Meat: To Cut or Not to Cut Against the Grain?

If you’re like most, you’ve likely heard or read that meat should always be cut “against the grain.” And, if you’re like most, you may have glazed over this last step in recipes when cooking. So, what is “the grain” and what’s all the fuss about anyway? Let’s take a look.

What is “the grain”?

If you’ve never taken a close look at your meat, now’s the time. You may notice there is a general direction or alignment of the meat’s muscle fibers – you guessed it – this is what’s called “the grain.”

Ok, so why cut against it? Cutting meat with the grain will result in long muscle fibers, which usually makes the meat chewier and therefore more difficult to chew through, and less pleasurable to eat.

Cutting against the grain, on the other hand, essentially shortens the meat’s muscle fibers, making the meat more tender and chewing easier so your meal is more enjoyable.

Not all grains are created equally.

In some cuts of meat, such as filet mignon, the grain isn’t as easy to spot because the muscle fibers are quite fine. When muscle fibers are more difficult to identify, cutting against or with the grain doesn’t make as much of a difference in tenderness.

For other cuts of meat such as skirt steak, muscle fibers are more prominently defined. The muscle fibers in these cuts are bundled more closely, and though quality plays an important role in how tender your meat is, cutting against the grain can be the difference between a tender and delicious dish, and a meal that is tougher than leather.

How to cut against the grain.

Now that we’ve covered what “the grain” is and why it’s important to cut against the grain, it’s time to put our meat to the test. Here are a few tips to help get you started:

  • The grain should not be confused with marbling – flecks of fat found naturally in meat.
  • Sharpen your knife. Slicing will be much easier and cleaner.
  • Once you have identified the direction of the grain, set your knife at a 45 degree angle to your cutting board. This slight tilt will break down more muscle fibers, improving tenderness.
  • Cutting against the grain is important before and after cooking.
  • The thinner you slice, the easier it will be to chew.

Ignoring the grain, or accidentally cutting with the grain will often times leave you with a chewy, and even stringy, meal that could have been avoided with this simple last step. All you need is a sharp, non-serrated knife and to know what to look for, to bring out the best flavor and tenderness in your meat.

So, what are you waiting for? Let’s get cookin’!