Tips for Buying and Preparing Tender Roasts, Steaks, and Ribs
Not all cuts of beef are created equal, which is something all gourmet cooks and professional chefs know and why they always seem to prepare and serve only tender, juicy cuts of beef. However, average cooks (a designation that includes most people) can also serve tender, juicy cuts of beef to their families and dinner guests if they learn what to look for when purchasing beef and how to prepare it correctly.
The Age of Beef and Its Effect Upon Tenderness
The toughness of a cut of beef depends upon the age of the animal. The older the animal, the tougher its flesh tends to be. But how does one determine the age of an animal when purchasing meat? One determines it by examining the color of the fat. The fat in the meat from an older animal tends to be yellow, compared to the meat from a younger animal, wherein the fat tends to be creamy white.
On the other hand, it’s important to note that an animal’s diet can also affect the color of the fat. For example, a free-roaming grass-fed animal’s fat tends to be more yellow in color than the fat in a factory-raised animal.
The outside layer of fat and the marbling between lean fiber muscles contribute to meat’s tenderness, and although fat meat is not popular, a cut with too little fat and marbling tends to be tough. This is why a roast with a thin outer layer of fat is tougher than one with a more generous layer.
Other Factors That Contribute to Meat’s Tenderness
There are other considerations besides age and marbling that people must keep in mind when gauging a cut’s tenderness or toughness:
- Well-used muscles, such as leg muscles, are tougher than those that do little work, such as muscles in the backbone, which is where the prized tenderloin is located.
- The more a muscle is worked, the more flavorful the meat tends to be, which is why a sirloin, although a bit tougher, is richer tasting than an extremely tender filet mignon.
The Different Cuts of Beef and Their Uses
In order to purchase the most appropriate cut of beef for a particular purpose, consumers need to know their beef. In other words, they need to have some knowledge of the various cuts and their general uses.
- Neck and shoulder cuts include arm steak, rolled or boneless neck, rolled shoulder, and English cut, which are best suited for braising and stewing.
- Chuck cuts include boneless chuck, blade, and triangle pot roast, best suited for braising and stewing.
- Rib cuts includes standing rib roast, rolled rib roast, rib steak, rib eye, and short ribs, and is best suited for roasting, broiling, pan-frying, or braising.
- Loin and sirloin cuts include sirloin steak, Porterhouse steak, T-bone steak, club steak, filet mignon, and tenderloin and are best suited for broiling, pan-frying, roasting, and grilling.
- Foreshank and brisket cuts include brisket and shank crosscuts and are best suited for braising and stewing.
- Short plate and flank cuts include rolled flank, flank steak, and flank filets and are best suited for braising and stewing.
- Round and shank cuts include round steak, top round, bottom round, heel of round, tip steak or roast, and hind shank and are best suited for braising and stewing.
- Rump cuts include rolled rump and standing rump and are best suited for braising, stewing, and roasting.
Note: Braising refers to cooking meat in a small amount of liquid in a covered pan at low temperature, either over a direct flame or in an oven.
Tips for Cooking Roasts, Steaks, and Ribs
When meat is subjected to heat, the proteins within the muscle fibers start to contract and squeeze out the juices. The more intense the heat or the longer the meat is exposed to heat, the more these fibers shrink and the harder the meat becomes. This belies the notion that tough meat will tenderize with prolonged slow cooking because, in reality, the meat will get only tougher.
Some additional guidelines to remember:
- Begin cooking beef on an initially high temperature, which seals the outside of the meat and reduces internal moisture loss.
- Start roasts in a hot oven (400 degrees or higher) for the first 15 or 20 minutes; then reduce the temperature to 325 or 350 degrees for the remaining cooking time.
- Start steaks under a red-hot broiler or on a fiery hot grill; then reduce the intensity of the broiler or flame. Another option is to sear the outside of steaks in a hot skillet before broiling or grilling.
It’s important to note, however, that the initial high-temperature period must be closely monitored in order to avoid cooking the meat through and through. This period should be short-lived and controlled.
In summary, if consumers keep these guidelines and tips in mind, they will be capable of not only buying prime cuts of beef like the professionals but also cooking those cuts like the professionals.