Quality in meat is determined by various important factors but for you, as a consumer, it may be measured in terms of tenderness and flavor (a matter of individual taste). Some prefer a full flavor , which is a feature of increasing age, others prefer a less marked relish, but practically all are agreed that the tenderness meat is the best.
Tenderness: It's largely influenced by age and depends upon the structure of an animal's muscle. These muscles are composed of bundles of cells held in position by connective tissues, the tough fibrous material from which the tendons and ligaments are formed. It's the amount and condition of the connective tissues, governed by the activities of the animal during its life, which account for the toughness or otherwise of meat. Of course, this underlines the importance of early maturity.
The tenderness of beef is improved by hanging for several days. At the time of buying, you should find out from the butcher whether or not he recommends additional hanging.
Different Meat Cuts: To judge the quality of meat in the carcass, therefore, is a matter of long experience which the meat retailer gains in the normal course of his business and stores for the future benefit of his customers. Nevertheless, there are some characteristics of which you can acquire and ensure that the meat you buy is the best cut of beef, pork mutton or lamb.
In selecting cuts you should make sure the meat has a reasonably even distribution of fat which, however, should not be excessive. You can learn to recognize the different types of meat cuts by their appearance as well as by name. This knowledge of the structure of meat is a great help to an understanding of how best to cook it. For example, in beef cuts:
The Topside: Pot roast, or braise or roast slowly. These parts which are obtained from the fore and hind legs of the carcass. This part is highly exercised, contains more connective tissue and hence are less tender.
Rump and wing rib: Roast, fry or grill. It's advisable to have a roast beef cut thicker than 2 inches, which is suitable for cooking by dry heat on a rack in a shallow open pan. or grilled using indirect heat. For a casual gathering and health conscious individuals, sirloin cuts are leaner and economical.
Shoulder or Blade steaks: Stew, or braise or roast slowly. Most tender steak comes from the rib and loin section.
With the above knowledge of the basic principles of cooking, you will find that the less tender and therefore less expensive cuts can be made tender and palatable by proper cooking. In other words, you'll find that while being able to buy more economically, you can prepare and serve limitless variety of attractive and nutritious meat meals.
There is no known short cut to becoming a good cook, but with a knowledge of the basic principles of cooking, the proper selection both of meat and the method of its cooking, you should be able to master culinary art.
All cooking, the effect of which on meat is to coagulate the proteins, to increase the intensity of its flavor and to bring about the loss of weight, mainly in the water content, is based on two basic rationale:
Dry Heat: In cooking by dry heat i.e. roasting, grilling, the meat is surrounded by hot air in an oven or under a broiler ( a system used for cooing the more tender cuts).
Moist Heat: In cooking by moist heat, steaming, stewing or pressure cooking, the meat is in contact with or immersed in hot water, hot fat or steam, a method more suitable for the less tender cuts.
The loss of water has an importance bearing on the subsequent keeping qualities of the meat and it is, of course, well known that a cooked joint will keep longer than an uncooked one.