Cuts Of Meat: How To Cook Them

A basic breakdown of meat structure and the cooking methods that should be applied.

Have you ever had a piece of meat that was so dry that you could barley get through it without at least 3 beverages? Or perhaps a serving that was so rubbery that you exercised muscles in your jaw you never knew you had? Well, the problem here is not the meat itself but the cook. Depending on where the cut came from would have a lot to do with how it should be prepared. According to food scientist Harold McGee, get on all fours like a cow and crawl along for a while, you neck and shoulder muscles and your hind muscles get a WORKOUT! The muscles in your back, however, receive relatively little use, so in cuts of beef, lamb, veal or pork those cuts that get a workout would be treated differently from the relatively unused muscles. Keep in mind the skeletal structure of all these animals is basically the same.

Shoulder, neck and shank muscles have a lot of connective tissues that are made up of collagen. Collagen is tough enough to floss your teeth with, not a desirable characteristic of a pot roast! An interesting thing about collagen though is that it turns to gelatin with heat, and most rapidly so around the boiling point of water. Brisket, shanks, shoulder clods, and chuck roast all contain lots of connective tissue rich in collagen, so stew or braise these cuts so that the collagen can breakdown with out the meat drying out.

As far as roasts are concerned, high heat is OK to brown the meat, but then turn it down to a lower heat so it cooks slower and there is less shrinkage and moisture loss due to more aggravated constricting of muscle fibers because of high heat. High heat is OK for thinner steaks, especially those with higher fat content and muscle tissue that has seen relatively little use, like tenderloin (filet) steaks, sirloin steaks, New York strip steaks,rib steaks,ect.. Saute', grilling or broiling is ok here. Remember, marbling has a lot to do with meat staying moist, so fat content has to be taken into consideration, the more marbling the moister it will be. Leaner cut steaks from the leg, or round, may need some tenderizing by pounding, or chemically by means of marinades or enzyme tenderizers, and since there is not a lot of marbling medium rare to medium cooking temps will be about as done as you'll want to go. As far as round roasts are concerned slower roasting temps are recommended so there is less moisture loss, remember muscle contains lots of water.

When carving meats, always carve against the meat grain and let the roast rest at least 15 minutes to allow the muscle cells time to reabsorb some juices that have been pushed out by the heat, that way when you carve there will be less moisture lost. You may have noticed this when carving a cold piece of meat almost no juices come out as they get re absorbed into the tissue structure. With these tips in mind, happy cooking and eating!

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