The way you slice your steak can make a world of difference. You've probably read time and again that meat should be sliced "against the grain." Well – I hope you have. In fact it’s just as important as resting the meat if you want to enjoy the tenderest steak.
Meat is a muscle and it’s meant to be tough because it’s has to move a large animal. But it’s possible to make the tougher cuts like rump and flank tenderer by thinly slicing them against the grain. Cutting against the grain (against the direction of the muscle fibres) is vital; especially for cuts from the harder working parts of the steer.
As per usual, this is a task best suited to science. Because no one likes a chewy steak.
What is The Grain?
It refers to the direction that the muscle fibres are aligned. A cow’s muscles are composed of long strings of fibres - about the width of a human hair – but bundled in strings of a few hundred.
The grain is easier to identify in certain cuts of meat. It's easier to see in tougher cuts like flank, hanger, and rump steak - than it is in lean cuts like fillet. Tender cuts such as fillet or rib eye, have fewer muscle fibres because they don’t work as hard.
Why Against the Grain?
If you don’t cut across the muscle fibres, you’ll be chewing on long, unbroken muscle fibres. When you cut across the grain, your teeth don’t have to. Instead, you’re biting smaller pieces of muscle fibres.”
May The Force be with you
Scientists use the Warner Bratzler Shear Force (WBSF) measurement device, a tool that measures how much force it takes to puncture different muscles/steaks. The more force needed, the tougher the meat. Its units of measurement are pounds/kilograms of force needed to shear a cooked, standard muscle core.
The most tender cut, fillet, has a WBSF of approximately 4.2, and the toughest meat cut, top round steak, has a shear force of 9.0
Remember this: If you don’t cut the fibres crosswise—regardless of the cut—you’ll be gnawing on longer, intact muscle fibres.