A good steak steals the spotlight on any kitchen table, barbecue plate, or restaurant menu. It’s so pivotal, in fact, that steak preparation is shrouded in a befuddling haze of mysticism.
But if there is one agreed-upon way to prepare a great steak, it’s that you want to cut across the grain. You’ve probably heard the expression before, but just like other meat-related hearsay, you’re not sure if this is the real deal.
Let me make it simple: It absolutely is.
Not sure what the grain is or why it’s so important to cut against? Discover how to cut steak against the grain and wow your guests at the next dinner party.
What Is the Grain?
When most people hear the word grain, they think about wheat, oats, and barley. It’s time to throw these associations out the window. When we are talking about meat, the grain is an entirely different beast.
So what is the grain exactly? It’s the layout of a steak’s thin muscle fibers. If you’ve never taken a close look at your meat, the grain is easy to miss.
These tiny strands of muscle fibers are arranged in parallel and run in the same direction. The next time you get your hands on a nice steak, try to part the surface with your thumbs. You should notice these thin fibers, which are usually not larger than a strand of string.
If you’re still struggling to identify the grain, cook yourself a nice steak. The grain is oftentimes more noticeable on darkened the meat.
Think of this browned mass as a piece of bark. And just like bark, you should notice pleated, parallel strands of connective fibers.
However, not every stake has muscle fiber definition. The more fibrous cuts of the cow are cheaper because these muscles are chewy and difficult to cook. More expensive cuts of meat, such as a filet mignon, lack almost any semblance of muscle definition or grain.
In short, the cheaper your beef, the more noticeable the grain. While we are talking about grains from a steak standpoint, it’s important to know that other meats also contain fibrous tissue, and thus grains of their own.
Why Should You Cut Across the Grain?
Chicken, pork, or beef — you always want to cut against the grain. Of course, You’ve probably had a family member or co-worker tell you this already. If you asked them why, they couldn’t give you a good answer.
The reasoning is simple. We’ve already established that fibrous muscle tissue is tough and chewy. Cooking and marinating these strands can only denature the proteins so far.
Cutting against the grain is the secret to tenderizing every bite. This technique shortens these long strands of muscle and weakens the steak’s integrity. Once the meat hits your mouth, layers of short fibers are free to dissolve and break away, especially if you’ve cut the steak into strips rather than chunks.
In contrast, cutting with the grain preserves muscle toughness. This method creates steak that’s so tough, it’s essentially like trying to bite into a bundle of ropes with your teeth.
And nobody wants to eat rope at the dinner table.
How to Cut Steak Against the Grain
While the actual act of cutting the meat is simple, doing it right is a calculated process. It starts as soon as you pull the steak out of the refrigerator.
First, let the steak come to room temperature. Failing to do so is one of several steak cooking sins. Not only will you have a harder time cutting through the cold fibers, but it’s detrimental to the creation of a perfect sear.
If you are portioning steaks in advance or cutting through a larger slab of meat, such as tenderloin, then you’ll want to cut against the grain before the meat even hits the grill. Basically, whenever you choose to cut the steak, always think about the grain.
When you’re ready to cut your steak, it’s time to identify the running of the grain. You want your cuts to be perpendicular to these strands and slice cleanly through them. Remember to let your meat rest for at least 20 minutes beforehand if you’re slicing up a cooked slab of beef.
A sharp knife is essential here. If you’re using a dull blade, you’ll struggle to cut through the fibers and could damage them in the process. Say goodbye to those cooked, delicious juices as you attempt to saw through your steak.
Check out these straight edge steak knives if you need an upgrade.
The real trick is to determine the ideal width of each strip of steak. This comes down to a combination of personal preference and meat quality.
It’s easier to create thin curtains of beef from low-quality cuts because they have more muscle definition and thus hold together under pressure. Unless you’re rocking an amazing set of knives, don’t go too thin with high-quality beef. Odds are, you’ll end up turning it into mush instead.
Take Your Steak to the Next Level
Now that you know how to cut steak against the grain, you can transform any piece of beef into something spectacular. Best of all, it doesn’t require any extra work on your end. That’s a rare find in a world where steak preparation has a cult of its own.
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