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The Truth About Resting Meat

It's recommended in many recipes, but is a post-cook rest--the interval between the time meat is removed from the heat source and the time it's sliced to serve--really worth your time and patience? The answer is a resounding yes.

Cuts of meat that are properly rested after cooking have been proven, time and time again, to be much juicier than their unrested counterparts. This is due mostly to meat's composition and its chemical reaction to cooking. Raw meat is about 70% water. The heating process of cooking creates pressure within the cut, which disrupts the proteins in the meat, displacing its moisture content--the sough-after juices that make meat succulent and oh-so enjoyable.

Since cooler, more relaxed muscle fibers are much more absorbent than hot, pressurized fibers, they're able to reabsorb the displaced moisture. Basically, as meat cools, the temperature (and pressure) drops, and its moisture-holding capacity increases. When the meat is sliced, the juices remain, rather than spilling out onto the cutting board.

Does this mean cooks must sacrifice warmth in exchange for juiciness? Luckily, the two aren't mutually exclusive. As it rests, meat actually continues to cook even after it's removed from the heat source (a process called carryover cooking). After this, the temperature levels off and stabilizes. Loss of heat is minimal, which means you can enjoy a tender, juicy cut of meat while it's still warm. This also means you can remove the meat from the grill, oven, or stove top a few degrees below the desired final internal temperature.

For smaller cuts, like 6 to 8-ounce steaks, a 5 to 7 minute rest is best, so remove them from the heat source when they're a few degrees under the desired temp. Larger cuts, like standing rib roast and strip loin roast, should rest for 20 to 30 minutes before slicing, and can be removed from the heat source when about 10 degrees below target temp. Rest meat in a spot that's slightly warmer than room temperature--not cool or drafty. Near a cooling oven works well.

Embrace the resting process. Make use of that time by cooking a savory gravy or sauce, making yourself a drink, or washing up some last-minute dishes. Patience can be difficult, but it's a virtue that often pays off--especially when it comes to a perfectly cooked cut of beef.

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