Cutting meat against the grain is not a new idea. In fact, it’s something you’ve likely done since you were a kid, you just didn’t know you were doing it. If you’re wondering exactly what it means and how to do it, stay with us. We’ll give you the 411 on what it means to slice “against the grain” including explaining what exactly “the grain” is, and why it is so important to slice against it.
Why Cut Against the Grain
In writing (think 12th grade English class) going ‘against the grain’ means doing the opposite of what seems easy or expected. What TF does that have to do with meat? Funny enough by doing the opposite of what is easy, you get a more tender and flavorful meal.
Why? Because it’s not just the cut of meat that determines how tender it is. It’s how you prep, cook, and yes, how you cut the meat. Meat is a collection of fibers that run in the same direction. Fibers are more readily visible on some cuts of meat than others, but they are present in all cuts.
Slicing meat with the grain (or in the same direction as the muscle fibers) results in a chewier piece of meat.
Cutting against the grain means slicing across, or perpendicular to the fibers. Doing that actually, shortens the fibers, which makes them easier to chew. It also releases the flavors trapped in the fibers. The effect is meat that is more tender and flavorful.
Which Meats Should be Cut Against the Grain
All meat — this includes beef, veal, lamb, and even poultry — is made up of bundles of fibers. Cutting those fibers the right way produces a more tender piece of cooked meat. The against-the-grain concept is easy to apply to steaks. But it should be kept in mind for any cooked animal protein. And just to be clear, it’s not about the length of the slices. It’s about breaking up the grains to release flavors and make chewing easier.
How Can You Tell Which Way the Grain Runs
To find the direction of the grain, you’re looking to see the direction that the muscle fibers run. The fibers look like parallel lines that run down the meat. Slicing perpendicularly to those is key. In some cuts of meat, you’ll see that there are fibers running in different directions. In those cuts, you’ll want to adjust to the situation and change direction while you slice.
The grain is more readily identified in naturally tougher cuts. Flank, skirt, and hanger steaks have the thickest fibers. Leaner cuts like tenderloin or filet are less visible. While chicken is virtually impossible to identify without taking a few cuts and looking closely at the meat.
Also, it’s worth saying, the grain has nothing to do with grill marks.
More Flavorful Tips
In your quest for the tenderest cut of meat, the thickness of your cut is perhaps even more essential than the direction. The reason is that when you slice thick slices against the grain, there is still a decent amount of fiber to chew through. By slicing the meat as thinly as possible and cutting across the grain, you’ll get the tenderest, most flavorful cuts.
Happy slicing! Have a tip to share? Drop us a note below.