The Two Methods of Cooking
There are two methods for cooking meat: dry heat and wet heat. Dry heat methods including grilling, broiling, sauteing, roasting, stir frying, and deep frying. Wet heat includes braising, pot roasting, stewing, steaming, poaching, and slow cooking. Most of us cook beef by the dry heat methods, along with pot roasting, stewing, and slow cooking.
You choose the cooking method depending on where the meat was located on the animal. Steaks, cut from the little-used center area of the animal, are naturally tender with little collagen and elastin, so they cook best using dry heat and short cooking times. Rump or round roasts have more collagen so they need wet heat, and longer, slower cooking in order to melt the collagen.
Most solid cuts of beef are cooked in a two stage method. First, high heat produces the Maillard reactions and forms a flavorful crust on the surface. Then, slower cooking at a lower temperature will evenly cook the meat through without overcooking the outer edges. If you are grilling a steak, divide your grill into a hot side and cooler side by controlling the number of briquette. Start the steak on the hot side to form a crust and pull it over to the cooler side to finish cooking. Roasts and stir fries use the same two stage method; first browned over high heat, then cooked with lower heat until the correct inner temperature is attained. You can also cook a roast with low heat in the oven, then turn on the broiler for the final few minutes to create a crisp flavorful crust.
Cooking meat is all about finding the balance between reducing the moisture loss, and cooking long enough so collagen can melt into gelatin. That's why pot roasts and cuts that are braised are cooked slowly with low heat; you're trying to melt the collagen and reduce moisture loss. On the other hand, steaks have no collagen, so quick cooking at high temperatures creates that nice crust and preserves as much moisture as possible.
Searing meat before a longer cooking time does not seal in the juices. The crust that forms on the surface leaks! Searing is essential for creating the complex flavors that are so wonderful in a perfectly cooked cut of beef. The only way you can control the juiciness of a cut of beef is to control the cooking time and temperature. Other factors are beyond your control, including how the beef is aged and treated during handling and storage, so know your butcher.
The grain of meat plays a factor in its cooking and serving. Flank and flat iron steaks, often sold as 'London Broil', are a single muscle and have a long, distinctive grain running along the cut.These steaks must be cut perpendicular to the grain, or across the grain, cutting across the muscles. They will then be tender. If you cut these steaks with the grain they will be so tough as to be inedible. Put the steak on your cutting board, with the grain of the meat running from right to left. Place your knife on the steak, then tilt it to the left. That will set your knife at a 45 degree angle. Cut the steak into thin slices.
You can marinate meats to add flavor and increase tenderness a little. Marinades contain acids, which break those protein bonds (denaturing the proteins). Marinades will not turn a tough piece of meat into a tender steak, however; it's more important to use the correct cooking method for the cut of meat. Marinades are best used to add flavor. Dry rubs are very good for adding flavor to meat, especially the crisp crust that forms when a steak is grilled.
Finally, standing time is a must when cooking any solid cut of beef. As the beef is heated, water is forced toward the center of the piece as well as evaporating from the edges. This water will be easily squeezed out of the beef as pressure is applied with a knife. By covering the beef to retain heat and letting it stand for 5-10 minutes after cooking, the water will redistribute throughout the cut so it harder to squeeze out water from the pressure of cutting.
The Best Cuts
For grilling, broiling, and pan frying, the best cuts of meat are rib eye steaks, strip or shell steaks, and T bone, which contains both the strip and tenderloin steaks. Sirloin and round steaks will be tough and dry. Flank steaks and flat iron steaks are good when quickly cooked and sliced across the grain, as described above.
For roasting, top sirloin, tenderloin, standing rib roasts, and top rump roast are good candidates.
For stir frying, flank, top round, and sirloin steak are good. These cuts are best cooked quickly, and since elastin is broken because the meat is cubed, they are more tender.
For kebabs, tenderloin is the best bet. This mild cut absorbs flavors easily and it is very tender.
For pot roasting and braising, chuck and rump are the best cuts. These cuts have more collagen and need long, slow cooking in a wet environment to reach their optimum tenderness. Chuck has the most flavor and is the most tender.
For ground beef, chuck is the way to go. It has optimal amounts of fat and is tenderized mechanically by the grinding action. Most lean ground beef is chuck, but if you're not sure, ask!
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