With the grain or against the grain

There are many factors that influence the tenderness of meat: its composition - the smaller the muscle size and the less connective tissue the better; the diet and age of the animal; the specific cut of meat; the temperature at which it’s cooked; and also how long it’s left to rest before serving. But another factor that greatly affects tenderness is the way the meat is sliced post-cooking.

When you examine a cut of meat, you can see bundles of muscle fibre that run parallel to each other - similar to wood then, meat has a grain. In some cuts of meat known for their tenderness, for example loin and tenderloin, the muscle fibre bundles are very slight and the grain is barely discernible; but in other cuts of meat, for example flank, the grain is clearly visible. So, to maximise tenderness, which way is the best to cut: parallel to the muscle fibres (with the grain) or perpendicular to the muscle fibres (against the grain)? The answer is ‘cut thinly across the grain’. And while many of us already know that, it has been unequivocally and scientifically proven to be the case by Cook’s Illustrated.

‘Dedicated to finding the best methods of preparing fool-proof home-cooked meals’ Cook’s Illustrated employs 36 full-time cooks who test and retest recipes in their 232 square metre test kitchen until dishes really are flop-proof. Not content to perfect different recipes, the test kitchen also examine various hypotheses, and one such experiment run by Senior Editor, Dan Souza, proves definitively that cutting with the grain results in tougher meat. In How to Slice Steak he takes two cuts of meat: flank steak - typically a tougher cut of meat and strip loin - typically a very tender cut; cooks them both to an internal temperature of 54°C and then slices each piece of meat with the grain and against the grain. A piece of equipment called the CT3 Texture Analyser is used to test how much force is needed to bite into the meat. The result is that when cut against the grain, it takes only 383 grams of force to pierce 5mm into the meat; as opposed to 1,729 grams of force to reach the same depth on a piece of steak cut with the grain.

The interesting thing is that even the tougher cuts of meat benefit from cutting against the grain - important to remember if you‘re not starting off with the most tender cut. For more on the full experiment, click here. And don’t forget, for the best in high-quality Halaal and non-Halaal meat products including rump, sirloin and fillet, be sure to call or email the N1 team today.