You’ve probably read in recipes and heard again and again that you should slice steak and other cuts of meat against grain. But what exactly is “the grain,” and why is it so important to slice against it? Oh, and how do you even know what it looks like?
The grain refers to the direction that the muscle fibers are aligned, and it is important to cut against it so that your meat is easier to chew. Let me tell you, and more importantly show you, what the grain of the meat actually is, and why it’s so important.
What Exactly Is the Grain?
Not to be confused with whole grains like barley, farro, and freekeh, the grain of the meat is something totally different. It refers to the direction that the muscle fibers are aligned. You can see the direction the grains run by looking closely at the thin white lines on the meat. In the photo of flank steak above the fibers run vertically from top to bottom.
The grain of the meat is easier to identify in certain cuts of meat. It’s more clearly defined and easier to see in tougher cuts — like flank, hanger, and skirt steak — than it is in lean cuts, like tenderloin.
Why Is It Important to Slice Meat Against the Grain
It’s not just the cut of meat that determines how tender it is, it’s also how you cut the meat. First, find the direction of the grain (which way the muscle fibers are aligned), then slice across the grain rather than parallel with it.
In the photo above, you can see that the muscle fibers run from left to right. By cutting against the grain, we want to cut through the fibers and shorten them, rather than cut in the same direction that they run. This makes it easier to chew through, since a lot of the hard work of breaking up the muscle fibers has already been done for you.
Slicing meat with the grain (or in the same direction as the muscle fibers), however, leaves you with a chewier piece of meat, one that could have been more tender if it was just sliced differently.
More Steak Tips
How to Cut Meat Against the Grain
The way you cut meat matters. It’s important to slice meat against the grain so that it’s easier to chew.
Steak (any cut and amount)
Find the grain. Identify the direction that the muscle fibers run in your cut of meat. It's generally easier to see them in tougher cuts like flank, hanger, and skirt steak than leaner tenderloins.
Place the meat on your cutting board. Situate the meat so that the grain runs parallel to the longest side of the board.
Cut against the grain. Hold your knife perpendicular to the knife, so that when you slice it's against the grain.