Meat Cookery

Methods of Cooking Meat

Methods of cooking meat include dry heat (roasting, broiling, pan-broiling, pan- frying, stir-frying and outdoor grilling) or moist heat (braising and cooking in liquid). Methods should be selected based on initial tenderness of the cut, desired quality characteristics of the resulting product, available cooking facilities and equipment, and the amount of time available for preparation. 

Tender cuts of meat, cooked by dry-heat methods, result in tender and juicy products. Less-tender cuts must be cooked for longer periods of time by moist-heat methods, to soften the connective tissue, prevent surface drying and to develop flavor. Some less tender cuts such as beef top round and chuck arm can be cooked by a dry heat method if marinated before cooking. 

The degree of doneness can easily be determined by measuring internal temperature, using a standard meat thermometer or a quick recovery/ instant read thermometer. The more tender the cut, the lower the internal temperature needed to produce a satisfactory product. 

A meat thermometer is the most accurate guide to the doneness of roasts. The thermometer should be inserted into the roast surface at a slight angle or through the end of the roast so the tip of the thermometer is in the thickest portion of the cut, but not resting in fat, against the bone, or on the rotisserie rod. When using the rotisserie, the thermometer must clear the cooking unit and drip pan while the meat is turning.       

Dry Heat- Dry heat methods of cooking are suitable for tender cuts of meat or less tender cuts which have been marinated. Dry heat methods include roasting, oven broiling, grilling, pan-broiling, panfrying and stir—frying.

Roasting—this method of cooking is recommended for larger cuts of beef, veal, pork and lamb. For cuts suitable for roasting and other cooking methods, see Chapter 3. 

Broiling—Broiling is suitable for tender beef steaks; beef and lamb kabobs;  veal, pork and lamb chops; pork ribs;  sliced ham; bacon; butterflied lamb leg  and ground beef, pork and lamb. Steaks and chops should be at least 3/4 inch thick and ham should be at least 1/2 inch thick for successful broiling.  Less tender cuts such as beef flank steak, beef top round, and veal, pork and lamb shoulder chops may also be broiled when marinated. Marinating can increase the tenderness of these cuts but only to a limited degree.  The same tender cuts suitable for oven broiling can be pan- or griddle broiled.  This method is especially good for meat 3/4 inch or less in thickness; very thick cuts of meat may become overcooked on the outside before the middle has reached the desired degree of doneness.

Grilling (Barbecuing)—The technique we call grilling is thought to have originated in the Caribbean, where natives smoke-dried meat over hot coals on wood-frame “grills? Early Spanish explorers called this the “barbacoa” which evolved into the modern-day word “barbecue.”

Due to the method of heating, grilling is actually a method of broiling. Meat can be grilled on a grid or rack over coals, heated ceramic briquettes or an open fire. While it is usually done out- doors, grilling can be done in the kitchen with special types of range tops or newer, small appliances. 

Standard charcoal briquettes are the most common fuel for grilling.  High-quality briquettes burn evenly and consistently. Flammable material for quick-start fires may be added. It takes longer for natural lump charcoal to get hot, but it provides heat for a longer period of time.

Woods like mesquite, apple, cherry and grapevine—in chip or briquette form— gives unique flavors to grilled beef and lamb. Hickory generally is best for smoking beef and pork. Wood chips are first soaked in water about 30 minutes, drained, and then placed on the burning coals. (Softwoods and evergreens should not be used; they can impart a bitter flavor and leave a residue in the grill.) 

Grilling is often used to cook kabobs.  Kabobs are pieces of meat, or a combination of meat and vegetables, or meat and fruit pieces, alternated on a skewer.

Pan-broiling—Pan-broiling is a faster and more convenient method than oven broiling for cooking thinner steaks or chops.

Stir-frying—Stir-frying is similar to panfrying except that the food is stirred almost continuously Cooking is done with high heat, using small or thin pieces of meat.

