Slicing meat not only helps it accommodate your plates but also tenderizes the meat and enhances the flavor by exposing a larger surface area of the meat.
When it comes to slicing meat, probably the most vital element is cutting the slices against the grain.
What does cutting meat across the grain mean, and why is it important?
Also, what exactly is the “grain” in this context?
Well, these are some of the questions we will address in the following sections.
What Does “Grain” Mean?
Even before you proceed with cutting your meat, it's important to understand what the “grain” really is.
Of course, this isn't a grain, like cereal or legumes; instead, it is the grain of the meat.
“Grain” in this context refers to the position the muscle fibers lie in your meat's cut.
Since these fibers support the movement of the animal, they are extremely tough, which is one of the many reasons why you need to cut them correctly.
After choosing the cut of your meat, keep it on your chopping board and try to locate the grain.
This can be done by tracing the direction in which the lines move in your meat.
The lines can be located on raw as well as cooked meat.
In most meats, they appear as long, thin streaks.
If you're trying to locate the grain in grilled meat, do not get distracted by char marks or the grilled lines.
Instead, entirely focus on the long streaks that resemble thin, vertical, or horizontal lines.
In some meat cuts, like tenderloin, ribeye, and T-bone, these lines aren’t as apparent.
You can, however, easily identify them in tougher cuts, such as brisket and flank.
Cutting Meat Across the Grain: How to Do it?
Once you’ve located the grain, take a big knife and keep it at a right angle.
Then, gradually slice your meat in the perpendicular motion against the grain.
A simple way to do this is by imagining that you’re holding a bunch of spaghetti (dried).
Focus on the upper area of the noodles.
The bundle of tiny circles pressed together is what you want in your slice of meat.
So, instead of the thin strips of muscle, like you’d get when you cut the meat in the direction of the grain, you’ll now have a bundle of smaller bits of tissue.
This is easier to chew, and it tastes incredibly good.
Why Is It Important?
At this point, you’re probably wondering why you should slice the meat perpendicular to its grain.
The answer is simple: to add more flavor and to make it easier to chew.
Most cuts are tough because they contain a chewy protein known as collagen.
While there are multiple methods for tenderizing meat cuts, all of them come down to breaking or tearing apart the collagen.
The strands of muscles in your meat cuts are but a bunch muscle fiber, where every bunch is covered by a layer of collagen.
One of the easiest ways to break collagen is by cooking it low and slow, which is exactly the process of braising meats.
However, braising doesn’t happen instantly.
For most meats, it takes at least four to six hours.
When it comes to steaks, though, you need to cook them really fast at high heat.
While this leaves you with a delicious chunk of meat, it also means that the collagen layer doesn't get enough time for softening.
As a result, you get a piece of meat with tough muscle fibers that are difficult to chew.
The idea of cutting meat across the grain involves shortening these fibers so that your jaws don't have to work much.
The resultant meat is also significantly more tender and more flavorsome.
Things to Keep in Mind While Slicing the Meat
While slicing the meat against the grain is quite simple, you can make your job easier by following some simple guidelines.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Make Long, Steady Strokes
You can’t hack this process, so be patient, get a good knife, and make long, steady strokes.
Note that the knife here should be longer than your usual knife.
It should be anywhere from 10 to 15 inches, and its blade should be both thin and flexible.
2. Thickness Matters
If tenderness is what you're after, the thickness of the meat slice is just as vital as cutting it opposite to the grain.
Most muscle fibers are in a parallel direction to one another, so when you cut thick slices, you'll still have a chunk of tough muscles to deal with.
To avoid this issue, consider slicing the meat into thinner chunks.
3. Always Use Sharp Knives
While this is applicable for any recipe, it is especially important while slicing meat across the grain.
Sharp knives will make it simpler to slice the meat, and since it involves less pressure as you slice or carve, the blade will be consistently steady.
A sharp knife will also ensure that the cuts are neat and smooth.
4. Carving Forks Are a Must-Have
Even if you’re a home cook, we recommend using carving forks.
These tiny little gadgets will hold the meat steady as you start slicing it.
Whether you plan to slice parallel or perpendicular to the grain, the fork will ensure your finger doesn’t touch the blade.
This will also prevent potential accidents.
5. Consider Exceptions
When you’re slicing roasts or steaks, a perpendicular cut is exactly what you need.
Imagine slicing a tenderloin steak; you locate the grain and proceed to slice it at a 90-degree angle.
While this is highly recommended for most meats, there are certain exceptions.
For instance, when you’re slicing a bone-in cut of meat, like a lamb shank, it is better to position your knife at an angle that’s neither parallel nor perpendicular.
Instead, a better angle here would be at 40 to 45 degrees, which will result in thin, smooth strokes from the meat’s wider end to its narrower end.
Cutting meat across its muscle fibers leaves it with more flavor.
Hence, before prepping your next big meal, follow our guidelines to locate the grain and cut your meat right across it.