Have you ever stood in the meat department at your local grocery store and felt overwhelmed with the huge variety of meat to choose from? It’s even worse when you bring that beautiful slab of meat home and don’t know how to approach it. Should you cook it low and slow or quickly over high heat?
In this post, I’ll do my best to shine a light on this broad topic, and next time you go grocery shopping, you won’t be intimidated at all. Bring it on!
I started to write about both beef and pork, but there are SO MANY different cuts, the post was too long. I divided them into 2 separate posts. Hopefully, this will make it more user friendly for you. I’ll talk about pork and poultry next time. Unfortunately, I don’t know anything about lamb, since I simply don’t make it very often.
Low and Slow:
This cooking method require lots of patience and time, because if you hurry the process, you will end up with tough, dry, leathery and stringy meat. The muscles usually get a lot of workout, so they are very lean, they have a lot of gristle or many different types of muscles in one place. The collagen needs a lot of time to break down and become tender. The best way to cook them is at a low temperature and give them plenty of time to cook.
This is a great choice for low and slow cooking. If you cook it correctly, you will be thrilled with the tender, fall-apart-in-your-mouth goodness that this meat can achieve. Since it has a decent amount of fat, ground chuck is a good choice for meatballs and hamburgers. It’s a very economical cut of meat too. It’s also perfect for cooking for long periods of time to produce very juicy meat.
Brisket is also a very dry piece of meat. I’m sure most of you have heard of Brisket, one of the most famous cuts of meat chosen by professional barbecuers. This meat is smoked and cooked for a long time, but the results are phenomenally tender meat with so much flavor.
Another lean and tough, well used muscle, the round is best prepared slowly and on low heat. A great way of preparing this cut of meat is to roast it in the oven. Pot roast, is probably one of the most common recipes that uses this cut of meat. Look for the eye round roast. This meat is also usually used to be made into ground beef. It doesn’t have a lot of flavor and not enough fat, so I don’t usually use it for meatballs or hamburgers, but it’s great in Lasagna, or other dishes, where you don’t want lots of grease.
This cut of meat is the leg of the animal, has a lot of connective tissue, and a collection of many different muscles.
This is an awesome slab of goodness. It’s well marbled and has great flavor. The only reason you need to cook it for a long time is because it’s a GIGANTIC piece of meat. Prime Rib is one of the best roasts you will ever taste, which is why it’s often chosen as the center of attention for a holiday meal.
High Heat, Work Fast
This method of cooking includes searingly high heat, lots of smoke (just kidding:) and quick cooking. The cuts of meat that require this high heat cooking method are either well marbled (have lots of flecks of fat interspersed throughout the meat) or not as exercised as the parts of the animal that require low heat and long cooking time.
The reason the the heat needs to be so extremely hot, is because the less time the meat spends on the heat, the more tender it will be. Another really important reason for the high heat, is because it sears the meat and creates such great flavor. A gray steak is extremely unappetizing, but if it’s beautifully seared, we can’t wait to dig in, knowing it will be delicious.
Any of the following steaks should be cooked quickly over high heat. They are well marbled and have really great flavor. They can be served with a variety of sauces and flavored butters. Mushrooms, peppers, onions, blue cheese, etc. are also great toppings.
- T-bone, Porterhouse: These 2 steaks consist of 2 muscles, the tenderloin and the top loin, with a bone in between, in the shape of a T, which is where this steak gets the name. The only difference between the two steaks is that the Porterhouse has a bigger piece of tenderloin.
Recipe for Grilled Porterhouse Steak
- Filet Mignon: This is the most tender piece of steak. This muscle is rarely used, which is why it’s not tough at all. It’s usually one of the most expensive as well. It is cut from the tenderloin, which is also a great piece of meat. For special occasions and holidays, a beef tenderloin would be an incredible main course to serve.
- Ribeye/Delmonico: A favorite in many steakhouses, this steak is very well marbled and flavorful.
- NY Strip Steak/Sirloin Steak: This steak is from the sirloin, another well marbled piece of steak. Sirloin Steak Tips are an awesome choice for Beef Kebabs.
- Strip Steak/Top Loin Steak: Good flavor but less marbling than a Ribeye steak. This steak is a great option when you are craving steak but don’t want to spend a fortune, since this steak is generally more affordable.
- Flank Steak: It’s a thin but long and flat piece of meat. It shouldn’t be cooked to more than a medium doneness. Best used in fajitas, stir fries, or grilled and then sliced thinly against the grain.
Recipe: Beef Stir Fry
- Skirt Steak: This steak is also not very marbled, so it’s not recommended to cook it past medium doneness. Slice it on a bias for best juiciness.
- Cube Steak: This is a very tough steak, cut from the round, a really well used and exercised muscle. For this reason, it ‘s best to pound it out really thinly and cook it really quickly on high heat. This steak is inexpensive and very chewy. The best way to cook it is in a breading, such as Country Fried Steak. That’s the really thin steak with tons of holes in it that you see at the grocery store.
- Loin/Tenderloin: Protected by the ribs and located in the center of the animal, these cuts of meat are tender and don’t need too much time on the heat. This is my husband’s favorite cut of meat, and I often make it for a special date night or his birthdays.
When I was a novice cook, these different cuts of meat were a mystery to me. Back then, there wasn’t too much information available online about cooking and food in general. I did appreciate my cookbooks! You know the sections in cookbooks where there’s detailed info about ingredients, methods of cooking, cooking tips, etc? I read them all. I was so interested in the cooking process, the science behind it all, that it was even more useful to me than the recipes, since I could apply all that knowledge to my own cooking. I hope this post was useful to you and you can use it as a reference.