart Association recommends getting 5% to 6% of your calories from saturated fat, so just check the labels to make sure you aren’t eating it in excess.
May contain additional additives and preservatives
From sugar to MSG, to the nitrites listed above, commercial beef sticks are notorious for the number of ingredients packed into something that should be simple — it’s just beef, right? While most of these ingredients are recognized as safe, which is why they are legal, it runs counter to much of the nutritional literature that champions simple, whole foods that are closer to the source. I like to follow the “if you can’t name what’s in it, should you be eating it?” advice as a general heuristic.
How long are beef sticks good for?
Unopened and refrigerated or frozen beef sticks can easily last over a year. Opened beef sticks should be treated like any other cooked leftover. For packaged beef sticks, it depends on the kind. Commercial, preservative-packed beef sticks can last well over a year (just reference the expiration date).
Beef sticks from better sources have a good but shorter shelf life, but that’s a small price to pay for better taste and nutrition.
How to choose a healthy meat stick
Choose grass-fed beef, pasture-raised pork, and avoid any “mystery meat”. Unless the stick you choose specifically names the meat it was made with, you can assume it’s not as healthy. The cheaper the stick, the more likely they are cutting corners on taste and nutritional value. Beef sticks that have long shelf lives designed to spend years in a gas station are also suspect.
In short, opt for shorter ingredient lists from transparent companies that proudly present their sourcing and don’t hide behind clever marketing tactics.
Speaking of which, US Wellness Meats has created a mild, great-tasting 60% pork/40% beef, sugar-free, nitrate-free, and GMO-free snack stick.
The pork is sourced from the same small farms in the Midwest we have used for the past 14 years. The pigs are heirloom breeds that are antibiotic and GMO-free from birth and live a life comparable to pigs raised in the 1950s. One unique feature of these heirloom breeds is their ability to produce more intramuscular fat than their 21st-century counterparts. The extra pork fat is the secret to great taste. Plus pork combined with beef has always been a win-win.
All US Wellness Meats pigs are GAP-certified, Prop 12, and unconfined with access to the They are also raised with USDA organic practices, free of artificial pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, synthetic hormones, GMOs, or other synthetic contaminants.
The ingredients are short. The taste is big. The convenience is even bigger.
When to use beef sticks
There are many ways beef sticks can fit into your life. For example:
- Eating a beef stick before a workout.
- Taking them on a hike or picnic.
- Packing them in your kid’s lunches.
- Keeping them in the office.
- Bringing one on a long run or bike ride.
The bottom line
Beef sticks will always be high in sodium due to their curing process, but the nutritional value of beef sticks varies widely between companies.
They are the targets of many suspect industrial meat practices, but when made correctly they are a high-protein, high-energy snack that is ideal for on-the-go eating and low-carb diets.
Opt for grass-fed beef and pasture-raised pork sticks from companies that are an open book, and aim for shorter ingredient lists.
Nathan Phelps owns and writes for Crafted Copy, a boutique copywriting shop that finds the perfect words for interesting products. He is also an ethical foodie, outdoors-aficionado, and hails from Nashville, TN. He splits his time between helping sustainable businesses find new customers and managing his ever-increasing list of hobbies, which include playing guitar, baking bread, and creating board games.