The secret to cooking perfect meat isn’t actually about the cooking at all, it is about the art of patience. Perfect meat is created by two processes; tempering and resting, both of which require you to just leave your food alone.
Tempering is letting your meat come to room temperature before cooking. If you have ever eaten a thick steak that looked done on the outside but was raw in the middle you know why tempering is important. Warmer meat needs less of a rise in temperature to reach your desired level of doneness, which means less cooking time. You would think that all these extra steps make your time spent slaving over hot charcoal longer, but it can actually cut your cooking time down by several minutes. Less cooking time means less time for the delicious meat juice to evaporate as well. The second reason why this is important is even cooking. You will not end up burning your roast on the outside while waiting for it to come to temp.. Think about it, it is much more efficient to cook 70 degree meat to 130 than it is to cook 40 degree meat!
Resting is the same thing as tempering, letting the meat sit on the counter, except this time it is done after cooking. When you heat up a piece of meat the fibers compress, changing the distribution of liquids inside. Imagine the meat as a sponge, if you squeeze it on one side water will come leaking out the other. The process of heating and flipping your meat will cause the juices to redistribute all willy-nilly, and like a sponge, it cannot hold all the extra liquid in one spot without some of it running out. A bad analogy perhaps, but it is what happens when you cut into a steak that hasn’t been rested, the fibers stuffed with juices will release them causing a dry and less flavorful dinner. When you let it rest for a few minutes the fibers will relax a bit and let the juices redistribute evenly in the meat . Neat huh?
The next important reason to rest your meat is that it also cuts down on your cooking time since the meat will continue to cook while it is resting. I typically take my meat off 5-10 degrees before it is done and let it come to temp under a little tin-foil tent. It is like my meat is waiting for the release of the new iPhone and must camp out for days.
Ok, so we are going to sum this all up with your mission, should you choose to accept it; leave your delicious dinner on the counter. To temper let the meat rest for an hour or more depending on the thickness and size of the meat. For an average one inch thick steak I recommend about an hour, less for burgers, more for roasts, use common sense, but an hour is always a good amount of time. Obviously you do not want to temper your uncovered meat outside in the hot sun for an hour, but any safe place in your house will do.
Rest your meat by removing it from the heat or hot pan and placing it on a cutting board or plate. For steaks, roasts, tenderloins, whole chickens, or other large hunks of meatiness, make the little tinfoil tent. You do not actually need to get little skewers and build a little North Face hut for your food, just cover it loosely to keep heat and steam from evaporating. The length of the rest also depends on the meat; 5-10 minutes for burgers, small pieces of boneless pork or boneless chicken, 10-20 minutes for steak, thick pork chops, or bone-in chicken, 20 minutes for large roasts, pork shoulder, whole birds, ect. This gives you plenty of time to do some dishes, prep your sides, or make a nice pan sauce!
If you still don’t believe me, the folks over at Serious Eats have studied this extensively.
This picture shows steaks cut into at 2.5 minute intervals, with the first one not resting at all, all the way up to 12.5 minutes of rest prior to cutting. I think I should just delete my whole explanation and leave you with this picture instead, because it says everything.
Last bonus is that you wont burn your tounge from putting meat that just came off of a 400 degree grill directly in your mouth Hooray!
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