Are you preparing a lovely, romantic dinner for your loved one? Or maybe planning a barbecue party for the family? Or perhaps you are trying to enjoy a 4th-of-July celebration with steak? Well, we know that preparing food can sometimes be tough and believe us, the one thing you don’t want on special occasions like these is tough meat. If you have dealt with tough meat, then you might have been advised to cut the meat against the grain, but what does it mean to cut meat against the grain?
If you are a fan of cooking shows or have been around the kitchen more often than other rooms of the house, or just fond of reading recipes, then you have probably heard of the phrase “cutting meat against the grain.” But you scratched your head wondering what does “the grain” mean and why you should cut meat against it?
Well, welcome to the club! You can shrug your shoulders and cut the meat your way, but we know deep inside you are dying to know what it means. And boy, you are not the only one confused here!
We have found out that cutting meat against the grain plays an important role in getting tender meat. Surprised? So are we! If you are among us who love meaty foods, then sit back and relax for we will focus our discussion on cutting meat and this thing they call “grain.”
Table of Contents
What Is the “Grain”?
Whenever you hear the word “Grain,” you might be picturing tiny little pieces of wheat or crop. However, when it comes to meat, grain has an entirely different meaning. If you look closely, you will notice that in every piece of meat the muscle fibers are going in a single direction. It does not matter whether it is cooked or raw, you would still see that the lines are parallel to each other.
These lines are, in fact, what they refer to as the “Grain.” The visibility of the meat’s grain usually depends on which part it was sliced from. The grain of lean cuts, such as tenderloin, is much harder to identify than the tough cuts. The trick is to stretch the meat, and you should be able to see the muscle fibers or the grain.
But be mindful though, because sometimes people confuse the grain with other things like grill marks from barbecuing, or some nicks that might have been caused by the packaging or the cutting up of the meat. Make sure you identify the grain correctly.
What Does It Mean to Cut Meat Against the Grain and Why Should You Do It?
It turns out, cutting meat against the grain is more important than you would have thought. Since the grain indicates the direction of the muscle fibers, cutting parallel to it would result in long strands of fiber, which will be tough for you to chew. Hence, If you want to make the meat easier to chew, then you have to shorten the fiber by cutting against the grain.
Here’s a short video that may help you understand:
Once you have identified the direction of the grain, you cut the meat perpendicular to it. The ideal cut would be two-inch thick so that the fibers will scrap easily once you cook the meat. The same rule applies even if you cook the meat first before slicing it—cut literally across the grain.
What Contributes to the Meat’s Tenderness?
Of course, the tenderness of the meat does not solely depend on how you cut it. Cutting against the grain is merely one of the many things that contribute to the meat’s tenderness—a finishing touch, as one might say. Moreover, here are a few things that also affect the meat’s tenderness:
Yes, you read that right. The age of the animal greatly affects its tenderness. Animals that were slaughtered at old age have tougher muscles because they were used for a longer period. This is why some people would sometimes prefer the meat of younger animals such as calves because the meat is much tender.
Another thing that affects the tenderness of the meat is its cut. It’s not how you cut it, but from which part of the body it was cut from. The more a body part is used, the more collagen it contains, which means the tougher the meat. For example, the legs carry the whole weight of the pig or cow which means it would contain more collagen; hence the meat from the legs are tougher.
Fats are stored in the muscle tissue. When the muscles are used, the fats melt and keep the muscles moist. This is the reason why the most unused parts, such as the ribs and loins, contain the most fats.
- Cooking Methods
The liquid used in cooking is what keeps the meat tender which means that the longer the meat is grilled, the more liquid or juice it loses and the tougher the meat becomes. This is why slow cooking techniques such as braising and stewing are the best methods to tenderize collagen-rich parts.
The perfect dining experience requires a lot of effort and energy. It demands you to stay focused in every aspect, from planning and preparation up to the execution. You sure do not want to put all your efforts to waste just because of the simplest things such as not cutting the meat against the grain, right?
Now that we’ve answered the question, “What does it mean to cut meat against the grain?” and understand how important it is as well as know the other factors that contribute to the meat’s tenderness, such as the age of the livestock when slaughtered, cut and fat levels of the meat, and cooking methods, there’s definitely nothing else that could go wrong in preparing your meaty dish. You just have to make sure that you have enough energy and the passion for getting all the cooking done.. After all, tough preparation does not mean tough meat too, right?