Give it a rest: the oft-forgotten secret to a great steak May 13, 2012

You can spend days searching for the best cut of meat.  You can heat your coals until they are glowing with that warm, red radiance.  You can expertly grill your steaks to perfection on both sides with flawless grills marks and a crunchy crust.  But a momentary lapse of patience can undo all of this with one stroke of your steak knife.

Resting your meat after pulling it off the grill is one of the most important steps to enjoying a great steak, but one that is probably the most overlooked.  Famed author/chef, Anthony Bourdain, consistently lists the lack of resting a steak as one of his biggest pet peeves.  So what’s the reason you should allow your meat to rest a while after cooking?

Resting meat allows the steak to retain its juices and makes it more flavorful.

The folks at Serious Eats have a terrific write-up on “The Importance of Resting Meat“, but I think their photo is the most compelling evidence of what happens when you don’t (or do) rest a steak.

The six plates above show a steak that has been cut in half after resting for 0, 2.5, 5, 7.5, 10, and 12.5 minutes, respectively.  As you can see, steaks that are sliced immediately after coming off the grill spill their juices all over the plate.  That’s not what you want!  You want those delicious, savory juices to remain in the meat and go onto your taste buds.

The science behind resting meat is fairly simple.  When a piece of raw meat comes into contact with a hot grill (or pan), the juices inside the muscle fiber move away from the heat and into the center of the steak.  When the steak is flipped over, the same thing happens to the other side of the muscle fibers in the meat.

After cooking for a while, there is an accumulation of juices in the center of the steak.  If you cut into the steak right away, all those juices spill out and you will lose flavor.  Conversely, resting your meat for a short while (a normal 1-1.5 inch-thick steak might ideally rest about 10 minutes) allows the meat to cool slightly and the juices inside tend to redistribute throughout the muscle fiber in a more uniform way. As you can see from the bottom middle plate in the photo (10 mins. rest), there is virtually no steak juice on the plate.  Why?  Because it has remained inside the steak, thereby retaining its moisture and flavor.

What about larger cuts of meat that might be cooked during a large asado (whole cuts of rib eye, leg of lamb, pork tenderloin, etc.)?  Yes, you should rest those too.  Although with larger cuts of meat, you may need to rest them even longer than 10-15 minutes.  Some rules of thumb are: 5 minutes per inch of thickness, 10 minutes per pound, or half the total cooking time.  All of these are handy references.  However, using a meat thermometer and getting your internal temperature to 120°F (49°C) is the most fullproof way of ensuring that your grilled meats retain their juices.

If you want to grill like a pro and present the best possible meat dishes to your guests, remember: give it a rest.


CC Image by FotoosVanRobin on Flickr