There are a a lot of cooking clichés out there that get tossed around by celebrity chefs, vapid cooking show personalities, and well-respected cooks. Some of them are valuable, while others are completely wrong. Regardless, you’ve probably heard them so many times they no longer have any real meaning.
You should always slice meat against the grain. Everybody knows that, but what does it really mean? Do you actually do it?
Perhaps the simplest and most effective tutorial on cutting against the grain of meat was delivered by Alton Brown on his original cooking show, Good Eats (here, at the 2:30 mark).
Essentially, he says that you should think of muscle fibers in meat as lengths of hose. If you bundle a bunch of hoses together, they resemble the structure of meat. If you cut along the hoses they will remain long and intact, and therefore tough. If you cut across them, creating a bunch of little hose pieces, then you have something that’s easier to pull apart...something tender.
The Food Lab, as usual, has a great breakdown of the science involved, here.
If it’s a fact that meat cut against the grain is more tender, then why do we so rarely do it? Blame the butcher, or more accurately, the large scale meat processing facilities that cut your supermarket steaks. Because of the way they cut most steaks and chops, it's impossible for you to cut them against the grain at home.
Think about a ribeye. When a full ribeye is cut into individual steaks, they are cut against the grain.
When you go to eat it, you have no realistic choice but to cut bites that are with the direction of the grain.
If you’re eating a nice, thick steak (which you should be), this will have a marked impact on the texture. The same goes for pork chops, and realistically, almost all retail cuts of meat.
So, if a lot of meats don’t give you an opportunity to cut them properly, what are you supposed to do? Start simple.
Americans, and therefore probably you, eat a ton of chicken. The numbers show that people overwhelmingly prefer the white meat of the breast. It’s one of the easiest pieces of meat to overcook and dry out. If we know that cutting against the grain yields more tender bites, then, why is it that nobody slices chicken breasts against the grain?
Let’s look at the grain direction of a chicken breast.
Everyone, when they slice a breast, starts at the pointy end and cuts right along the muscle fibers.
Don’t do that. Instead, cut slices against the grain, as shown below, and help put an end to dry, stringy chicken.
What about steaks and chops? If the processor is screwing things before the meat even gets to you, what are you supposed to do?
Start buying larger cuts of meat and cutting your own steaks and chops.
Start with a pork loin. They are readily available and aren’t prohibitively expensive.
Visually, it makes sense to cut a loin into some nice, circular chops.
Let’s think about this, from the finish back to the start. Your goal is to have a finished piece of pork loin on a plate that encourages the eater to cut bite-sized pieces against the grain.
What’s the best shape for this type of end-product cutting? The small cylinder.
Cut yourself an 8-10 inch section of loin. Remove the fatty section that runs along one side of it and reserve it for grinding, or slice it for stir fry.
Next, cut your loin section into thirds, long-ways.
You have essentially made 3 miniature pork loins.
Now let's examine the direction of the grain, and how they should be sliced after cooking.
As you can see in the photo above, the grain of the three roasts are running diagonally. When the pieces are cooked, you might be tempted to slice straight down. You'll be better served by angling your knife blade slightly and cutting on a bias, as shown above. This will give you the most tender final result.
If you go the extra mile and tie them with butcher's twine, then they begin to look suspiciously like tenderloins…not coincidentally, one of the most tender cuts of pork.
Take the roasts that you’re not going to eat in the next few days, wrap them individually in plastic, put them in a Ziploc bag, and freeze them.
As for the piece(s) you want to cook, pre-salt them, and hit them with a little of black pepper. Cook them in an oven-safe pan in a 250 degree oven until the internal temperature hits 135 degrees.
(Don't have a thermometer?...Get one.)
Then, set the pork aside to rest and get your pan smoking hot (literally) on the stove and add a splash of oil to it.
Put the pork in, fat side down, and using tongs or a spatula, press it down so the fat maintains good contact with the pan. It will spit and spatter.
Take a peak at the bottom, fatty side after 30 seconds or so. You are looking for a nice, golden brown sear. If you don't have it yet, keep cooking until you do. It shouldn't take more than a minute or two.
Set you pork aside and let it rest for at least 5 minutes. Then, slice it on a bias into perfect bit-size pieces, against the grain.
It will be tender. It will be juicy. It will be delicious.