There’re a lot of types of meat and many different ways to cook it. But here we’re going to look at the most fundamental principles. Master them and the check all the books and tutorials about meat that you want.
What you’re looking for in a properly cooked piece of meat is:
- To keep the inside as tender as you can. The type of meat will influence this, but if you overcook or undercook the meat, it can become inedible.
- A nice crust on the outside or a crispy skin without burning the meat
- Maximum flavour
How to prep up your meat
- Make sure it’s at room temperature
- You want an even cooking, so take it out from the fridge 20 minutes to 1 hour before. The thicker the cut, the longer the time.
- If the inside is cold, you’re going to end up with either an undercooked or raw inside or an overcooked outside.
- Make sure the outside is dry
- If the meat is wet or damp, dry it with kitchen paper.
- Season it well
- Add salt and olive oil (or another good oil) and massage it as if it’s your secret lover for a bit.
- You can alternatively marinate or brine your meat, but I’m not going to explain this in here.
- Let it rest
- Once the meat it’s cooked, you need to let it rest so the temperature evens out and the fibres can relax. This can take from 5 to 10 minutes for a steak to 1 hour for a big roast.
Now let’s see the most common ways in which you can cook your meat.
The two steps when cooking meat
Essentially, there’s two things that you need to do when cooking meat: cooking the inside, and creating a crust.
To do that, you can use a combination of direct heat (fire, charcoals, a pan, a blowtorch…) and indirect heat (relatively hot air, water, smoke…).
You can do this in any order, but generally speaking, using a direct heat first is generally quicker but using indirect heat first leads to a more tender and evenly-cooked inside.
If you’re cooking sliced meat or any meat that is very thin, you can just use direct heat because there’s no “inside” part to be cooked.
Checking if your meat is done
This depends entirely on the thickness of the piece of meat you’re cooking.
For thin pieces, you can just tell by the colour of them. They’re the easy ones since there’s virtually no inside part that needs to get cooked.
For medium thickness (up to a steak), you have 3 options:
- Touching them (you need to be used to what it feels like)
- Cutting a slice and watching or tasting it. This is great if you’re cooking for yourself, but not very elegant if you’re cooking for others.
- Using a meat thermometer. They’re cheap and the best option if you’re going to cook meat often.
For thick pieces like a whole chicken or ribs, I definitely recommend getting a meat thermometer but since you’ll be cooking for long, having a time reference will help a lot.
Where and how to cook your meat
Here’ll find the 4 most common and interesting ways of cooking meat:
Cooking meat in a pan
This is the most convenient way since every kitchen has a pan it and you can cook every type of meat that is up to two-fingers thick.
When using a pan use always high (direct) heat first and then low (indirect) heat. Otherwise the water from the meat will accumulate in the pan and boil the meat which is the WORST thing you can do.
- Prepare your meat
- Use a cast iron or stainless steel pan. High temperatures are bad for most non-stick coatings and some coatings can even get into your food, so not a good idea.
- Preheat the pan with an oil that has a high smoke point. If your meat has fat and you’ve seasoned it with oil, a quick drizzle will do.
- Carefully add the meat to the pan and let it build the crust
- Keep flipping it so it cooks evenly on both sides
- Once it has developed a nice crust there’re two options
- Either the meat is thin and done
- Or you’ll lower the heat to cook the inside. Optionally you can add butter, garlic or herbs to give it some extra flavour.
- Keep checking it and remove it from the pan once it’s done
- Let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes
Roasting meat in the oven
This is the most common and convenient method to cook large pieces of meat and whole birds.
Every recipe requires a different preparation and cooking time, but usually there’re two main ways of roasting that depend on the type of meat:
- For a piece of beef, pork or lamb, you can sear it in a hot pan as if you’re cooking a thinner piece and then slowly roast it in the oven to cook the inside
- Obviously you don’t need to sear ribs and other pieces that don’t require a crust
- For a whole chicken, duck or turkey, you will use high heat for 15 to 20 minutes and then lower the heat to finish it.
Check this roast calculator to know how much time you need for a specific amount of meat and weight.
You can also use the oven to slow cook a piece of thick meat -like a steak- and finish it in a hot pan or with a blowtorch to have a perfectly soft inside and a crusty outside.
Grilling meat in a BBQ or grill
Want to chill in the sun with your friends while having a beer and eating delicious food? Then get a BBQ!
Seriously, they’re great for that. And for cooking thick and large pieces of meat as well as sausages and other delicious stuff.
The best thing is that here you can easily use either method: front sear or reverse sear.
- In the front sear method you want to sear the meat with direct heat, flipping often and once you’re happy with the crust, let it cook on the coolest spot of the BBQ (ideally covered) so the inside can get properly cooked.
- In the reverse sear method you do the steps in the opposite order: indirect heart first and direct heat to finish it. This method will take longer because the meat heats up slowly, but it will be evenly cooked and have a nice smoky flavour.
Sous-vide meat cooking
This method is quite fancy but since nowadays it’s relatively easy to find the equipment to do it at home, I’ve decide to add it. If you have no fucking clue of what this is, it’s just putting your food in a bag, vacuum it and cooking it a slow temperature for a long time -usually submerged for 1 – 7 hours in water around 55ºC/135ºF.
Cooking meat with this method requires more work and stuff but the meat is extremely tender, evenly cooked and retains almost all of its flavour.
BUT, make sure that you sear it in a pan or with a blowtorch once you take it out from the bag to add a nice crust. Then you’ll have a perfectly cooked piece of meat.
How to NOT cook meat
There are some ways in which cooking meat is a terrible idea. Boiling, steaming and microwaving are examples of that.
Remember the three goals when cooking meat? Inside tender, outside crust and maximum flavour. They do a terrible job at them.
If you boil or steam a piece of meat, the water will absorb all the flavour and you’ll end up with an evenly cooked piece of meat that has no crust and no flavour at all. NOT GOOD.
Microwaving meat is similar, it’ll retain a bit more flavour, but the cooking won’t be as even, so you’ll end up with an uneven inside, no crust and a mild flavour. NOT GOOD.
You can boil meat when you’re preparing broth, but that’s because you’re cooking broth and not meat, so you’ll keep the flavour of the meat on the broth and get rid of the meat itself.
Same thing if you’re making a stew. Although in this case you’ll want to cook it in a hot pan to create a nice crust first and then slowly cook the inside submerging the meat in your sauce. And yes, some flavour will go into the sauce, but it’s not a big deal because both the sauce and the meat will go into your mouth.
Similarly this can happen when you add meatballs to an Italian soup, ramen or other dishes where you eat both the meat and the liquid where you’ve cooked it.
And finally frying is okay too. You’ll want to use thin pieces of meat and coat them with something that adds flavour to compensate the loose of it. Schnitzels, fried chicken or nuggets are great examples.