From the first second you lay a piece of meat on a grill the sizzle and aroma tantalize the senses. You might even start salivating like one of Pavlov’s dogs as the smell fills the air and loved ones gather to ask “How long until it’s ready?”
We’re all tempted to pull that perfectly done steak or chicken breast off the flames and cut right into it. Your grumbling stomach and watering mouth certainly demand that you give in.
Then you slice into the meat mere moments after it’s off the heat, and a Niagara Falls of juices flow out onto the plate. You might even tell yourself it’s Okay. I mean who doesn’t love a little steak juice running into their mashed potatoes?
Yet bite after bite, you’ll notice that the meat seems a little dry, and maybe even a little tough. Then when you peek over your neighbor’s fence during their next cookout, you might see them wrapping their meat and resting it after it comes off the flames. After a few minutes they dig in, with little juice spilling out onto their plate, and every bite is succulent and juicy.
So, what gives? Is there some sort of magic behind resting meat fresh off the grill?
While it’s technically a matter of food science, resting meat is a little magical. It helps bring out the flavor, maintains its natural juices, and can even help tenderize each bite.
Though not every piece of meat has the same resting time requirements. There are also times when you might want to rest meat before you bring it to the grill.
Resting Meat Before Grilling
With some larger pieces of meat and bone-in cuts like porterhouse and T-bone steaks a little resting in advance can help control the degree of doneness when you bring the meat to the grill.
Thicker cuts of meat like pork roasts and beef roast petite can be challenging to grill to the point where they’re perfectly done in the middle, without burning the exterior. While indirect heating and hybrid grilling at lower temperatures can help, you’re still faced with a piece of meat that isn’t consistently cooked through.
This is even more of an issue with bone-in cuts like porterhouse steaks and bone-in leg of lamb where the center of the meat near the cold bone takes much longer to cook through than the meat near the surface.
One of the best ways to buffer problems like this is to rest the meat for 15 to 20 minutes on the counter before bringing it to the grill. You can season it, and then wrap it back up again to keep it safe, while allowing the interior of the meat to warm a little bit toward room temperature.
Then when you do bring it to the flames of the grill, the interior warms up faster and reaches perfect doneness with less risk of burning the exterior.
Resting Meat After Grilling
Resting meat after grilling is essential for making the most out of premium meats and whole primal cuts. When you apply heat to meat, the protein in the meat fibers starts to contract. This forces out some of the ambient moisture from within the meat fibers where it sort of lingers in between the meat fibers.
If you cut into that piece of meat while it’s ripping hot off the grill, the juices simply flow out. You can’t get them back into the meat fibers. You end up with pieces of meat that are dry, and sometimes even tougher than they should be.
When you wrap and rest a piece of meat, like a thick-cut steak, the juices have a little bit of time to redistribute back into the meat fibers. This translates into bites of meat that are juicy, succulent, and as tender as possible.
You also end up with less mess on your plate, which can be a factor if you’re trying to host an elevated cookout.
What Is the Best Way to Rest Meat?
When you first take a large piece of meat off the grill, you want to move it immediately to either a pouch made from heavy-duty aluminum foil or wrap it in butcher paper with the waxed face of the paper facing the meat.
If you’re going to be resting the meat for more than 5 minutes, you might want to also put a clean tea towel on top of it. This will help the exterior meat fibers to retain their ambient heat, while the interior of the meat eases.
How Long to Rest Meat After Grilling
The general rule of thumb is to rest thinner cuts of meat for at least 3 to 5 minutes. Though some thicker cuts, such as a steak that’s more than 2 inches thick, or a pork tenderloin might need to rest for as much as 7 minutes.
With thicker cuts of meat, such as pork loin roasts, grilled leg of lamb, or smoked Boston butt pork shoulders you might want to wrap, cover and rest the meat for 10 to perhaps even 20 minutes.
How to Transport Resting Meat
If you need to rest a large piece of meat, like say a grilled prime rib roast, and you need to move it more than a few feet, you’ll need more thermal insurance than you’ll get from aluminum foil and a tea towel.
At this time, your best option is to use a clean cooler. You can then lay down an old, clean towel at the bottom of the cooler, and double-wrap the bottom of the meat. This will minimize any juices running out into the cooler.
Another clean towel over the top of the meat before closing the cooler lid will help hold in the heat. Allowing the meat to ease and redistribute the juices as you transport it.
This cooler and towel method of resting should keep a piece of meat nicely warm for around 30 to 45 minutes.