How to Cut Meat Against the Grain
You might have heard about how important it is to slice meat against the grain. This article will give you some of the science behind why making simple slices through long muscle fibers results in more delicious and easy to chew piece of meat. Read on for tips on how to identify the grain in various cuts of beef and what to look out for when you cut steak.
What happens if you don't cut against the grain? If you cut with the grain, instead of against it, you will not sever any muscle fibers and be left with long strips of meat. Although the human teeth are good for grinding, they are not particularly sharp and therefore not well equipped to tear tough muscle fibers. But when the fibers are severed with a knife, you are left with small pieces of meat that separate easily.
All meat will benefit from being cut against the grain. However a slow cooked piece of meat, where the collagen and connective tissue has been broken down slowly with heat and time, the meat will pulls apart easily and has less of a need to have the muscle fibers cut in order to be easy to chew.
The grain is clearer to identify in tougher cuts of meat, such as skirt steak, flank steak and hanger steak compared to lean cuts, like tenderloin and filet mignon.
Identifying the Grain
When looking at a piece of raw meat, the grain of the meat, which is the alignment of muscle fibers and the direction they go in can be seen if you look closely. They appear as a whitish fiber that runs in one direction. In the photo below you can see they run horizontally from the upper left to the bottom right.
How do you know where the grain is? It will vary by cut of meat, but generally if you think of the fibers as ropes, you can look and see the direction of the grain and where it is going. What if you can’t tell where the grain of meat is? Depending on the cut, sometimes the grain of meat can be very small and therefore it doesn’t really make a difference if you cut through it or not. It's good to be aware when dealing with tender cuts, but really pay attention when approaching muscle groups that are hard working and the grain runs have long heavy strands.
Preparing the Meat
- Selecting the right knife
Proper sharpening of the knife
How to prepare the meat for cutting
Use a high-quality cutting board. If there is any slipping or movement place a flat damp paper towel between the cutting board and the counter. This will give you a secure work surface.
Cutting Against the GrainStep-by-step instructions for how to cut meat against the grain. Although cutting against the grain is useful for raw meat when making smaller portions that you want to sear or larger chunks for stew or braising, the following applies to cutting steak into smaller portions for easy serving.
- Find the grain. Similar for finding in raw meat, identify the direction the muscle fibers are running.
- Position the meat on your cutting surface. Place the meat so that it fits well on the cutting board. Ideally the grain will run left to right.
- Cut against the grain. Hold your knife perpendicular to the cutting, make slow even slices from north to south so that your cuts are against the grain.