Deep-fat frying—When meat is cooked immersed in fat, the process is called deep-fat frying. This method is only used with very tender meat.  Usually, meat to be deep-fat fried is coated with egg and crumbs or a batter, or it is dredged in flour or corn meal (breaded). This method of cooking is sometimes used for brains, sweetbreads, liver and croquettes; however, a number of other meat products are suitable for deep-fat frying. 

Pan-frying—Panfrying differs from pan-broiling in that a small amount of fat is added first, or allowed to accumulate during cooking.  Panfrying is a method suitable for ground meat, small or thin cuts of meat, thin strips, and pounded, scored or other- wise tenderized cuts that do not require prolonged heating for tenderization.       

Moist Heat—Moist-heat methods of cooking are suitable for less tender cuts of meat. Moist-heat cooking helps to reduce surface drying in those cuts requiring prolonged cooking times.  Unless a pressure cooker is used, cooking temperature is usually low, but heat penetration is faster than in dry-heat methods because steam and water conduct heat rapidly.

With moist-heat cookery, meat may lose some water—soluble nutrients into the cooking liquid. However, if the cooking liquids are consumed, as in stews or soups, nutrients are transferred and not totally lost. 

Braising—in some regions of the country the term “fricassee” is used interchangeably with braising. Pot roast and Swiss steak are popular examples of braised—meat dishes. Meat can be braised in cooking bags designed specifically for use in the oven. Use of oven—cooking bags can reduce cooking time for larger cuts of meat. No additional water is needed, as moisture is drawn out of the meat due to the atmosphere created by the cooking bag.

Cooking in Liquid—less tender cuts of meat can be covered with liquid and gently simmered until tender. Care should be taken not to let the temperature of the liquid exceed 195°F, because boiling (212°F) toughens meat protein.  When the liquid is used as a base for soup it is called meat stock (also called broth or bouillon). Meat that is partially cooked in liquid before cooking by another method is called “parboiled.”

The three ways to cook in liquid are simmering, stewing and poaching. Simmering and stewing are used for less tender cuts of meat while poaching is used for tender cuts. Also, poaching is only appropriate for beef while any type of meat (beef, veal, pork or lamb) can be simmered. The difference between simmering and stewing is that simmering is used with whole cuts of meat while stewing is used with small pieces of meat.

Poaching has been a traditional way of cooking poultry and fish. However, beef roasts can also be successfully poached if they come from tender cuts. Appropriate roasts for poaching are beef eye round, rib eye and tenderloin.

After an initial browning period, the  poaching liquid is added and the roast  is then gently simmered until it reaches 130°F. A combination of beef broth or consommé, red wine and herbs makes a  flavorful poaching liquid. After cooking, the liquid can be used to make a simple sauce for the roast or it can be strained and frozen for later use as a soup base or stewing liquid. 

Poaching takes one third less time than roasting. (A beef roast will poach to rare in about 20 to 30 minutes).  In addition to cooking more quickly, poaching helps to keep shrinkage of the meat to a minimum. A poached beef roast is also just as tender, juicy and flavorful as one which has been conventionally prepared.     

Ways to cook meat

There are various different ways to cook meat, it is best to tailor the cooking to meet the needs of the meat. Broiling is a method that uses a direct heat to brown the outside without overcooking the inside. Roasting uses the air in the oven or other cooking device to heat the meat. Braising uses the steam trapped in the container and is often used for less tender cuts of meat like a roast. It is best to select the cooking method that best fits the cut of meat you are preparing.

Storing and reheating leftovers

Once meat has been cooked it is important that it is cared for properly to prevent growth of bacteria. Foods should be refrigerated or cooled to 40°F within two hours of cooking. Leftovers that are placed in shallower containers cool more quickly. When reheating items they should reach a temperature of 140°F.

Methods of Heating

There are three basic mechanisms of heating: conduction, convection and radiation. Usually, more than one of the mechanisms is involved in normal food preparation processes and all three can occur simultaneously.

Conduction—In conduction, kinetic energy is transmitted from molecule to molecule without displacement of the molecules. Muscle tissues are heated primarily by conduction when there is direct contact with a heat source, such as the heated surfaces of electric range burners or the flame of gas burners. 

