Why do we rest meats?

Great question came in today, too; this one from Rob in New Zealand, “Just read your Southwest Pepper Steak recipe, and I saw where you wrote, ‘do NOT cut any flesh for at least 10 minutes after it’s off the heat.’ I see that a lot, so what’s the big deal?”

Great question, Rob. I’m guessing, since you ask, that you’ve never committed the sin itself! Meats need that rest to allow their juices to redistribute evenly throughout the meat after cooking, as the protein gradually cools. This happens because the relatively long fibers of muscle that make up the meat we eat are constricted as we cook them. Those fibers are filled with juices, mostly water. As they’re cooked, the fluids get pushed toward the outside of the meat, predominately because that liquid just doesn’t compress, so it’s gotta go somewhere, and out is where it’s got to go. The post cooking rest lets all that liquid come back to relative equilibrium. If you don’t wait and cut too quickly, most of those juices are gonna wind up on the plate, leaving you with a tough and not very tasty hunk of meat. 

Rests for steaks, chops, chicken, and like relatively smaller cuts should be 10 to 15 minutes. Large roasts should get 20 to 30 minutes.

Just for the record, the only method I can think of that doesn’t require a rest is sous vide – cooking a protein in a vacuum sealed package immersed in water that is circulated at a precisely controlled temperature. 99.9% of us home cooks won’t ever try that, but you sure can if you’d like to – It’s easier than it sounds and doesn’t require fancy equipment.

Sous Vide Steak

2 steaks, about 6 ounces each.

Sea Salt

Fresh ground Pepper
Have the steaks at room temperature, and season with salt and pepper about 30 minutes before cooking.

Fill a stock pot with water and put it over a large burner on medium heat. Have an instant read thermometer close at hand and monitor the water temperature. When it hits 135° F, reduce the heat until it’s holding that temperature quite closely – Maintaining that temp is key to the success of the process.

Prepare a cast iron skillet over a large burner on high heat, and have 2 heavy zip lock type bags big enough to each fit a steak.

When the skillet is smoking hot, sear each steak thoroughly on all sides, and make sure the biggest surfaces are well caramelized – This helps seal in flavor, and also kills bacteria before the proteins are immersed.

Remove the steaks and allow them to cool enough to handle briefly.

Slip a steak into a bag, seal 90% of the zip, and then suck the last air out, (try using a straw as my Sis advises. You can also immerse the bag in water, leaving just the unsealed corner above the surface, and let the water pressure do the job for you, but make sure no water gets in the bag.)

Slip the sealed bags gently into the hot water bath and allow them to cook, covered, for 60 minutes, (although up to 90 minutes won’t hurt anything at all.

Slide the bags out of the water, plates the steaks, add a little unsalted butter to each and serve right away.

Here’s a great sous vide time and temp guide from Chef Steps as well, including all sorts of veggies.

And for everything else, like I said – before you slice, give it a rest.

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