The Frugal Café | Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup"</a> | Creative Commons License, Flickr.com
Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup" | Creative Commons License, Flickr.com

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Meat Mania: 9 Things You Should Know When Cooking & Working with Meats

By Vicki McClure Davidson

 

Cooking and preparing meats correctly, even cheap cuts, is something every home cook can learn and will result in outstanding dishes, plus will save you money | Photo credit: FreeFoto.com
Cooking and preparing meats correctly, even cheap cuts, is something every home cook can learn and will result in outstanding dishes, plus will save you money by you not having to buy more expensive meat cuts. Here are some cooking and prep tips that many recipes don't mention. | Photo Credit: FreeFoto.com
  1. Meats are juicier when allowed to rest after cooking—the meat juices are much more likely to stay in the meat (rather than flowing onto the cutting board) if carving is put off a bit. Most meat, whether it's baked, roasted, or broiled, holds internal heat and continues to cook even after being removed from the heat source. A large roast can rise 10 to 15 deg. F after you take it out of the oven. A thick-put pork chop can rise up to 10 deg. F. So, before cutting into that beautiful roasted chicken, let it rest for at least 10 minutes. However, thinner steaks and chops don't need much time to rest and should be served immediately after they are removed from the broiler or skillet.

  2. For easy slicing of raw meat, like tube sausage or liver, pop it into the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes before starting to prepare the meal. This firms it up and makes it easier to control the thickness of slices. This works well if you want to slice meat deli-style thin.

  3. Brining meat increases the flavor and juiciness. It is perfect for lean cuts of meat such as chicken, pork, and turkey. Brining is super-easy. Immerse the raw meat in a bath of salt water. The basic formula is one cup of table salt (or two cups of coarse or kosher salt) per gallon of water. The brining time depends on the size of the food. Cut-up parts take much less time than whole meats. For instance, chicken parts or pork chops take just a half hour; a 14-pound turkey might take about six hours.

  4. It is important to make sure your frying pan is hot enough before you put the meat into it. This will prevent chicken skin and other meats from sticking to the pan. To test the skillet for the proper heat, place a small amount of oil in a cold pan and heat it on the stove. When the oil starts to shimmer and a tiny wisp of smoke appears, then the pan is ready for cooking.

  5. Grilling steaks properly can be tricky. To cook them to the desired temperature without incinerating the outside, a two-temperature fire is crucial. First, sear the steaks to a crusty brown over the hotter side of the grill, then carefully slide them over to the cooler part of the grill so that they can finish cooking at a more gentle pace.



  6. Slow cooking on low heat tenderizes most meats, like those used in beef stew. | Photo credit: Public-Domain-Photos.com
    Slow cooking on low heat tenderizes most meats, like those used in beef stew. | Photo Credit: Public-Domain-Photos.com


  7. Long, low-temperature cooking of cheaper cuts of meat will result in delectably tender meat; fast, high-temp cooking will result in tough, shoe-leather-like meat. Beef contains enzymes that break down its connective tissues and act as natural tenderizers, but only if the temperature is low and if the meat is allowed to cook at the low temperature for many hours. For detailed information, click here to read Love Me Tender: Cheap Roast Beef Perfectly Slow-Cooked for Royalty... How to Do It Yourself—learn how you can cook a cheap cut of roast beef to perfection. Beef pot pie is simply beef stew baked under a pastry crust. According to America's Test Kitchen, quick stew-like fillings that utilize tender cuts of beef, like sirloin and blade steaks, lack flavor and are too expensive to use for pot pie. Their solution was simple. They sped up the cooking time of the beef by cutting it into 1/2-inch pieces, as opposed to 1-1/2-inch pieces. Within 45 minutes, they had a tender, flavorful stew, the perfect foundation for a beef pot pie.

  8. To prevent hamburgers from becoming domed with dry, crumbly edges, make a depression in the center of the patty. As the burger cooks, it will puff up to an even thickness. For people who like well-done burgers, poking a hole in the center of the patty before cooking helps the burger cook through without becoming football-shaped and dry. Don't press on the burger when it is cooking. This, too, will result in a dry burger because the juices are forced out.

  9. If you’re going to use salt when cooking meat, do it early—or don't do it until the meat is done cooking. Never apply salt to meat at the last minute. It will pull juices out of the meat, toughening and drying out the surface of the meat without adding any extra flavor to the inside. Because salt reacts with the meat's proteins, early salting will improve the texture, juiciness, and flavor of the meat. It has a tenderizing power, without MSG. This early salting is especially beneficial for cheaper cuts of meat that have a chewier quality, like the chewier types of steak (such as skirt and flank steak), firm roasts, brisket, and pot roast. Additionally, you can also lightly salt tender steaks, poultry, and fish ahead of time. An added benefit is the salt will help keep the meat fresh tasting, even after several days of refrigeration.

  10. How do you know what cut of beef to buy? This is indeed a mystery for many people, and what makes it even more difficult is that butchers will often give cuts of meat their own names. For beef, there are eight "primal cuts." At the top of the animal, starting near the head and going back toward the tail, they are chuck, rib, short loin, sirloin, and round. Underneath the animal, from front to back, they are brisket, plate, and flank. The tenderness or toughness of the cut depends on how much the animal has had to use the muscle. Therefore, cuts near the shoulder or leg, which are used often for movement, will be tougher. The muscles that are not used as much, in the center of the animal, include the rib, plate, and loin. These cuts are cooked in different ways to maximize flavor and tenderness. If you're unsure of what the difference is between a New York strip steak, a Delmonico steak, a Kansas City steak, a boneless club steak, or a shell steak, ask your butcher. He or she will be happy to help, so don't feel intimidated. By the way, the steaks mentioned above are all the same steak, just with different names!

 

 

 

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Sources:
The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook: Featuring More Than 1,200 Kitchen-Tested Recipes, America's Test Kitchen, 2005.
Child, Julia, Bertholle, Louisette, and Beck, Simone, Mastering The Art of French Cooking, Volume One (40th Anniversary Edition), Alfred A. Knopf, NY, 2001.
Larsen, Linda, Busy Cooks website, "How to Cook Beef," http://busycooks.about.com/od/howtocook/a/howtocookbeef.htm).
Happy Eats website, "Should You Salt Meat Before Cooking? Yes!" (www.happyeats.com/index.php/archives/2005/07/27/should-you-salt-meat-before-cooking-yes/), July 27, 2005.
Smith, Jeff, The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American, William Morrow and Company, Inc., NY, 1987.