The Science of Cooking Tough Cuts Part I

The most important factor affecting the palatability of meat is tenderness. Since this is the case, I would like to discuss the science behind making a tender cut of meat- every time! This is not a simple topic so I am going to do this in a two part series. This week I will be answering the question…

Why are certain cuts of meat tough?

I am going to start out with how meat gets tough in the first place. Certain cuts of every animal are tough for one or many of the following reasons:

1)      Age of the animal- this is why veal is so tender.

2)      How much the muscle is used- for example a shoulder is a tough cut because the shoulder is used often by the animal which creates more connective tissue, the “loin” cuts however are tenderer because they are used less frequently.

3)      If the meat has been aged- rigor mortis sets in after death so meat needs to be aged, usually the longer meat is aged the more tender it becomes; this is common in beef.

4)      Stress on the animal- stress equals tough meat; this is why farmers make sure to apply good husbandry practises in order to minimize anxiety in the animal and keep them content.

5)      How the cut is prepared- The good news is that you can tenderize a cut through the use of mechanical manipulation, heat or marinades (chemical reactions) – more on this in the next post.  

If these cuts are tough you might be asking, why then do people want to eat them? There are many reasons for this. Firstly, these tough cuts are more economically priced- perfect for a family looking to spend less on their grocery bill. In addition, the melted collagen (tough protein found in these cuts) melts into gelatin which makes a smooth and very delicious texture not to mention a remarkable flavour when cooked properly. Also, many of our favourite home cooked comfort foods are made from these cuts, for example pulled pork and stew. Tune in next week where I will tell you how to prepare these cuts perfectly- every time! I am going to talk about the theories behind tenderizing meat so that you will understand how and why it works.


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