A Chef’s Guide To Cooking Meat

May 1, 2019 | Cooking Tips, meat

I am a meat eater. I love cooking meat, and eating it. It doesn’t get much better than a perfectly cooked rib eye steak or pork chop. As much as I love both of those things, there is more to meat than the “glamour cuts”. Beef isn’t just tenderloin, rib eye, and New York strip. Just like pork isn’t just chops, tenderloin, and ribs.

I will talk a little bit in this post about cooking those “glamour cuts”. I think it’s important that we all know how to cook those properly. But more importantly, I want to talk about the lesser known cuts. The pieces of meat that we walk by on a daily basis never giving a second thought to. The cheap cuts. The cuts that take real skill and knowledge to perfect.

If you give a toddler a piece of beef tenderloin they can probably make it delicious. Why? Because it’s already delicious. With the more popular or “glamour cuts” it isn’t so much about what you do to them that makes them great. It’s what you don’t do. It is a matter of taking something that is already amazing and just not screwing it up.

So, what else is there? Well, let’s take a look.



Glamour Cuts

Okay, let’s actually get these guys out of the way first.


Steak Cuts-

When it comes to steak there are three main cuts. You have Strip Loin, Tenderloin, and Rib Eye. Pretty much all other steaks are a variation or combination of these. For example a T-Bone steak is really just a strip loin and a tenderloin with the dividing bone still attached. Chateaubriand is cut from the thickest part of the tenderloin. Sirloin, is essentially just a strip loin with the fat cap removed and cut from higher up on the loin.

This may seem stupid at first. Why have multiple names for the same thing? There are two main reasons. One is that it depends on where you live in the world. What we call beef tenderloin is known as fillet of beef in Europe. The other reason is that there are differences, subtle as they may be. If you have a whole strip loin or tenderloin, one end is considerably different than the other.

Would the average person really notice these differences? Probably not. But they are different.

There are other steaks like skirt steak, tri-tip and flat-iron. These are different parts of the animal entirely. They also take more skill to prepare than a tenderloin or a strip loin and thus are less popular. These fall into the other category which I will cover in a bit.


Cooking Steaks –

I did a post a few months ago called Everything I Know About Steak. I really focused on the glamour cuts in that post. So, rather than taking the time to repeat myself I am going to link to that post here. There is way more information about steak specifically in that post than I can write here. This way we can move on to the more interesting stuff.


Cooking Ribs –

I’m going to do the same thing with ribs. Rather than repeating myself, I am going to direct you to a post I wrote all about cooking ribs. You can check that out here.

Ribs

Pork Cuts –

The glamour cuts of pork are really the tenderloin, and the chop. In all honesty, the tenderloin is my least favourite part of a pig. There is no fat on it. It has the least amount of flavour. And if it is even slightly overcooked it is dry as all hell. Despite all of this, people love it. I don’t know why.

Pork chops and pork loin (not tenderloin) are the same thing. The difference being the bone. I prefer bone-in pork chops because the bone helps to keep them moist and provides flavour. Whole pork loin, bone in or out is good roasting whole. It can be stuffed or left as is.


Cooking Pork To Temperature –

Pork is one of those tricky beasts that freaks a lot of people out. There is a fear of eating under-cooked pork which leads a lot of people to over cook it. This is bad news bears. Over cooked pork is terrible. It is dry. It is tasteless. And, it is joyless. On flip side, perfectly cooked pork is a thing of true beauty.

If you are that worried about eating under-cooked pork, invest in a instant read thermometer like this. Cook all of your pork to 162°F, let it rest to 165°f and everything will be glorious. If you aren’t that worried about it, which you shouldn’t be, cook all of your pork to 155°F- 158°F and let it rest to 160°F-165°F.

A little bit of pink in the middle of your pork chop or pork loin is fine. It is desirable.


