The aim of the present study was to examine the association of red meat, white meat and processed meat consumption in Irish adults with dietary quality. A cross-sectional study of subjects, randomly selected using the electoral register, estimated habitual food intakes using a 7 d food diary in a nationally representative sample of 662 men and 717 women (not pregnant or lactating) aged 18-64 years. Consumers were classified into thirds, based on the distribution of mean daily intakes for red meat, white meat and processed meat. The mean intakes of red meat, white meat and processed meat were 51, 33 and 26 g/d respectively, and men consumed significantly more (P < 0.001) than women for all meat types. In men, red meat consumption was associated with lower (P < 0.001) prevalence of inadequacy for Zn, riboflavin and vitamin C intakes. Increasing processed meat intake was associated with a lower (P < 0.01) level of compliance with dietary recommendations for fat, carbohydrate and fibre in men. Increasing processed meat consumption was associated with lower (P < 0.01) wholemeal bread, vegetables, fruit and fish intakes in men and women. Managerial occupations were associated with lower processed meat intakes. It is important to distinguish between meat groups, as there was a large variation between the dietary quality in consumers of red meat, white meat and processed meat. Processed meat consumption is negatively associated with dietary quality and might therefore be a dietary indicator of poor dietary quality. This has important implications in nutritional epidemiological studies and for the development of food-based dietary guidelines.