Keeping Meat Moist: Cuts, Marinades and Cooking Methods

prepare juicy steak

If you’ve ever had trouble with tough, dry meat, then you know that cooking meat can sometimes be a challenge. Knowing cooking techniques and meat cuts will help in the process, keeping your meat moist and tender for each meal.

Selecting the Cut

It’s all about location. The wrong cut with the wrong cooking method will result in chewy or dry meat because different cuts have different amounts of fat. The fat in the meat keeps the moisture in and gives the meat cut more flavor, while leaner meats tend to be tougher and need different cooking methods.

Beef – With beef there are eight “primal cuts.” Those nearest “hoof or horn” are muscles that are used more often and are tougher cuts – the chuck, brisket and flank. The cuts of muscle that are less used and have more fat to make them tender are located near the shoulder area – they are the rib, plate and loin.

Chicken – The chicken may be cooked whole, in halves, in quarters or in specific sections. White meat cooks to an opaque white color while dark meat cuts cook to a much darker opaque color. Chicken breasts and wings are white meat, while legs and thighs are dark meat. Dark meat tends to be more moist since it contains more fat, but the right cooking method will result in a very tender and moist white meat—on or off the bone.

Pork – The choice cuts of pork (much like beef) are from the upper middle section of the pig—the loin and ribs. The shoulder, butt, ham, and country ribs are all larger and tougher cuts of meat. The belly is used for bacon or ground and added to sausage.

Choosing a Marinade

Most likely (and especially when it comes to beef), you won’t be able to afford ribeye and New York Strip steaks every night. To help your meat absorb additional flavor before cooking, soak your meat in a marinade. Depending on the acidity, your meat may be done marinating in an hour or sit in the marinade overnight, so check your recipe well ahead of cooking.

Three basic ingredients make up most marinades:

Fat – usually an oil.

Acid – vinegar, a citrus juice or wine. This helps break down the toughness of the meat and allow flavor to penetrate.

Flavorings – a mix of spices, herbs and garlic.

Some marinades can actually make the meat tougher if they over marinade, so be careful to follow the recommended time—especially with highly acidic marinades. These acidic marinades can not only ruin your dish, but they can stain your clothes as well. Always wear the right attire or consider an apron to protect your clothes when preparing food.

Cooking Methods

Dry heat cooking – this includes roasting, broiling, deep frying or sautéing.

Moist heat cooking – this method includes braising, steaming or poaching.

Dry cooking methods include using fats like oil, while moist heat cooking uses water. Using the above description of meat cuts, the tougher cuts will need longer cooking at lower temperatures in a moist cooking heat method to retain maximum moisture. With dry heat cooking, typically very high temperatures are used for a shorter amount of time, and actually seal in the moisture for the more tender cuts of meat. If you get these methods turned around you will end up with a very dry meat. If you overcook the meat with either method, then you will also end up with dry and tough meat.

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