Many of us love meat, after all, it’s hard to resist the juicy, crispy, marinated, cooked to perfection melt in your mouth flavors that remind us why we are carnivores.
Personally, my weaknesses include a perfectly rare filet steak where the outside is seared, slow roasted chicken with gentle seasoning that has been basted consistently, grilled pork chops with the smokey flavor but still moist and not overcooked, baked lamb with Meditterian sea salt and spices slowly roasted with a juicy pink center, or mouth-watering baked or grilled fish that falls apart on your fork. OHHHH, now I am hungry!
We know what we love to eat and where to get it but being able to create it at home is a totally different story. There are many tricks of the trade with cooking as to which meats to cook at what temperatures, best pans to use, and even which ones work best via baking, broiling, grilling, etc. Sometimes it’s nice to have the cheat sheet right in front of you!
Meat Manifesto 101
With any style or range of cooking, there are always a few things that remain constant and the same is true when handling meat. First and foremost you never want to cook meat that you just got out of the refrigerator or freezer. It will not cook properly as some will turn out more well done than others and truthfully it sucks the flavor out of the meat itself. The meat should be close to room temperature when you begin to cook it for the best results.
Secondly, preparation is key. Despite what you may believe the excess water, blood, or fluids in a packaged meat product does not mean throw it in the pan because that is where the flavor is. The flavor is in the meat. So its always a good idea to rinse off the meat and pat dry with a paper towel. This becomes a more prominent issue for frozen meats as any excess water in the meat gets released as it thaws which should be cleaned off prior to cooking.
Meat loves high-temperature cooking. Think of it as searing in the flavors with the meat. Even when slow roasting a chicken or turkey we still typically have the oven on 400 F to start for a while to get it cooking and then turn the heat down to let it finish cooking more slowly which gives the skin that wonderful taste we love. Make sure when keeping this in mind that you don’t have the temperature so high that you burn the meat and be mindful not to burn yourself.
The low heat I mentioned with the chicken above helps to preserve moisture. It also allows the internal temperature of the meat to rise to the desired doneness level. Thus why utilizing both high at the beginning and low heat for overall cooking combined is the best matchup for meat. Likewise, it is always wise to remember that the internal temperature of meat continues to rise up to 10 degrees even when you remove it from a heat source. This is why recipes typically tell you to remove meat and let it rest prior to cutting into it and why I will tell you to take it off a heat source about slightly prior to the level of where you want it to be for serving.
Various parts of meat are also best for certain types of cooking techniques. Matching up tougher meats like shoulder cuts with slow cooking methods such as braising or stews help to make them more tender. Tender cuts like pork loin do great in dryer fast cooking options such as grilling. Too much moisture in a tender piece of meat can actually make it turn tough.
Beef it Up
Temp Range: (always before resting)
Rare: 115-120 F
Med Rare: 120-125F
Well Done: 150-155F
America’s number 1 choice for meat. Mmmmmm a prime choice steak, beef tips, roasts, ground beef, brisket, just so many tasty options. Whenever cooking beef it’s imperative that the beef not be frozen to ensure the meat is cooked evenly. Marinades are great for flavor, just remember have it totally cover the meat, marinate in the refrigerator, and let sit for at least several hours up to overnight.
When handling raw beef its important that the juices from the meat don’t come in contact with other food products as it can contaminate them. Beef does not need to be at room temperature to be cooked but still cool from the fridge as fully thawed room temp can also lead to bacteria growth. Leftovers also need to go straight back into the fridge. Never refreeze beef or freeze after cooking due to when you go back to eating it there is a high chance of food poising.
Cooking beef is a fun and exciting meat with a lot of cooking options including grilling, stewing, roasting, broiling, pan frying, and even baking. Always try to be mindful of the cooking temperatures of beef versus cutting into the meat throughout cooking. It will help get the desired doneness you want while keeping the juicy flavors inside. A great method for tender beef is to sear in a cast iron skillet and then raise the internal temp in the oven.
When grilling beef you can use a variety range of cooking temperatures and make anything from a steak to a roast or even a good ole hamburger pattie. Braising works best with short ribs, chuck roasts, briskets, and rump roasts. Stewing allots for mostly chuck and round roasts. Beef sirloin is most appropriate for stir-frying. Barbecuing beef tastes delicious with brisket, ribs, chuck, and roasts. Then, of course, you have a skillet and/or pan frying which includes most often ground beef.
White Meat: 150F
Dark Meat: 175F
The middle ground for a whole chicken: 165F
Chicken has the potential to be moist and delicious or dry and dull. We all know that I am speaking the truth. It comes in all shapes, sizes, white, dark, oily, seasoned, crispy, with or without the skin, etc. So what makes good chicken?
Of course, knowing when the meat is actually done cooking is a great place to start with the temp range of the specific meat but that is just using the handy dandy meat thermometer. Marinates for chicken are best if they sit for a minimum of 30 min to help soak into the chicken but best for periods of 6 to 8 hours. The longer time allows the marinate not to just get the top layer of the chicken but to soak all through the chicken. Another helpful tip is to utilize carbonation with marinates such as a can of sprite or a favorite beer which provides oxygen into the meat and promotes the marinade.
I believe we can all agree that dry chicken is horrible. Even when I have been to pot lucks or a friends house and I think, “Well if nothing else, there should at least be chicken to eat.” Then you arrive and see all these crockpots and slow cookers, peek inside, and you can just tell that it’s dry and gross. How does someone mess up chicken in a crockpot? It can be done! The rule of thumb is simple, for every pound of chicken you need a quart of space in a crockpot. And of course, some fluid based composition for it to cook with.
When it comes to rinsing chicken prior to cooking its best not to use tap water due to the potential for bacteria to spread. I always recommend using bottled water and pouring it over the chicken while you hold the chicken with the other hand.
