The Challenge of Cooking Meat: the Right Texture

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Generally, we like meat to be tender and juicy rather than tough and dry. The ideal method for cooking meat would therefore minimize moisture loss and compacting of the meat fibers, while maximizing the conversion of tough connective-tissue collagen to fluid gelatin. Unfortunately, these two aims contradict each other. Minimizing fiber firming and moisture loss means cooking meat quickly to no hotter than 130–140°F/55–60°C. But turning collagen to gelatin requires prolonged cooking at 160°F/70°C and above. So there is no ideal cooking method for all meats. The method must be tailored to the meat’s toughness. Tender cuts are best heated rapidly and just to the point that their juices are in full flow. Grilling, frying, and roasting are the usual fast methods. Tough cuts are best heated for a prolonged period at temperatures approaching the boil, usually by stewing, braising, or slow-roasting.