Convection—In convection cooking, the heated air moves in currents around the piece of meat and the surrounding medium. Convection currents may occur naturally because of simple changes that occur when a gas or liquid is heated, thus becoming less dense and rising.  Convection currents are mechanically stimulated by a blower in a convection oven making cooking more economical because it results in time and power savings. Since convection ovens cook 20 percent to 40 percent faster than conventional ovens, cooking times must be adjusted to avoid overcooked and dry meat. 

When meat is cooked in a conventional  oven, electromagnetic waves of radiant  energy pass from the heat source to the  pan in which the meat rests and then  into the meat. Shiny surfaces tend to reflect heat, while dull or dark surfaces absorb it.       

Radiation—Two types of radiation are used in meat cookery: infrared and microwave. Infrared radiation is the transfer of heat energy by long electro- magnetic waves which pass from a high-temperature surface to a low- temperature surface. The form of heat transfer is particularly important at high temperatures. Radiant energy may come from broiler units in conventional ovens or from glowing coals. This mode of heat transfer occurs through air media, and is slowed within a solid piece of meat.

 In microwave radiation, energy is supplied by short electromagnetic waves. These microwaves penetrate food, causing polar molecules (e.g., water) within the food to move rapidly and to vibrate. As the molecules rub against one another, the resulting friction creates heat, which is known as thermal motion. 

Microwaves denature proteins within meat, but only penetrate to a depth of about 1/2 inches. When cooked in a microwave oven, the inner portion of thick cuts of meat is heated primarily through conduction. Since bone reflects microwaves, the meat nearest to the bone does not heat well. Surface evaporative cooling has been observed in microwave—cooked roasts. This may explain some of the uneven cooking that has been reported in meat prepared in a microwave oven. Because surface temperature is low and moisture is deposited on the surface of the meat, a cooked crust may not form on meat.  Browning meat in a microwave oven depends upon a time/temperature relationship. For example, browning normally does not occur in small pieces of meat because they have a short cooking time. However, a 3-pound roast microwaved at 30 percent will brown because of its longer cooking time.             

Microwave Ovens

Use of microwave ovens has become wide spread, and they are now found in 75% of U.S. Kitchens. In early studies, meat cooked on high power was often overdone at certain spots and underdone at others because the heat was not dissipated fast enough to reach the interior of the meat. Today's microwave ovens with variable power controls allow meat to be cooked more evenly at lower power settings. 

If a crusty exterior is preferred, as for roast beef, use of the microwave oven may be less desirable than would be the conventional oven.  The microwave oven will brown roasts, but not as readily as the conventional oven. A small percentage of ovens have browning devices built into them, or sauces can be put on the meat to add color. Meat will brown naturally if cooked at a low temperature for a longer period of time.

As early as the mid-196Os. Experts observed that heat distribution patterns varied among microwave ovens. These early investigations led to questions of whether Trichinella spiralis, if present in pork, might survive when pork was cooked by this method.  To address this problem, a new procedure  for cooking pork in the microwave oven was  developed. The meat is placed in a closed container, such as a loosely sealed, oven-cooking bag or a covered microwave safe container, and microwaved at a reduced power setting.  This procedure produces a vaporous atmosphere and reduces temperature variations, thereby producing a consistently, properly done pork cut. 

The microwave oven successfully reheats previously cooked foods, including meat. Microwave reheated meat retains aroma and flavor, and has higher acceptability than meat reheated in a conventional oven. Microwaving reduces cooking time by about 50 percent and uses correspondingly less energy. Refer to the manufacturer's guidelines for your unit for listings of specific microwave cooking times.  

Thawing meat before cooking

It is important to remember safety and proper techniques when thawing out meat and poultry. Following suggested guidelines is essential to food safety. There are three safe ways to thaw meat: in the microwave, in the refrigerator, in cold water (make sure to place in an air-tight, water-tight bag). Click here for more tips.

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