How to Cook Meat

There are many transformations that occur in meat, well all protein, during cooking. Here’s a primer on How to Cook Meat to help you understand the process and become a more competent and confident cook.

How to Cook Meat

Dry heat techniques, such as pan roasting, sautéing, or grilling, the exterior forms an eye appealing brown crust and imparts a mouth-watering aroma and savory flavor. The trick is how to get the degree
of doneness you want and the range is broad: rare with a black and blue center, medium-rare with a rosy warm center to well done or the proverbial hockey puck that’s dry and gray.

Demonstration

I did a little experiment to show the time, temperature and outcome for rare, medium rare, medium, medium well, and well done with five small ends of filet mignon, each seasoned with salt and pepper and dab of olive oil. I grilled them using a large Weber grill (Summit model) with 6 burners. The temperature reaches 600º F in 15 minutes.

how to cook meat

First, I weighed each raw filet and placed them on a lined tray with sticky notes strategically placed to record the data.

how to cook meat

Before:

Top Row (left to right):

  • 2.6 ounces
  • 2.4 ounces

how to cook meat

Bottom Row (left to right):

  • 3.3 ounces
  • 3.4 ounces
  • 2.8 ounces

After (I sliced each filet after resting it for five minutes):

Top Row (left to right):

  • well done -1.6 ounces, weight loss – 39%, total cooking time – 14.5 minutes
  • medium well – 1.8 ounces, weight loss – 25%, total cooking time 9 minutes

how to cook meat

Bottom Row (left to right):

  • rare (red warm center) – 3.0 ounces,  weight loss – 9%, total cooking time 3.5 minutes
  • medium rare – 2.9 ounces, weight loss – 15%,  total cooking time 4.5 minutes
  • medium – 2.1 ounces, weight loss – 25%, total cooking time 6 minutes

I put the filets on the grill at the same time and turned  them 90º after 60 seconds, and cooked for another 60 seconds to create crosshatch marks.

how to cook meat

how to cook meat

I flipped them and continued cooking another 60 seconds; turned each 90º and turned the heat to low (in colder months I would lower the heat to medium).

how to cook meat

The drop in temperature was gradual. Not a problem for the filets coming off quickly, but important for the more well done ones. The lower temperature prevents excessive loss of juices and allows more uniformity in texture.

how to cook meat

The rare filet came off first, after an extra 30 seconds. Notice the loose structure and red color.

how to cook meat

The medium-rare filet came off a minute after that. The structure is not as loose and the color is pinky red.

how to cook meat

The medium filet cooked another minute and a half and has firmer structure, a light pink center, and retains some moisture.

how to cook meat

The medium-well filet remained on the grill for another three minutes. The structure is  firm with a pink-gray center. The meat is still a little moist but getting chewy. Notice that the moisture loss is the same as the medium filet (25%). The reason for that is the lower temperature, which gently cooks the meat and allows for more retention of meat juices than high heat.

how to cook meat

The well-done filet cooked for five and a half minutes more. Colorless center, very firm, and chewy. Had I left the temp at 600º F, it would have cooked faster but would definitely be much drier and solid — get out the saw, the steak knife just won’t cut it!

how to cook meat
Searing Doesn’t Seal in Juices
Contrary to popular belief, searing meat does not form a “leak-proof” crust. Juices are not held in, they escape throughout the cooking process. Just look at your platter when you remove meat from a heat source, juices pool in the bottom of the dish. A seared crust is esthetically and palette pleasing and definitely worth the time and effort needed to achieve it.

Rest the Meat to Retain Juices
Rest meat for a few minutes after cooking. The internal temperature of the meat is still high, especially with more well-done items, and meat continues to cook off heat.  Waiting a few minutes before serving and/or cutting allows juices to become structurally bound within, resulting in more succulent meat.
Keep these principles in mind and you’ll know how to cook meat perfectly every time.
See also our post on how to cook proteins for a more scientific look at denaturation and coagulation.

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