Additionally, avoid freezing chicken or loose storage refrigeration. Both cause the moisture to be sucked out of the chicken leaving it dry and tough.
Chicken does great at roasting, sauteing, broiling, grilling, frying, and poaching techniques. Try to use a healthy nonstick cooking pan or skillet whenever frying or browning the chicken. The uncovered chicken will always cook quicker than a covered chicken. A dry outer layer of chicken typically equals a crispy layer of chicken. Utilizing the inner cavity when cooking a whole chicken and basting are 2 ways to also include moisture and flavor into the meat.
Med Well: 145-150F
Well Done: 150-155F
There are many options for some delicious pork! Bacon, pork chops, steaks, ham, tenderloins, ribs, ground pork patties, sausages, and kabobs. Are you now hungry too?
When marinating pork you treat it like beef and have the pork completely covered with the marinade while soaking for up to 12 hours or more for best results. The temp range will help you know when the pork is done but it should also help to know that when you cut into a piece of pork the juices that run should either be clear or a faint pink. Try to avoid freezing as it will quickly dry out pork; however, if you must do so in a moisture protected method which does not include a Ziploc bag or parchment paper.
Some of the best cuts of pork are the loin or leg because they contain less fat. If you desire to cut off the excess fat from the meat, it is best to do so prior to cooking it.
Like all meat, if you overcook pork it will also become dry and tough to the point no one will want to eat it unless they smother it in a sauce. Some popular methods of cooking include: pan-frying, sauteing, grilling, broiling, baking, roasting, braising, stewing, and poaching. A good tip for helping keep moisture in pork is to coat it with vegetable oil prior to cooking it which also helps seasonings and herbs stick to it.
Love being on the grill? Try to cook the next round of pork out on a Himalayan salt block! Something tells me that you will love it, I know I do.
Fish for Everyone
First and foremost, never thaw your fish in the sink or with hot water! It will grow bacteria quickly and no one wants to eat that. Allow the fish to thaw in the fridge over a longer period of time prior to cooking.
A major benefit in cooking fish is the pure vast of cooking options including baking, steaming, frying, grilling, broiling, or slow cooking. However, fish can be easily overcooked resulting in dry tasteless fish. This is why cooking fish is not based on the internal temperature of the fish but on the cooking temp, weight or thickness of the fish, and correlated to the appropriate amount of cooking time.
Cooking fish selections are typically referring to whole fish, fillets, or fish steaks. When baking these fish they range between 3-5 pounds. Keep the oven at 350F and cook between 25-30 min for the best results. Pan-frying involves the same fish selections but you will want to do this over med heat. A whole fish will take up to 15min while a fillet and fish steak only up to 10 min. Upon grilling a fish you want it at a medium heat level for about 8-10 min for fillets and steaks while a whole fist can take up to 15-20 min. Deep frying fish is a quick process that only takes 4-6 min on average for all three selections and the temp should be about 350-375F for the oil. Steaming works the same way taking about 10-15 min for all selections on a med level.
It is important to always keep fish refrigerated. Rinse it inside and out and then dry it well. Never just cook a fish outright that you get from a meat market or grocery store. A good way to check if a fish is done cooking is to stick a fork into the thicker part of the fish where it should start to flake off. Always remember to try and flip the fish one time during the cooking cycle so both sides are cooked evenly but don’t keep flipping it constantly.
I personally love to cook fish on the grill with a wood plank. Until last summer I had never actually put the fish directly on the grate before due to not wanting the fish to stick and also not being very sure how that would work. I knew they did it in restaurants but clearly no clue how to replicate the process. Then I learned a neat trick. To grill a fish, one of the best tricks is to place it on the grill skin side up for about 10 min for every inch it is thick.
Just like the other meat selections you want the fish to rest a few mins before diving in allowing the juice to settle and finish cooking. The best tool on the market for dealing with fish is actually a fish spatula and I highly recommend investing in one if you don’t have one.
Lamb Chops Tonight
Rare: 115 – 120F
Med Rare: 120 – 125F
Medium: 130 – 135F
Med Well: 140 – 145F
Well Done: 150-155F
You have officially made it to my favorite meat of all time! I could spend a week talking your ear off about everything lamb and probably still not run out of things to talk about. However, I will try to only hit the basics for today. Like many of our other options you can grill, roast, rotisserie, broil, saute, pan-fry, bake, and grill lamb to absolute mouth-watering perfection.
Lamb cooks a lot like steak benefiting from high temps to start followed by lower temps to get the internal temp up. It also follows the same thermometer rating for doneness. For cooking choices, you have lamb chops, boneless or bone-in leg roasts, rib roasts or rack of lamb, leg and shoulder shanks, and tenderloins as being the most popular overall. Depending on the cut you can use dry or moist heat to cook lamb.
With lamb, you want to give it 5-10 min of rest prior to cutting into it and serving it with a meal. Part of what I love the most about lamb is that it is naturally tender. Soon I will share my lamb crown recipe with you.
Lamb is easy to prepare and season. Have some fun with it.
The Meat You Can’t Live Without
Meat is a sustainable source of protein for many Americans and a tasty one at that. However, it is in our best interests as home chef’s to prepare our meats in such a way to allow them to be both healthy and delicious. I am not thrilled to tell you that I have had food poising twice at restaurants who did not properly prepare their meats.
With so many cooking options, meat cuts, a variety of seasonings and herbs, marinades and styles available there is much we can do to accomplish juicy moist meats that we can’t live without. Or at least I cannot.
What is your favorite meat and way to cook it?
I hope you enjoyed this review and if you have any questions about your favorite meats or want to leave your own personal review or technique please leave a comment below.