We have looked at cooking vessels and discussed heat sources; it’s high time to share meat information as well as some meat myths. This week at the Grate we will focus on the selection and cooking of readily available meats. Let’s discuss red meats, poultry and fish will be dealt with another time. For now, let’s look at meats that can be obtained easily at a grocery store.
Meat is muscle fibers that are organized and bundled together with connective tissue, with a sprinkling of fatty deposits. How these muscles develop and are used by the animal usually determine how they should be cooked.
When you are selecting meat for your pit, fat is important. Surface fat prevents meat from drying out in later stages of cooking, and contributes to “bark” formation. Internal fat adds the rich flavor and keeps the interior strands from drying out, offering the sensation of juiciness; a highly desired trait.
When buying package meats from the grocery store take a careful look at the label to be sure that there is not water added. Major retailers have started engaging in the dreadful practice of adding a saline solution to meat. Meat should not need an ingredient label. If your grocer carries such products, shop elsewhere.
In the south pork is the King of Barbecue. There are very few differences in commercial pork. It is all uniformly ordinary. Hogs are bred and fed to be lean. They are raised in confinement and fed controlled diets to make them more appealing to the consumer. Look for enough surface fat to keep the exterior from drying out and cook properly.
Buying beef is more entertaining. There are clearly better choices. Buy USDA Choice Beef and look for good marbling. Surface fat is good but can be kept thin.
Unless you have honed your skills in choosing beef, it pays to buy Certified Angus meats. The Certified Angus program offers a minimum quality guarantee. When selecting ribs and briskets, look for packages that are uniform in thickness and choose packages that are more pliable.
Basically, there are two kinds of meats to choose from: tough or tender. Tender cuts like loins help hold the skeleton together and get very little use for work. There is not very much connective tissue and the texture is fine. Tender cuts are generally smoke roasted or grilled at higher temperatures and cooked to a desired doneness. Tough cuts come from the working muscles like brisket or shoulders, are chock full of connective tissue, and are generally suited for “barbecuing”. Remember our definition of barbecue: meat that is slow cooked over a long period of time to melt collagen and connective tissue making the meat tender and succulent.
Raw meat contains aging enzymes which continue to effect flavor, tenderness, and appearance until they are destroyed by heat. These enzymes continue to break down connective tissue and muscle fibers over time. These enzymes do their best work on whole beef carcasses that are hung in coolers for weeks at a time. This is called “dry aging.” The industrialization of meat packing plants has brought the demise of the practice of dry aging. There is some done at the local level and in high end supermarkets. Wet aging, a process where you leave a cut still in cryovac in a refrigerator for a week or two before using it, will help develop flavors. Sometimes, these bags will have a strong odor when opened. A quick rinse and a sniff test will tell whether you have been successful. Aging enzymes are most active as meat warms. Many cooks will allow meat to come to room temperature before cooking. Slow cooking also takes full advantage of the aging process.
While we are discussing science, lets look at “smoke ring.” Myoglobin is the protein that makes meat red. Myoglobin denatures over time with heat and turns brown, indicating doneness. In a pit, nitrogen compounds found in the smoke will react with the myoglobin to form a stable pink zone around the outside of the meat. This pink ring is known as the “smoke ring”, and is an indication of proper barbecuing techniques. Some deceitful characters will add nitrogen rich curing salts to the outside of the meat and create and artificial smoke ring; Judge beware.
Myth #1: Searing meat seals in juices.
Forget this one. It’s not true, never has been, and never will be.
Most likely the idea came from the crusted exterior that meat develops as its seared; surely that crust will seal in the juices, right?
The main purpose of searing is to add flavor by converting natural sugars and amino acids into flavor compounds via browning.
If you want juicy meat, you can slow roast it (which prevents meat juices from being squeezed out.) Always let meat rest after cooking so that it can reabsorb precious juices.
Myth #2: Marinating meat makes it juicy or tender.
No, it doesn’t. Marinades are usually made with some kind of oil, citrus, and herb combo that can only penetrate the very exterior of meat. In the test kitchen we found that after 18 hours, a red wine marinade made its way ONE MILLIMETER into beef.
Hey, that’s perfect for tenderizing those two-millimeter thick steaks!
Now if that marinade contains an acidic ingredient , like the above-mentioned citrus, or vinegar, you can actually do more damage to the meat.
Acids will begin to break down the exterior fibers of the meat. Left too long in an acidic soak, that exterior will go from meaty, to mushy, and eventually, chalky and dry.
Myth #3: Eating pink pork will make you sick.
Once upon a time this may have been true as there was a fear of ingesting an ugly parasite named trichinosis. Cooking pork to a safe, but gray interior temperature of 160 degrees would kill off trichinosis. Today, government standards have all but eliminated the risk of trichinosis contamination from pork. According to the Center for Disease Control, between the years of 1997 through 2001, the average reported cases of trichinosis were twelve.
So go ahead and cook that pork chop or loin roast until it registers an
internal temperature of 140 to 145. And be sure to let the pork rest for 10 minutes or so-the internal temperature will continue to rise 5 to 10 degrees. The meat will still be beautifully moist.
Myth #4: Always rinse off poultry that comes from the supermarket.
Back away from the sink. I know that it’s been pounded into your brain that you should unwrap that poultry and give it a good rinse in the sink. But beware that what you’re most likely doing is splashing all of those yummy surface pathogens over your sink, faucet, and surrounding area. Now, if you’re willing to give the sink a super-thorough scrub down it will be fine, but you’re better off simply cooking the poultry to a safe internal temperature (165 degrees for the breast meat and 175 for the thigh meat.)
Meat information and meat myths busted to help you build a meatier brain!