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?
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
- 1 What Is the “Grain”?
- 2 What Does It Mean to Cut Meat Against the Grain and Why Should You Do It?
- 3 What Kind Of Knife To Use
- 4 What Else Contributes to the Meat’s Tenderness?
- 5 Conclusion
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:
Step 1: Knowing Which Way the Meat Strands Go
Of course, the very first thing that you have to do if the recipe calls for cutting the meat against the grain is securing which way each individual strand of meat go. Slicing the meat in this way can be done on both raw and cooked meat. If you have already cut the meat into small portions or cubes, you do not need to cut it again once it is cooked.
Step 2: Cook the Meat As Per Instructions
After you have made certain which way the strands on the meat go, then you can now start cooking it as the recipe requires. When it comes to cooking tough cuts, make sure that it is marinated for an extended period to ensure tender results. Simply cutting against the grain, especially if the meat is known to be tougher than others, would not do the trick of tenderizing it.
Step 3: Cut the Meat Against The Grain
The last step you need to do to finish this task is to follow the instructions that you have learned from the discussions earlier. For those who wish to serve pre-sliced meat, let the steak rest for a couple of minutes before slicing. In that way, the juices and flavors get to settle, and your steak will become juicy and tender.
Once rested, thinly slice against the grain. You might also want to give it a quick taste to make sure that you are getting the flavors that you want it to have. Even if it is a tough cut of meat, doing so will ensure that your dish is very easy to chew even for kids.
What Kind Of Knife To Use
Knowing how to cut meat against the grain is winning just half the battle. The other half means that you have to find out which type of knife should you use in order to do it properly. Basically, it all depends on what cut of meat you are trying to slice and when.
For those who need to cut the meat against the grain before cooking it, opt for a very sharp chef’s knife. On the other hand, if you intend on cutting the meat after it has been cooked, a good carving knife should do the job.
What Else 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, there’s a better chance of you preparing a superb dish.