You might be surprised to learn that meat has grain and that rather than cutting with the grain, you need to go against it. This goes against many people’s natural inclination to go with the grain, such as when mopping a wood floor.
But what is the grain in meat? And how can you tell which way it goes? and why does it matter anyway?
It’s not as easy to tell which way the grain goes like it is with wood floors. But learning how is vital.
Below we tell you how to cut beef against the grain so that you enjoy better tasing meat, with better chewing consistency than if you were just cutting beef all mumbo jumbo in any direction that you wanted to.
So keep reading to learn how to become a better cook and a meat cutting connoisseur.
What Is the Grain in Meat?
First off, you need to know what the grain is, and how to spot it. The grain is the direction that the muscle fibers in the meat travel. Muscle fibers in a particular piece of meat will almost always be traveling in the same direction.
Depending on the cut of beef you have in front of you, it might be easier or more difficult to actually see the grain. With tougher slabs of meat like flank steak, you should be able to see the grain in both the raw and cooked meat pretty easily.
Not all cuts are that simple though, so it takes a little practice to train your eyes to see the grain.
Why Cutting Against the Grain Is Important
So why would you want to cut across a piece of meat against the grain? As mentioned before, the grain is the muscle fibers running through the meat.
These fibers can be tough to chew if left alone that is. When you cut with the grain, you aren’t cutting up the muscle fibers. You are leaving them intact, and therefore, strong and tough to chew.
Basically, leaving the muscle fibers as is will make it more difficult to chew through your meat.
But when you cut against the grain, you are actually slicing through all of these muscle fibers with each cut. Therefore, each fiber gets shorter and becomes much weaker.
That way, when you take a bite, it’s much easier to chew through the fibers, making for a more tender and more enjoyable piece of meat.
So it’s not only the cut of meat you are working with, and how long or short you cook that piece of meat. How you actually slice the final product also determines how tender or tough your steak will be.
Also, if the piece of meat you are cutting up is already very tender, it’s vital that you cut against the grain. Cutting with the grain won’t live the meat as cleanly. As a result, you’ll end up smashing the meat and ruining it.
Cutting against the grain on tender meat will result in a cleaner, more direct cuts with less smashing action, making for more enjoyable bites or strips. Basically, if you are buying high-quality meat, you want to ensure you don’t ruin it with a bad cut.
How to Cut Beef Against the Grain
It sounds pretty easy, right? Well luckily, there aren’t any secrets. It’s as easy to cut meat against the grain as it is to cut with the grain. All you have to do is spot the direction of the grain before making a cut.
Wondering how to cut beef? Lay your raw or cooked meat on a cutting board or plate in front of you. Look close and try to find the lines on the surface of the meat.
If the meat is charred or heavily seasoned, it will be tough to spot. Try exposing the surface of the meat to find the grain. Once you see the grain, angle the meat so that the grain is running from left to right. Then, make vertical cuts (perpendicular to the grain), slicing up those fibers.
Cut the meat into the desired size and enjoy.
How to Cut Meat When Fibers Criss-Cross
Certain cuts of meat may have fibers moving in different directions. At first glance, it may seem like there is no singular grain direction, and that it doesn’t matter how you cut it.
This is wrong, however. Every cut of meat will have a major direction that most muscle fibers are traveling. While it might seem like chaos, look closely enough until you see the majority of parallel lines. Even if a few fibers cross over these parallel lines, the majority wins the vote when determining cut direction.
Types of Meat Requiring Precise Cuts
Certain types of meat are going to be more sensitive to cutting directions than others. If you are buying and preparing more expensive cuts of meat, you owe it to yourself to learn how to cut it properly, to avoid making costly mistakes right before eating.
For example, you might be wondering how to slice a tri tip steak since these aren’t cheap, but are super delicious when done right. A bad cut on tri tip can ruin the whole slab of meat, even if you cooked it to perfection.
Tri tip is unique in that it actually has two main grain directions. Mind the intersection point of the grain, as this is typically the halfway point, where you would switch the angle of your cuts.
And when cutting, angle your knife a bit and be sure to slice as thin as you can with this particular meat.
Other cuts of beef that would require you to cut precisely would include skirt steaks, flank, flat iron, and hanger steaks, along with brisket. Other cuts are more forgiving, though again, you should always try to cut against the grain if you can. Unless, of course, you like excessively chewy bites of meat.
Becoming a Well-Rounded Cook
As you can see, there’s a lot more to cutting meat than most people realize. But if you really want to up your chef game, you need to consider every aspect of preparing food.
It’s not enough to buy the right cuts, nor is it enough to cook them to perfection. You also need to know how to cut beef against the grain and serve it on a plate.
It all matters.
Looking to learn more about becoming a better cook? Head over to our blog where you’ll find other helpful articles to do just that.