Meat

I liken meat cookery to one of those mix and match puzzles where you’re trying to match the cut of meat with the cooking technique that is most effective at developing that cut’s flavor.

Sirloin Steak with Cannellini Bean Ragout and Shaved Parmigiani-Reggiano

For the uninitiated, this can seem very complicated. But once you’ve taken the time to familiarize yourself with the available varieties and cuts, you’ll have no problem identifying which cooking technique is most appropriate.To begin orienting yourself…

Meat (the muscle tissue of an animal) is composed of the following:

  • 75% water (which is why your meat will shrink as it cooks)
  • 20% protein (proteins coagulate, this helps meat firm to become“done”)
  • 5 % fat (this marbling – intramuscular fat which resembles a marble pattern in the meat- leads to juiciness, tenderness and flavor
  • Minimal amount of carbohydrate (via the Maillard reaction, these carbs allow the surface of your meat to brown)

Connective tissue, which is a network of proteins in which muscle fibers are bound together, comes in two forms:

  • COLLAGEN – white connective tissue that can be broken down with slow moist cooking (i.e. braising) ; acid, enzymes and tenderizers can also help break it down
  • ELASTIN – found more frequently in older animals, this yellow connective tissue does NOT break down in cooking; trim it away or break the fibers by pounding, grinding and slicing the meat against the grain

Therefore, these several factors will affect the texture of your meat:

  • Exercise – as with us humans, animal body parts that were more highly-exercised will be leaner, yet tougher, due to the connective tissue that forms in the muscles
  • Age – as animals get older, the amount of connective tissue (collagen) increases and therefore their meat becomes tougher
  • Aging – as the meat is subjected to what is actually controlled rotting, natural enzymes do the work of softening the meat

When buying meat, use the following voluntary grading system of quality designation (in order from highest to lowest) as your guide:

    • Beef – Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter, Canner
    • Veal – Prime, Choice, Good, Standard, Utility, Cull
    • Lamb – Prime, Choice, Good, Utility, Cull
    • Pork – no grading

When cooking your meats, note the following recommended levels of doneness:

MEAT RARE MEDIUM WELL DONE
Beef 130* 140* – 145* 160*
Lamb 130* 145* 160*
Pork - - 160*   – 170*
Veal - 145* – 150* 160*

COOKING MEATS

SEARING:

  • Creates an attractive and flavorful brown surface
  • Place your meat in a very hot pan with a bit of oil until it browns OR place your meat in the oven at a high temperature
  • DO NOT OVERLOAD the pan – give your meat space to brown or you’ll end up just boiling your meat in its juices
  • After searing (achieving the brown exterior), continue to cook your meat through at a lower temperature

ROASTING:

LOW TEMPERATURE ROASTING:

  • 250*-325* (the larger the cut, the lower the temp)
  • Place fat-side up to facilitate basting
  • Less shrinkage
  • More flavor, juiciness & tenderness
  • More even doneness
  • Greater ease in carving
  • Use this kind of thermometer to know when it’s ready

HIGH TEMPERATURE ROASTING:

  • Good for small pieces served rare

GRILLING & BROILING:

  • Best for cooking to rare or medium-rare
  • The shorter the cooking time, the higher the temp
  • For thin steaks, simply sear your meat

SAUTEING, PAN-FRYING & GRIDDLING:

  • Saute – only use tender cuts; allows for deglazing
  • Pan-fry – typically breaded; more fat at lower heat than sauté
  • Griddling and pan-frying – preferable for pork and veal chops because temperature is lower than broiling/grilling and keeps meat moister

STIR-FRYING:

  • Pan is left stationary (vs. sauté) and foods are tossed with spatula

SIMMERING:

  • Cooking at just below the boiling point
  • Effective for tough meats where you don’t need a brown crust

BRAISING:

  • Dry heat for Searing, then cook the meat through with moist heat

Below are several images and tables with information on the different cuts of meat and their most appropriate cooking methods. While certainly not comprehensive, it should give you a sense of direction. Also, please note that cuts can have different names, depending on what part of the country you’re in.

In order to make sense of these charts, please note the following definitions:

FABRICATION – the process of cutting a slaughtered animal into smaller pieces

PRIMAL CUTS – primary cuts of the animals which are sold to chefs, allowing them to fabricate their own smaller cuts

BEEF

1996 image from Encyclopedia Brittanica posted from www.tomfridaysmarket.com

PRIMAL   CUT COMMON   FABRICATED CUTS COOKING   TECHNIQUE
CHUCK Pot Roast Braising
Chuck Steak Braising
Chuck short ribs Braising
Stew meat Braising
Ground chuck Grilling or Sauteing
RIB Prime rib Roasting
Ribeye steaks Grilling/Broiling or Sauteing
Short ribs Braising
SHORT LOIN Top Loin Grilling/Broiling or Sauteing
T-Bone Grilling/Broiling or Sauteing
Porterhouse Grilling/Broiling or Sauteing
Strip loin Grilling/Broiling or Sauteing
Tenderloin Grilling/Broiling or Sauteing
SIRLOIN Top sirloin Grilling/Broiling or Sauteing
Tri-tip steak Grilling/Broiling or Sauteing
BRISKET Brisket Braising
SHANK Stew meat Braising
SHORT PLATE Short ribs Braising
Stew meat Braising
FLANK Flank steak Braising or Marinate and use Grilling/Broiling or Sauteing
Skirt steak Marinate and use Grilling/Broiling   or Sauteing
ROUND Sirloin tip Grilling/Broiling or Sauteing
Top round Marinate and use Grilling/Broiling   or Sauteing
Bottom round roast Braising
Eye of round roast Roasting

 LAMB

PRIMAL CUT COMMON FABRICATED   CUTS COOKING METHOD
SHOULDER Shoulder   roast Roasting
Shoulder   chops Braising   or Grilling/Broiling
BREAST/SHANK Breast Braising
RIB Rib   roast Roasting
Crown   Roast Roasting
Rib   chops Roasting   or Grilling/Broiling
LOIN Loin   chops Grilling/Broiling
Loin   roast Roasting
LEG Sirloin   chops Grilling/Broiling
Whole   leg Roasting
Shank Braising

VEAL

1996 image from Encyclopedia Britannica posted by http://media-2.web.britannica.com/eb-media/42/642-004-3D309E26.gif

PRIMAL CUT COMMON FABRICATED   CUTS COOKING METHOD
SHOULDER Roast Roasting   or Braising
Chops Grilling/Broiling
BREAST Breast Braising
SHANK Osso   Buco Braising
RIB Rib   roast Roasting
Rib   chops Grilling/Broiling
LOIN Roast Roasting
Chops Grilling/Broiling
LEG Roast Roasting
Scaloppine Sauteing

PORK

PRIMAL CUT COMMON FABRICATED   CUTS COOKING METHODD
JOWL Guanciale Roasting,   Grilling/Broiling or Frying
SHOULDER/PICNIC Picnic Braising
BOSTON   BUTT Steaks
Shoulder   roasts Braising
LOIN Roast Roasting
Chops Grilling/Broiling
Country   style ribs Braising
SPARERIBS Spareribs Braising
BELLY/BACON Bacon   and Pancetta Roasting,   Grilling/Broiling or Frying
HAM Fresh   ham Roasted

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