Should you let your meat rest after cooking?


If you cook meat you are probably aware that you should let it rest, or sit, for a few minutes after cooking to let the juices (please do not call it blood, it is a protein water called myoglobin) reabsorb into the meat. Let’s dig into this topic more to see if there is any validity behind resting meat.

In theory, as meat is cooked the juice in the meat moves away from the surface (as the muscle fibers are shortening during cooking) to the center of the cut, when you flip the meat over, the juices move again, away from the heat during cooking. When you take your meat off the grill, all of those juices are still in the center of the meat. If you immediately cut into the meat all of the juices have no where to go, but out. However, if you let the meat set for three (minimum) to ten minutes, those juices have redistributed themselves throughout the meat, thus making your meat eating experience a more flavorful and juicy one.

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Yummm… steak

The rest time depends on the size of the meat. A roast should rest for 10-20 minutes before being carved, while steaks and chops only need three to five minutes. I found several rule of thumb guidelines for rest times: about one minute of rest time should be given for every 100 grams (about 1/4 pound) of meat, five minutes per inch of thickness, 10 minutes per pound, or half of the total cooking time. The Serious Eats Food Lab suggests the best way to measure length of rest time is by temperature. At an internal temperature of 120*F (49*C) the muscle fibers have relaxed and juices have been redistributed. Additionally, most cookbooks provide some guidance on rest times, those can be followed too.

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Six steaks of identical thickness, each cooked to 125*F. Each steak was sliced in half every 2.5 minutes and placed on a plate to show how much of the juices leaked out (Source: The Food Lab – J. Kenji Lopez-Alt)

It is suggested that while the meat is resting it should be kept in a warm place. Options may be loosely covering it with foil, placing it in a small space, like your microwave or oven. Do not cover it too tightly with foil as you will cause the meat to sweat and loose more liquid. Keep in mind, the more you cook your meat the dryer it will become as juices and fats are lost to cooking and evaporation. This may result in a less desirable eating experience too. If you are a serious meat smoker check out some great tips and suggestions at The Virtual Weber Bullet.

There can be some drawbacks of resting meat. One is that it can cool off and not be as hot as it would have been when it was fresh off the grill or out of the pan or oven. Another is the possibility of losing any rub crust, or that the crust becomes soft during this time instead of providing a more crunchy texture and robust taste. More importantly, when covered in foil, your meat can continue to cook, in turn taking your degree of doneness up a notch or two. Additionally, the fats change. When fresh off the grill or out of the pan or oven, the fat and collagen in the meat is hot and soft, when cool, the fats start to solidify again and may stick to the roof of your mouth. Finally, the skin on poultry may also get soft and rubbery instead of crispy.

lamb chops
Lamb chops on the grill

Several sources I have read said that you shouldn’t purposely wait the three to five minutes. By time everyone sits down, you build your plate, start eating, and have conversations, the three to five minutes has come and gone and your food is still hot. It was also suggested that meat juices on the serving tray/plate be poured over the meat and that you soak up the juices with each bite you cut off.

While there are some reasons or concerns with letting meat rest, there are also some benefits. The most important things to consider are, will resting the meat impact a key component of the flavor or texture? Or will it make the degree of doneness undesirable? Use your best judgement when it comes to letting your meat rest. Personally, I loosely cover it with foil while I put the finishing touches on the meal.

tri-tip
Barbecued tri-tip and fixings

Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

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