Some of the most difficult types of food to cook properly are different types of meat. No matter your cooking skills, it can be tough to gauge whether or not that delicious steak is ready to leave the pan or if your hamburgers are just the right shade of pink.
If you're tired of over or under-estimating cooking times and need some help figuring things out, try these reliable tips.
8 Tips to Master the Art of Cooking Meat
1. Know the cut of meat
Research which cuts of meat should be cooked at high temperatures (sirloin) and which cuts need slow cook (brisket, rump). The main reason to use different cooking styles with different cuts of meat is the fat type and amount as well as the tenderness of the meat. There are many great websites that can give you this info depending on the type of meat (pork, beef, etc) and I've listed 2 for you to explore.
Organic and Quality Foods: How to Cook Different Cuts of Meat
Grill Simply: Master Guide To Primal Cuts Of Beef & How To Cook Them
2. Use a marinade Some meat cuts like flank or skirt steak make excellent grilling steaks, but they’re so tough you won’t want to eat them without tenderizing first. Using acidic ingredients like lemon juice, vinegar or buttermilk not only add flavor but also break down tough proteins. Research marinade recipes online.
One tip is to only let the meat marinate for 30 minutes to two hours should be sufficient otherwise it’ll become too soft.
The Spruce Eats: Top 10 All-Purpose Marinade Recipes - Most Popular Marinades for Any Meat
3. Don’t forget the salt Whether you’re marinating or not, at least make sure to salt the meat before cooking. Salt draws out moisture from inside the meat, concentrating the flavors and creating a natural brine. You know it’s working because the meat will take on a deeper, red color. Unlike marinades, you can salt your meat for up to 24 hours.
Different salts can be used for different applications in the kitchen, to figure out which is the right one to use for marinating meat read more in the recent blog post "How Do I use Different Types of Salt in Cooking? - Part 1 of 4 Cooking Series."
4. Let it come up to room temperature Letting the meat come up to room temperature is especially important with grass-fed beef and other lean cuts of pork (NOT fish or chicken). Since there’s not a lot of fat on these cuts, they’re less forgiving if slightly overcooked. Letting the meat sit on a room temperature counter for 30 minutes before cooking will help it cook more evenly.
5. Cook it low-and-slow More expensive cuts of meat can be flash seared over high temperatures, but many budget cuts, like pork shoulder or chuck roast, require low-and-slow cooking techniques (i.e slow cooker). When braising tough cuts of meat, the collagen breaks down in the cooking liquid and really lets those tough muscle fibers separate. Make sure you give yourself enough time to let those cuts break down, which could take four or more hours in a Dutch oven or slow cooker.
I ALWAYS braise pork tenderloin and beef roasts before putting them into the oven. I have found this makes a huge difference to lock in the moisture and creating a tender and delicious roast.
6. Hit the right internal cooking temperature Overcooking can make your meat dry but under-cooked meat can be quite chewy and also won't be food safe. There are small and large thermometers and most of them can be put into the meat while it's cooking so you can track temperature process. The thermometer will give you a general temperature range so a little extra research can help to fine tune the temperature required for different cuts of meat.
I prefer a thermometer that is simple to use and does not take a battery such as the Starfrit Silicone meat thermometer. I also have a couple thermometers that are "oven proof" so that I can leave the thermometer in the oven while the meat is cooking, an example is the CDN IRM200-Glow ProAccurate Meat/Poultry ovenproof thermometer. These types of thermometers are quite convenient because they have the ideal cooking temperature written on the dial and it can be left in the meat while cooking to so you do not have to take the roast/pan out of the oven to check the temperature.
Resources: Check out Real Simple meat cooking temperature guide.
7. Rest your meat No matter how well you prepare and cook your meat, it will turn out dry and tough if you don’t let it rest. A general rule of thumb is five minutes per inch of thickness for steaks, or ten minutes per pound for roasts. This allows the juices to redistribute within the meat instead of spilling out onto the cutting board—that means your meat will be dry and tough.
8. Slice against the grain All cuts of meat have long muscle fibers that run throughout them. If you make cuts parallel to the muscle fibers, you’ll end up using your teeth to break through them as you eat them. Instead, cut crosswise against the muscle fibers so they come apart easily and effortlessly.
Cook meat with confidence to impress your guests
Now with your new knowledge and cooking skills learned here today you can feel confident in the kitchen cooking a variety of meats! Practice cooking meats for your family and once you feel more and more confident invite guests over to display your new skills and pass on some tips and tricks to your friends and family.