Tips from the Pros: Meat Myths Busted
June 4, 2012
A watched pot never boils*. The heat of a pepper is in the seeds***. Pork should always be well done***.
These are just a few of the myths that are considered to be truth by cooks everywhere. In an effort to start correcting some of these common misconceptions, we turn to AmazingRibs.com’s very own Meathead for a lesson in meat myths.
Myth 1: You can tell the temp of the meat by poking it
A lot of cookbooks tell you that you can tell when meat is ready by poking it and comparing its resistance to the flesh on your hand. This is utter nonsense! The resistance of the steak is going to depend on what cut of meat you are poking (sirloin is stiffer than filet), the grade of meat (prime is more tender than select), how thick it is (thick cuts will yield more than thin), the age of the steer (young is more tender), the breed of steer (cooked Wagyu is more tender than Holstein), the age of the meat (wet aged is more tender than fresh killed), and what the steer was fed (corn fed is usually more tender than grass fed), among other things.
In addition, the resilience of our hands differs from young to old, from thin to fat, from exerciser to couch potato. Why do so many cookbook authors repeat this bunk?
Yes, steakhouse chefs can tell a steak’s internal temp just by poking it. But they have poked thousands of steaks, all from the same supplier, all the same thickness, all cooked at the same temp.
For home cooks, there simply is no substitute for a good digital instant thermometer like the ones I recommend in my Buying Guide to Thermometers.
Here’s what the USDA says, and about this they are absolutely correct: “The color of cooked meat and poultry is not always a sure sign of its degree of doneness. Only by using a food thermometer can one accurately determine that a meat has reached a safe temperature. Turkey, fresh pork, ground beef or veal can remain pink even after cooking to temperatures of 160°F and higher. The meat of smoked turkey is always pink.” In addition, smoked meats are often pink due to a chemical reaction with the smoke, rare hamburgers can be brown, and chicken cooked well above the safe temp can still have bloody splotches.
Myth #2: The red stuff is blood
It’s not blood! It is myoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen from the blood to the meat fibers.
If it was blood, it would turn black and coagulate on your plate! You’ve seen this occasionally when a bit of blood left in the marrow of a bone leaks out when you cook. It gets hard and black. But the bright red liquid in your plate is thin, fluid, and flavorful. That’s because it is myoglobin, not blood.
In Lehninger Principles of Biochemistry by David L. Nelson and Michael M. Cox, 4th Edition, 2005, it says “Myoglobin is a relatively small oxygen-binding protein of muscle cells. It functions both to store oxygen and to facilitate oxygen diffusion in rapidly contracting muscle tissue.” They go on to explain that myoglobin contains the heme portion of iron that gives muscle its red color, just as it gives hemoglobin in blood its red color. Apparently the only time myoglobin is found in the bloodstream is after a muscle injury.
Let’s just call it “juice” from now on, OK?
Myth #3. Follow recipe cooking times carefully
Many cookbooks tell you to cook some cuts for X minutes per pound. You’ve got to be careful with these rules of thumb because they are for “typical” cuts. Thickness is the really crucial factor, not the weight. Thickness determines how long it takes heat to be transmitted to the center of the meat. Other factors that can influence cooking time are the temperature of the meat before you start cooking, the type of cooker, the amount of bone, how many times you open the cooker, the humidity in the cooker, how much other food is in the cooker, and how much of a fat cover there is since fat cooks at a different rate. Again, there is no substitute for a good thermometer.
* Water will boil in the same amount of time whether you are watching it or not
** The heat is actually in the ribs of the pepper, not the seeds
*** According to the USDA, the recommended internal temperature of whole cuts of pork is 145 degrees