Basic Meat Science For Cooks
What is meat?
Every time you step up to your grill or into your kitchen, you begin a science experiment. As meat is heated, it undergoes physical and chemical changes, and as scientific as these processes are, they are also magical. A basic understanding can help you cook juicier chicken breasts and more tender steaks. This article is an overview and the links within take you to articles that explain the concepts in greater detail.
“My foe, my enemy, is an animal. In order to conquer him I have to think like an animal and, whenever possible, to look like one. I’ve got to get inside this dude’s pelt.”
Carl Spackler (Bill Murray) in Caddyshack, 1980
Meat is cut from the muscles of mammals and birds. For some reason, fish muscle is not considered meat by some people, but it should be.
On average, lean muscle tissue typically breaks down like this: Water (about 75%), protein (18%), fats (5%), carbohydrates, salt, vitamins, sugars, and minerals (2%). Here are some specifics.
Different cuts from within an animal can differ significantly. As shown above, the average water content of pork is 69%. Pork rib meat, however, is more like 65% water, 18% protein, 15% fat, and 2% carbohydrates, salt, vitamins, sugars, and minerals. Even so, 65% is pretty high percentage of water. With that much water in the meat, any loss you might have from stabbing it with a thermometer or an occasional stab with a fork is minor, so don’t let the snobs tell you that you are going to ruin the meat if you use a thermometer to check its temp or a fork to turn it. To illustrate: if you have an 8 ounce filet mignon, 6 ounces is water. Stab it and a few drops leak out from the puncture site, an insignificant part of the 6 ounces. Meat is not a balloon that goes phffffft and deflates when you poke it with a thermometer or fork