Even if you’re not a novice chef, cooking meat can sometimes be intimidating. Between timing, temperatures, cuts, and cooking techniques, there might seem to be a lot of knowledge and skill required to grill the perfect steak or prepare a tender chicken breast.
So INSIDER consulted with chefs to learn some of their best tips for cooking meat. Here’s what they said.
Choose high-quality ingredients.
With meat, what you pay for is often what you get. If you’re a beginner chef looking to maximize a steak’s flavor without too much effort, paying a bit extra for a great cut of meat is an easy trick.
“When choosing the right cut of beef, look for the highest content of fat marbling. This may cost a little more, but the taste is worth it thanks to the salty richness of the fat balanced with the umami of the meat,”Severin Nunn, executive chef at Omni Homestead Resort, told INSIDER.
Use a meat thermometer for foolproof cooking.
Looking for the easiest, simplest way to tell if your meat is ready to eat? Just grab a meat thermometer.
Generally, whole beef is done cooking when it internally reaches around145 degrees Fahrenheit. Fresh pork and ham should also reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit and all poultry needs reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit before it’s safe to eat.
But meat thermometers can also be handy if you’re trying to reach a certain level of doneness, like medium-well or medium-rare.
“I recommend using a large display digital thermometer that is easy to read. Many people don’t understand that meat continues to cook after removing it from the heat. Not a lot, but it can go from medium to medium-well in just a few minutes,” Rusty Bowers, former chef and master butcher at Pine Street Market, told INSIDER.
Make marinades work for you by thinking ahead.
Think of marinades as the secret weapon in your meat-cooking arsenal. These mixtures of oils, spices, and other ingredients like wine or juice are meant to soak into your meat and add flavor over time.
As Ariane Resnick, private chef and nutritionist, pointed out, marinating meat for hours instead of minutes will help tenderize it and give it more flavor. Make cooking easier by setting a reminder to place your meat in a marinade the night before cooking.
Don’t be afraid to touch the meat.
It may sound basic, but getting over any squeamishness about touching raw meat can really help take your cooking to the next level.
“Not touching meat will prevent you from rubbing seasoning in or poking steak or chicken to test doneness,” said Resnick.
Of course, it’s crucial to follow good kitchen hygiene when working with raw meat. Always wash your hands before and after handling meat and properly sanitize any surfaces or tools that come into contact with uncooked meat before reusing them.
Never stab or pierce your meat to flip it on the grill.
The way you handle your meat on the grill can have a big impact on its final taste.
Josh Thomsen, executive chef, of Omni Grove Park Inn in North Carolina, told INSIDER that poking grilling meat with anything sharp is a big no-no, since it can cause your proteins to become drier and less tasty.
“The proper way to turn meat on a grill is with tongs or a spatula. Never stab the meat with a carving fork — unless you want to drain the flavor-rich juices onto the coals,” said Thomsen.
Always let your meat “rest” after cooking.
Beef, steak, chicken — almost anything you grill will oftentimes taste better if you let it stand on a cutting board or plate for a few minutes before you serve it.
“Letting meat rest allows the meat juices, which have been driven to the center of a roast or steak by the searing heat, to return to the surface. The result is a juicier, tastier piece of meat,” said Thomsen.
Leave a cutting board and cover out beside the grill to remind you to let your meat chill out for about four minutes before plating it up.
Short on time? Use your oven to “cheat” at grilling.
Don’t have time to fully grill your meat but still want to impress your guests? Try splitting the work between your grill and oven to get a great-looking meal on the table faster.
“To speed up cooking time while still making the meat look and taste good, you can throw it on the grill until it has grill marks. Then, transfer it to the oven so it can cook fully and evenly,” Jimmy Ly, chef and owner of Madame Vo BBQ in New York City, told INSIDER.
Turn the heat up to increase caramelization.
If you’re new at preparing meat, it’s natural to be a bit wary of overcooking or even burning it. However, Resnick told INSIDER you shouldn’t be afraid of heat.
“Cooking meat at higher heat increases caramelization. That browning equals flavor. It’s also quicker,” she said.
Don’t press down on or continually flip your meat as it cooks.
Though it can be tempting to pat your meat as it cooks to hear that attractive sizzle, Billy Oliva, chef at Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York City told INSIDER that you should definitely resist the urge.
“Don’t press down on the meat — this pushes out the juices,” said Oliva, adding that you should also avoid flipping your meat more than once for the same reason. Limiting your flips also keeps the caramelization even on both sides.