Mastering the Art of Steak Slicing

Have you ever experienced the disappointment of biting into a beautifully grilled steak, only to find it excessively chewy? It’s a frustrating ordeal that can easily be avoided by following one simple culinary rule: slice against the grain. But why is this technique so crucial?

To understand why slicing against the grain is essential, we need to examine the nature of meat. Steven Jones, a Ph.D. professor of animal science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, explains that meat is comprised of muscle, which inherently possesses toughness since it serves the purpose of locomotion in large mammals.

The muscle structure of a cow consists of long strings of muscle cells called fibers. These fibers are bundled together, typically in groups of 50 to 300, forming what we refer to as the “grain” of meat. The grain is particularly noticeable in the cow’s strongest muscle groups, such as the neck, shoulders, legs, or rump. In contrast, tender cuts like tenderloin or rib eye have fewer muscle fibers because they are less active.

Unlocking the Science Behind Steak Tenderness

To quantify the toughness of different steaks, scientists employ the Warner Bratzler shear measurement device. This machine measures the force required to puncture various muscles. Impressively, a ½-inch bite of tenderloin registers an average shear force of 3.2 kilograms (7 pounds). In contrast, a ½-inch slice of top round, a muscle packed with thick fibers and robust connective tissue, requires a staggering 5.4 kilograms (more than 10 pounds) of force. The higher the shear force, the more imperative it becomes to cut against the grain.

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Now, how does this scientific knowledge relate to your dinner? Consider this: when you fail to cut the fibers crosswise, regardless of the steak cut, you are left grappling with long, intact muscle fibers as you chew. Davey Griffin, a Ph.D. associate professor of animal science at Texas A&M University, clarifies, “When you cut across the grain, your teeth don’t have to cut across the grain. Instead, you’re biting smaller portions of muscle fibers.”

Unlocking the Art of Steak Slicing

To uncover the secrets of slicing meat the right way, I consulted Mark Cacioppo, a master butcher with 12 years of expertise at the Ottomanelli Brothers’ butcher shop in Manhattan. Here’s what he shared about three popular cuts:

Bone-in Rib Eye: A Roadmap to Succulent Meat

When ordering a rib eye, always opt for the bone-in variety. Not only is it more economical (since the butcher doesn’t have to debone the steak), but it also enhances the flavor. The bone acts as a guide, indicating the direction of the muscle grain. Since muscles attach to bones, the fibers tend to run parallel to the bone. Thus, by cutting crosswise to the bone, you slice against the grain.

Begin by slicing ½-inch thick slices, starting from the narrower tip of the steak. This approach serves as a preliminary practice run before tackling the wider end. Additionally, if you unintentionally slice parallel to the grain, you’ll minimize the loss of meat.

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Flank: An Exercise in Precision

When working with flank steak, cut perpendicularly to the grain to slice through the long fibers. Furthermore, thinly slicing the meat at a bias allows you to shorten the fibers even more. As Griffin emphasizes, “Cutting on a bias is just another opportunity to make fibers as short as you can get them.” Moreover, cutting at a 45-degree angle increases the surface area of the meat, enhancing flavor development, according to Jones.

T-Bone: Unveiling an Emblem of Delicacy

The T-bone steak, recognized as a porterhouse, is essentially a combination of a strip steak and a filet mignon, connected by the distinctive “T” bone. Thanks to its low connective tissue content, which prevents dehydration of the muscle fibers, T-bones are already relatively tender, regardless of how you cut them. Nevertheless, cutting against the grain reveals that classic, melt-in-your-mouth texture.

Using a sharp knife, separate each steak from the T-bone. Then, starting from the smaller ends, slice each steak on a bias, perpendicular to the bone, to ensure optimum tenderness.

Enhancing Your Culinary Expertise

By mastering the art of slicing steak against the grain, you unlock a world of tender, succulent delights. Whether you’re grilling bone-in rib eye, savoring flank steak, or indulging in a T-bone, remember the significance of cutting against the grain. It guarantees that your teeth encounter smaller portions of muscle fibers, maximizing both flavor and texture.

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