Slow Cooking: Braising, Stews and Smoking
Smoking Meat | Braising and Stews
Slow cooking works best with fatty, tough cuts of meat like pork roasts and beef shoulder, or brisket. Because these parts of the animal have more connective tissue, they tough until they are cooked slowly. Leaner cuts like pork or beef tenderloin, and chicken breast, are known to dry out if cooked long and slow. Lean cuts don’t have much collagen. When cooking tough cuts of meat with lots of connective tissue, like ribs, brisket, and shoulder, it is important to cook the meat to the temperature that liquefy the meat’s connective tissue into gelatin. That is what makes these tough meats taste tender. This takes time. That’s why these cuts are often cooked low and slow.
160°F (70°C) Connective tissue collagen begins to dissolve to gelatin. Melting of collagen starts at 160F and continues up to 180F.
The meat gets dryer, but at 160F the connective tissues containing collagen begins to dissolve into gelatin. With time muscle fibers that had been held tightly together begin to easily spread apart. Although the fibers are still very stiff and dry but the meat “mouth feel” appears more tender since the melted collagen that transformed into gelatin provide succulent rich, buttery mouth feel.
In general, a good cooking temperature to smoke meat is about 225°F. Meats with a lot of connective tissue such as ribs, pork shoulder, and beef brisket, need to be cooked slow up to a temperature between 200 to 205°F in order to gelatinize collagens and melt fats. That’s past well done and water will be lost, but the gelatin and melted fats liquify and make it taste tender and juicy.
As moisture evaporates, the meat begins to shrink. Meat can lose 20% or more of its weight in cooking due to shrinkage. Even meat cooked in liquid will dry out although not as quickly. A great way to retain moisture when smoking brisket or some thing like pork butt or pork shoulder is to wrap it when the meat get to a temperature about 155 to 160°F. At that point the meat has been sufficiently flavored with smoke. The foil prevents evaporative cooling. Any moisture that comes out of the meat just stays in the foil. The moist heat in the brisket wrapped foil is now braising!
Braising or stewing:
Braising is a method of cooking by partially submerging the meat in hot liquid, simmering, but not hot enough to boil. (Stewing is fully submerged) while simmering the meat in hot liquid the internal temperature rises to match the temperature of the water and collagen begins to melt at about 160F and increases as it approaches a temperature of 190 F. At this temperature collagen is transformed into a rich liquid, gelatin. Cook the meat until it reaches the stage at which the meat is tender, but not falling apart; (you should be able to pull the meat apart using two forks) then take off the heat.This usually takes 2-3.5 hours.
If your shredding the meat it usually takes 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours. The meat at this stage shreds easily but actually becomes dryer because the gelatin at this point is leaking out of the meat.
For additional enhanced flavor you should brown your meat before stewing it by searing the meat either in a dry pan or with a small amount of oil or fat. (See Maillard reaction) Browning the meat is not to seal in moisture but it does enhance the flavor and usually has a more pleasing appearance.