Myths about the best way to prepare and cook meat are plentiful—and many cookbooks still promote this misinformation. At AmazingRibs.com, meat fanatic Meathead Goldwyn and his scientific advisers debunk myths about all kinds of cuts of meat with methodical testing. Result: The truth about the tastiest ways to prepare meat.
Here are five myths you shouldn’t believe…
Myth: Let meat come to room temperature before cooking.
Reality: Many recipes, especially those for thick steaks or large roasts, direct you to take the meat out of the refrigerator an hour or two before cooking to allow it “to come to room temperature.” Theory: Room-temperature meat will cook more quickly than cold meat.
That may be true, but when we tested this theory, a one-and-a-half-inch steak took more than two hours for the center to come to room temperature. A three-and-a-half-inch-thick, four-and-a-half-pound pork roast took a whopping 10 hours! The meat’s temperature had risen from 38°F (refrigerator temperature) to only 49°F after two hours. And after five hours, it began to smell funny.
Important: At room temperature, dangerous microbes can reproduce quickly.
Also, cold meat attracts more smoke than warm meat, a process called thermophoresis. It’s the same phenomenon that causes your mirror to fog up after a shower. And a smoky flavor is something we like in our meat, right?
Myth: Boil ribs to make them tender.
Reality: Many people boil ribs before grilling them to save time and to achieve the desired “fall off the bone” results. This is a mistake. When you boil meat and bones, the flavor—and many nutrients—are pulled from the meat and left behind in the water. That’s why the water is cloudy…and why soup is so tasty.
Ribs are most flavorful when roasted. If you need to speed up the cooking process, you are better off steaming or microwaving them and then finishing them on the grill or under the broiler.
Properly roasted ribs are tender but still have some chew to them, similar to a tender steak. The meat should not fall off the bone—if it does, chances are the ribs have been boiled and won’t be as flavorful.
Myth: Marinating meat makes it more tender.
Reality: Marinades do not penetrate meats very far, rarely more than an eighth of an inch, even after many hours of soaking. Meat is about 75% water, and there is not much room for more liquid. Think of a kitchen sponge that is loaded after wiping up a spill—once full, it cannot absorb any more liquid. A marinade can soften the proteins in muscle fibers and connective tissues, but because the marinade does not penetrate very far, it does not tenderize much beyond the meat’s surface.
Spices and herbs on the surface of meat can add a wonderful aroma, and a touch of sugar can help with browning and add flavor—but marinades can tenderize only very thin cuts of meat such as skirt steak.
Myth: Chicken is done once the juices run clear, and pink meat means that it is undercooked.
Reality: The meat and juices in chicken, turkey and pork are colored pink by the protein myoglobin. When cooked, myoglobin absorbs light differently and no longer appears pink. However, there is no fixed temperature at which myoglobin changes color.
In addition, red or purple bones, or pink meat next to bones, do not indicate that chicken is undercooked. Bones can be red because marrow is where the blood is made. As birds age, more calcium is deposited on the bones, so the marrow becomes less visible and less porous. Red or purple bones are more common now because chickens grow faster (they have been bred to grow faster, and they are fed foods that make them grow fast), so most are only seven to eight weeks old when they are butchered.
Purple bones can discolor adjacent meat, making it appear pink even when safely cooked. The pink color also can come from nitric oxide or carbon monoxide, by-products of smoke or combustion gases in gas ovens and grills and charcoal grills.
Bottom line: Chicken meat, including any that remains pink, is safe to eat when a food thermometer indicates that the meat is at 165°F.
Myth: Pop-up turkey thermometers are fine to let you know when your bird is done.
Reality: You cannot rely on the pop-up thermometer that comes with your turkey or pop-up thermometers that you buy yourself. How they work: The thermometer tip melts at a specific temperature and releases a spring that pops the stem up. Although these thermometers can be accurate in some cases, they also can stick. And they read only one small part of the turkey. Plus, they often are set to pop up at 175°F or higher, which is too high—and which is why so many turkeys are overcooked and taste like cardboard.
What to do: Pop out the thermometer that comes in your turkey. Then, when you think the cooking might be done, check the temperature with a digital meat thermometer, which is more accurate and faster than a dial thermometer. A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum of 165°F. Check the temperature in several places—especially the innermost part of the thigh and the thickest part of the breast—and make sure that all parts of the turkey have reached that level.