What did dinosaur meat taste like?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Oct. 18 2010 7:09 PM

What Did Dinosaur Meat Taste Like?

Not like chicken.

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty. Click image to expand.

Tyrannosaurus rex may have been a cannibal, according to research released on Friday. A team of paleontologists has discovered T. rex bones with giant teeth marks, suggesting the ancient carnivore either hunted their own species or scavenged their remains. What might these dinosaurs have tasted like?

Advertisement

More like hawk meat than chicken. Many people have glibly suggested that a hunk of dinosaur flesh might have tasted like an oven stuffer. Birds taste a bit like crocodiles, they reason, and both are related to dinosaurs. (Birds are the direct descendants of dinosaurs, and crocodilians are their cousins.) But this simple logic is probably wrong. Countless factors determine the flavor of meat, including the composition of an animal's muscles, its eating habits, and its hormones. Based on the evolutionary tree, we might speculate that T. rex tasted more like poultry than, say, beef or pork. Its flavor would likely have been closer to that of a carnivorous bird—perhaps a hawk—than a chicken. What does a hawk taste like? It's probably not far off from the dark meat of a turkey but would be more pungent because of its all-meat diet.

Crocodiles and chickens both have lots of white meat, which comes from their quick-acting, fast-twitch muscles full of pale glycogen. That fast-twitch anatomy fits these animals' lifestyles: Chickens stand around most of the day, relying on their large breast muscles for the occasional burst of flapping so they can escape into the trees when a predator threatens; crocodiles save their energy for quick lunges at passing meals. But an animal like a T. rex, which seems to have roamed the alluvial plains of western North America in a constant hunt for food, would probably have had more high-endurance, slow-twitch muscle tissue—the kind we think of as dark meat.

Furthermore, farm-raised chickens are mainly granivorous, dining on pellets of corn with small amounts of soy protein. T. rex was a carnivore, dining on herbivorous dinosaurs like triceratops (and, from time to time, his fellow T. rexes). That difference would likely have affected the flavor, in the same way that grass-fed cattle might taste a little different from their corn-fattened cousins. There were some granivorous dinosaurs, a few very closely related to T. rex, which seem to have subsisted on ancient precursors to the cereals of today. These animals might have tasted a bit more like chicken. The less specialized herbivores mostly ate plants like horsetail and ferns.

Drumsticks are likely to have been the most plentiful source of T. rex meat, with other large deposits in the neck and back. With such tiny little arms, Tyrannosaurus rex had a relative paucity of breast meat, though, at six tons per animal, there was plenty of just about everything. If the king of the dinosaurs had any white meat at all, it would have been in the tail, which may have been whipped around as a weapon. It's also possible that the tail was used exclusively for balance.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Nick Longrich of Yale University and Paul Sereno of the University of Chicago.

Like  Slate  and the Explainer  on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?