Pork Cooking Techniques –

When it comes to cooking pork there are multiple techniques you can use. For indoor cooking for pork chops and tenderloin, I suggest a two stage cooking process. Start with a hot pan and brown the pork on all sides. Then finish it in a 400°F oven.

For out door cooking, a moderate heat is preferred. With pork chops you may not want to cook directly over the flame of the BBQ. There may be a lot of flare ups.


Pork Cooking Times –

The amount of time it takes to cook a pork chop or a whole loin or a tenderloin is really dependant on the size of it and how you are cooking it. If you took the time to sear pork chops in a pan before they go in the oven they will take less time than if you put them straight in the oven.

I don’t really have a hard and fast rule for cooking times with stuff like this as there are way to many variables. Again, I would say get a thermometer and cook to temperature not time.


Skill Cuts

Skill cuts are those cuts of meat that take more effort and skill to prepare, but that generally have a greater pay off. Yes, a perfectly cooked rib eye steak is amazing, but so is a melt in your mouth beef short rib. Typically, the rib eye is going to cost you a lot more.

These types of cuts include beef short rib, shank (ossobuco), round, brisket, tongue, and cheek to name a few. For pork we have shoulder (picnic ham), shank, belly, spare ribs, and jowl, etc.

The thing that all of these pieces of meat generally have in common is that are composed of muscle groups that get used a lot. The more a muscle gets used the tougher it is. But, more importantly, the more flavourful it is.

With these cuts, someone who knows what they are doing can make a dish that will blow a perfectly cooked beef tenderloin out of the water.


Cooking Skill Cuts –

Pretty much all of these cuts of meat are best suited to long, slow cooking. That could be slow roasting, smoking, or braising. The key is that the tougher muscle fibres and connective tissues need time to break down. Let’s use beef cheek as an example.

First of all, I am using beef cheek because I know just about everyone cringed when they read that and that is wrong. Beef cheek is amazing. It is important to remember that it is just another piece of meat. Other than toughness and flavour there is no difference between beef cheek and beef tenderloin. And yeah, beef cheek tastes way better than beef tenderloin.

So, imagine how often the cheek of a cow moves. Every time they chew or moo. I don’t know if you have ever seen a cow, but they are pretty much always doing one of those two things. The cheeks get used more than almost any other muscle on the cows body.

If you took that cheek, put it on a barbecue for five minutes per side and tried to eat it, you wouldn’t be able to. You honestly, wouldn’t be able to chew. It would be worse than leather. On the other hand, if you took that cheek, put it in a flavourful liquid and put it in the oven on low heat for four hours, it would melt in your mouth. You wouldn’t need to chew it at all.

When you are cooking meat on low heat, for a long period of time you don’t need to worry about what temperature the meat reaches. The goal is texture and consistency. You are softening the meat. Breaking down the muscle fibres and connective tissues.

I did a much more in depth article about braising which you can find here.


Slow Roasting –

Slow roasting is the same idea, minus the flavourful liquid. In this case the meat would be rubbed with flavourings, and put it the oven to roast on low heat for a long period of time. By low heat I mean around 300°F.


Marinading, and Brining –

Often with these tougher cuts they will be marinated or brined prior to being cooked. This imparts flavour and helps to keep the meat moist. The difference is that a marinade is mostly to impart flavour. A brine is mostly to retain moisture.


Conclusion

There is so much more that I could talk about but I’m out of time for today. I will have to do a follow up post at some point down the road. I hope that this post has given you at least an idea of what is possible and why you shouldn’t just buy the “glamour cuts”.

Also, I think it is important to mention that with the slow roasting and braising of the lower end cuts it may seem like three or four hours is a long time to be cooking something but the effort is minimal. You really don’t need to do much but wait. Put something in the oven at lunch time on a Saturday or Sunday and it will be done in time for dinner. In the mean time you are free to go about your day. With today’s slow cookers it is even easier to create something amazing from these less known, and less used cuts of meat.

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