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All about meat

Here at Meat No Veg we love great tasting meat.

However, we all know you can have too much of a good thing and for most of us in the UK, it’s recommended that we need to change the balance of meat to vegetables in our diets and in some cases, cut down on our meat intake altogether. Therefore, when you do have your meals with meat, we think it should be a real treat and for that, we believe you need to buy the best meat possible.

But how do you tell what is the best meat? What do you look for? And how do you get the very best out of it?

Here at Meat No Veg we know a lot about meat, and we want others to learn too. So we are happy to answer any questions that you have and help you to find out about the world of great tasting meat. If you want to learn all about meat, have a look at this section, for an introduction to the wonderful world of meat.

The science of meat

Meat is a rich source of protein, minerals and vitamins. It has been eaten by us humans for thousands of years. Humans are omnivores, which means our bodies are best suited to eat a mixture of both animals and plants. We depend on a suitable mix of animal and plant food for our long-term good health.

Meat texture

Meat is muscle tissue made up of three basic materials: protein, fat and water. The flavour and texture of cooked meat depends on the structure of the muscle proteins (fibres), the amount of connective tissue in the meat (this connective tissue covers the fibres and joins it to the bone) and the relative proportions of water to fat in the meat.

In a young animal, the muscle fibres are fine, but as the animal gets older and exercises more these fibres enlarge and so does the amount of connective tissue. But it is not just the age of the animal that affects the amount of connective tissue present. There is also a difference between muscles that are used more and those that are used less.

The price and quality of a piece of meat is determined, in part, by the quantity, distribution and type of connective tissue found within it. Cuts for quick cooking and roasting are the most expensive as they are tender, containing very little connective tissue. Cuts for slow roasting, braising and stewing, require long slow cooking to break down the higher amounts of connective tissue found within them. The cheapest cuts of meat are rich in connective tissue and require very long periods of cooking.

Marbling

Fat can be found in between the muscle fibres and under the skin layer. When it is present in the muscle fibres you can see thin streaks and flecks of cream running through it. This is known as ‘marbling’.

Marbling is a good thing. This fat tenderises the meat, by separating the muscle fibres as it melts during cooking. It also oils the meat, making it easier to cut and chew. The fat in meat contains a lot of the flavour and also naturally bastes the meat.

Meat maturing / hanging

Meat from an animal that has just been slaughtered is very tough. It needs to be hung (matured) for a period of time to allow the structure of the meat to change. This change improves the flavour and texture of the meat. Much of the change in meat when it is hung is due to the accumulation of lactic acid which lowers the pH, causing some of the protein in the muscle fibres to unravel. This tenderises the meat.

To allow meat to age with minimum growth of bacteria it is stored in the dark at about 1-3 degrees centigrade. As a rule the cheaper the meat the less time it has been hung. Different types of meat require different lengths of time hanging. Some varieties require hardly any hanging time at all.

The colour of meat

Just like texture, the colour of meat depends on a number of factors:  the animal type, its species, its diet, the amount of exercise the animal has had, the length of time it has been hung and what sort of packaging it has been in.

Storing meat – top tips

Bacteria grow and thrive in temperatures above 4 degrees centigrade. Therefore, the key is to keep all meats below that temperature when storing them.

Uncooked meat should be stored separately from cooked meats and any food that will not be cooked before eating. This is to ensure that if the meat loses fluid or blood, none of it spills on to other food. Commercial premises have separate fridges to keep uncooked meat away from other foods. But at home we tend not to have this facility, so we recommend you store uncooked meat at the bottom of the fridge.

Meat bought in sealed packaging or containers is best kept in that container. If not, you should make sure the meat is well wrapped in oxygen permeable packaging and keep it in the fridge for no more than three days.

If you freeze uncooked meat you can keep it for much longer. It is important to wrap the meat tightly to prevent the surface of the meat drying out.

Handling meat – top tips

Whatever meat you are going to cook, you should always be careful how you handle and prepare it.

  • Raw meat should never come into contact with other foodstuffs, especially those that are not going to be cooked before serving.
  • Use a separate knife, chopping board and cooking utensils for uncooked meat.
  • Wash your hands before and after handling meat and wipe down your kitchen surfaces well after any meat preparation.
  • When marinating meat, cover and store in a refrigerator.
  • Check your fridge is operating at the correct temperature: between 0 and 4 degrees centigrade.
  • Defrost frozen foods thoroughly (unless otherwise stated) and do not re-freeze-once thawed.
  • When roasting a stuffed joint remember to weigh the joint after stuffing, then calculate the cooking time.
  • Invest in a good oven and meat thermometers to measure that the oven and internal food temperatures are sufficiently hot when cooking.