America's Test Kitchen Cooking School
When it comes to cooking meat I have my own personal set of "rules." I prefer to grind my own meat, buy fresh and local whenever possible, and never, ever, buy meat on sale (think about it…)
But there are quite a few rules that are based in fiction -- myths that have survived decades and continue to offer bad advice to the home cook. Let's bust them, shall we?
Myth #1: Searing meat seals in juices.
Forget this one. It's not true -- never has been, and never will be. Most likely the idea came from the crusted exterior that meat develops as it's seared; surely that crust will seal in the juices, right? But in the test kitchen we tested this old maxim by weighing steaks before and after they were cooked. Some were seared first, others weren't. There was no difference in the amount of juices that were lost between the various steaks. None, nada, bupkis.
The main purpose of searing is to add flavor by converting natural sugars and amino acids into flavor compounds via browning. If you want juicy meat, you can slow roast it (which prevents meat juices from being squeezed out.) And always let meat rest after cooking so that it can reabsorb any of those precious juices.
Myth #2: Marinating meat makes it juicy or tender.
No, it doesn't. Marinades are usually made with some kind of oil, citrus, and herb combo that can only penetrate the very exterior of meat. In the test kitchen we found that after 18 hours, a red wine marinade made its way ONE MILLIMETER into beef. Hey, that's perfect for tenderizing those two-millimeter thick steaks!
Now if that marinade contains an acidic ingredient -- like the above-mentioned citrus, or vinegar -- you can actually do more damage to the meat. Acids will begin to break down the exterior fibers of the meat. Left too long in an acidic soak, that exterior will go from meaty, to mushy, and eventually, chalky and dry.
So the takeaway here is that if you want to flavor thin cuts of meat -- cut for a stir fry or paper-thin paillards for example -- go ahead and give them a quick 10-minute-or-so marination for flavor.
Myth #3: Eating pink pork will make you sick.
Once upon a time this may have been true as there was a fear of ingesting an ugly parasite named trichinosis. Cooking pork to a safe, but gray interior temperature of 160 degrees would kill off trichinosis -- but who would want to eat that dried up chop?
Today, government standards have all but eliminated the risk of trichinosis contamination from pork. According to the Center for Disease Control, between the years of 1997 through 2001, the average reported cases of trichinosis was twelve.
So go ahead and go for a slightly rosy hue. The test kitchen highly recommends cooking that pork chop or loin roast until it registers an internal temperature of 140 to 145. And be sure to let the pork rest for 10 minutes or so-the internal temperature will continue to rise 5 to 10 degrees, but the meat will still be beautifully moist.
Myth #4: Always rinse off poultry that comes from the supermarket.
Back away from the sink my friend. I know that it's been pounded into your brain that you should unwrap that poultry and give it a good rinse in the sink. But beware that what you're most likely doing is splashing all of those yummy surface pathogens over your sink, faucet, and surrounding area. Now, if you're willing to give the sink a super-thorough scrub down it will be fine, but you're better off simply cooking the poultry to a safe internal temperature (165 degrees for the breast meat and 175 for the thigh meat.)
So those are a few of the myths out there. I hope that busting through these gives you more confidence when preparing meat.
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