Test Kitchen tips: Defining the 'grain' in meats
Often, you'll see a recipe say something like, "Slice thinly against the grain." So, what does this mean? And why should you do it?
The "grain" refers to the flow of the muscle fibers in a cut of meat. Like wood, the fibers tend to go in a single direction. Slicing a cut of meat "against the grain" refers to slicing strips crosswise -- through the grain itself -- whether you're slicing a steak or a roast. Slicing "with the grain" would be to slice following the lines of the muscle fibers.
Muscle fibers can be tough, difficult to chew and digest. Slicing against the grain helps to tenderize the meat by shortening those fibers. You may not notice this that much with a soft muscle, like a tenderloin, but this can mean all the difference in the world when you're slicing through a tougher cut of meat like a skirt or a flank steak or a roast, and it can even save an overdone piece of meat (slice the meat thinly against the grain, and moisten with a sauce or gravy before serving).
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-- Noelle Carter
Photo: Porterhouse steak, sliced against the grain. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times