Cutting Meat Against the Grain: More Than a Grain of Truth!

January 13, 2023

Slicing against the grain is quite important – it helps to make your meat even more tender – both before and after cooking.

It was only after I went to culinary school that I learn about cutting meat against the grain. At first, I couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about. However, once the teacher got us to try the slices of meat that were cut against the grain vs. the ones that weren’t I could immediately tell the difference!

In this post, I am going to show you why you should cut beef against the grain and I will also show you the right way to do it. Let’s begin!

Cutting Meat Against the Grain

Myth or Fact: Is It Better to Cut Meat Against the Grain?

Almost every recipe that involves raw meat is going to mention that you should cut against the grain once you are done cooking your meat.

Is there something behind this tip or is it just a fancier way of doing things?

Well, there is actually logic to slicing against the grain.

See:

Cuts of meat are made of bundles of cells that are formed as muscle fibers. These are long strands of meat. Now, these long muscle fibers run parallel to one another.

In some cuts as the skirt steak, the grain of the meat is more prominent and you can notice it more easily. In the case of flank steak, however, this job is a lot tougher.

The thing about these muscle fiber bundles is that they are quite tough. So, if you were to cut the meat fibers without any regard for the grain, it is likely that you will end up with these long, tough pieces of meat.

These muscle fibers will be rather tough for you to chew through, making your meat rather unpleasant to eat.

On the other hand, if you cut against the grain, then you are breaking these muscle fibers down, making them shorter and softer. This is what leads to more tender cuts of meat, after cooking.

When Should You Slice Against the Grain?

So, should you always cut against the grain? Yes, you should!

For some recipes, you need to slice the meat while it is still raw. In this case, you should still pay attention to the direction of each muscle fiber and cut against the grain.

The good news is that it is a lot easier to find the grain when you are dealing with a raw t-bone or filet mignon – or any other meats really.

Male Butcher Cuts Raw Beef Meat

What is the Grain?

As you will have noticed, plenty of recipes and posts have all talked about cutting against the grain. However, few of these have bothered to mention what the grain actually is.

Fine, it is a bunch of muscle fibers running in a parallel direction to one another. What does this mean in the real world?

Well, the next time you have any cut of raw meat in your hands, take a close look at the surface. Do you see fine lines running through the surface of the meat? Well, the direction that these muscle fibers are running in is what the grain of the meat refers to.

As I stated, it will be easier to notice in certain cuts like skirt steak rather than flank steak.

However, if you keep the cut of meat in a well lit spot, you will likely see these lines. The direction in which the lines are running in is known as the grain.

There are some cuts like a full packer brisket where there are two different grains. As such, you need to identify each one in order to know which direction to cut in.

How to Identify the Grain?

Now, the grain is more readily recognizable in a tougher cut. This is because these muscles and muscle fibers get a lot more exercise. Due to this, the grain is more prominent in these cuts.

With weak muscles that don’t get as much of a workout, the grain isn’t nearly as visible.

To add to this, when you cook the meat, it gets even trickier to identify the grain. This is especially true if you have grill marks running through the surface of the meat.

This is why it is important to take a close look at the cut before slicing it. If you are still having a hard time seeing the grain, then grasp the cut of meat by either side. Then, gently pull in opposite directions. This should make it easier for you to see the direction in which the muscle fibers are running.

As I mentioned above, a full brisket will have two grains – the flat will have one grain and the point another.

Due to this, it is important to first separate each section before attempting to cut into the meat. If you don’t want to do this, make sure to keep a careful eye out for when the direction of the grain changes.

Beef Cuts with Salt, Pepper, and Herbs

What Does It Mean to Cut Against the Grain?

Well, once you have identified the direction in which the muscle fibers are going in, you will know the grain. Slicing against the grain means slicing perpendicular to the grain.

In essence, you are cutting the meat in a way that you are shortening the muscle fibers and making chewing easier.

To do this, place the piece of meat on a cutting board. Find the grain running through that cut. As I said, you can pull each end of the cut of meat in either direction to see the grain a little easier.

Once you have found the grain, place the knife perpendicular to the grain. Next, cut through the meat, making sure to cut thin slices. This will result in a more tender slice so it is especially important with tougher cuts.

Wrapping It Up

Well, now you know why you should be cutting against the grain and how to do it! Make sure to put this information to good use so that you always turn out perfectly cooked and sliced meat!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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