CategoryBasic foodstuffs

Cookbook | Recipes | Ingredients | Equipment | Techniques | Cookbook Disambiguation Pages | Ingredients | Basic foodstuffs

Meat refers most broadly to the muscle tissue of animals, and usually to mammals and birds. It is considered culinarily distinct from seafood.



Meat consists primarily of water, protein, and fat. The bulk of the meat structure is made up of groups of muscle fibers arranged in bundles, and these fibers coagulate during cooking. Distributed among the muscle fibers are fatty and connective tissues. Fat in meat carries a large amount of flavor, and it contributes tenderness and juiciness. Connective tissue is tough and is greater in older animals and more highly-exercised muscles, and it consists of collagen and elastin. Collagen can be broken down during cooking, while elastin must be either removed or broken down by grinding, cutting, and/or pounding.

Red meat


Red meat is frequently defined as meat that is red when raw and dark when cooked, although it can also be defined as meat that has a relatively high myoglobin content. It always includes meats like beef, bison, mutton/lamb, and venison. Pork is sometimes considered red meat and sometimes not. Red meat can feature marbling, which is where fat is distributed within the meat, and high marbling is usually very prized.



Poultry meat is primarily divided into light and dark meat. The light meat contains less fat and connective tissue, while dark meat contains more. As a consequence, light meat generally cooks faster than dark. Chickens and other birds that don't fly very much tend to have light breast and wing meat with dark leg meat. On the other hand, duck, goose, and squab are all dark meat.


  • Wild sheep and goat, antelope, springbok, 'bush meat', gnu, water buffalo, zebra, venison, rabbit, squirrel
  • Snipe, woodcock, pigeon, squab, guineafowl, partridge, grouse ptarmigan, widgeon, wild duck and goose

Other meats


Organ meat


Organ meats can include liver, sweetbreads, brains, kidney, heart, tongue, gizzard, and tripe. In general, organ meats are highly perishable and must be cooked soon after purchasing. Those made of muscle tend to be tough, while glandular non-muscular meats are tender and easily overcooked.





After slaughter, most meat is tough from rigor mortis and is called green meat. Over time, the meat softens and develops more in flavor, and for certain meats this process can be carefully extended in a process called aging. In dry aging, the meat is stored in a cool dry environment with high air circulation to prevent spoiling. Usually only beef and lamb are significantly aged.

Storage and handling


Raw meat is highly perishable, and care must be taken to protect it from spoilage. In the refrigerator, meat should optimally be stored in a way that promotes air circulation, although the surfaces should still be covered to prevent drying. In general, meat stored this way only keeps for up to several days, and ground meat has a lower shelf life due to the increased surface area.

Freezing meat will significantly prolong its shelf life by preventing the growth of mold and bacteria.

There are three ways to defrost meat: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave. Never defrost on the counter or in other locations. It's best to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator. To defrost in cold water, do not remove packaging. Be sure the package is airtight or put it into a leakproof bag. Submerge the package in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes so it continues to thaw.

When microwave defrosting meat, plan to cook it immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present wouldn't have been destroyed.

Foods defrosted in the microwave or by the cold water method should be cooked before refreezing because they may potentially have been held at temperatures above 40 °F allowing harmful bacteria to grow.

Put packages of raw bison in disposable plastic bags (if available) to contain any leakage which could cross contaminate cooked foods or produce. Take packaged bison home immediately and refrigerate at 40°F; use within 3 to 5 days, or freeze. If kept frozen continuously, it will be safe indefinitely.



Cooking meat causes proteins to coagulate, fat to render, and connective tissue to break down. The longer the cooking, the more the connective tissue breaks down; however eventually the protein coagulation will squeeze out too much water and cause the meat to become dry and stringy. As a result, different kinds and cuts of meat should be cooked in the way best suited to their particular characteristics.



Doneness refers to the degree of cooking meat has attained. The most accurate way to evaluate doneness uses a thermometer, but this is not always possible when cooking smaller or thinner cuts of meat. When using a thermometer is not possible, sight and touch can be used to check doneness for smaller cuts of meat. In smaller birds, the doneness can also be assessed by checking on the looseness of the joints and how the meat pulls away from the bone. The following table notes common characteristics of various stages of doneness:

Doneness Temperature Characteristics
Raw n/a Very soft
Rare Soft but not "jellylike"
Medium Yields to pressure but springs back
Well done Very firm, unyielding, juices run clear

Beef can be cooked anywhere from very rare to well done. Pork and most poultry are generally cooked until well-done. Tender cuts of meat and cuts low in fat can quickly become overdone and dry out, which will make them dry and stringy.

Note that the temperature of meat will continue increasing for a short period after it is removed from the heat, and this should be taken into account when aiming for a specific level of doneness.

Dry heat cooking


Dry heat cooking methods like grilling, frying, and broiling are most suitable for tender cuts of meat. Smaller sizes are usually best, the cuts should be evenly thick all over, and most extra connective tissue and fat should be removed.

Roasting meat is different from the other types of dry heat cooking in that it often involves larger pieces of meat, lower heat, and longer cooking time. Ideally the heat is only raised at the end of the cooking period to brown the surface. Having a layer of fat at the surface helps keep the roasting meat moist.

Tougher meats may be seared before moist cooking in order to develop flavor from the browning. A common myth is that searing meat closes pores and "seals in" juices, but this is not the case.

Moist heat cooking


Steaming and poaching are moist heat cooking methods that should be used for small, tender pieces of meat.

Stewing and braising are excellent methods for tough pieces of meat, as the low-and-slow cooking breaks down connective tissue into gelatin. This method also produces very flavorful food, as tougher meat is usually higher in flavor and any released juices become part of the sauce. Do not cut the meat into too-small pieces, as this can cause them to dry out. Tender meats can also be braised, but it should be at a lower temperature and for less time. Never cook meat above a simmer. Boiling should be avoided to prevent overcooking.



When an animal is butchered, many meats can become infected with various bacteria, such as Staphylococcus, Campylobacter jejuni, and E. coli O157:H7. This can occur because the intestines can be accidentally cut into, releasing contaminated fecal matter, and butcher's knives can bacome contaminated. Infection chances are greatly reduced by thorough cooking.



For a complete list of all meat and poultry ingredient pages available on the Cookbook, please see Category:Meats, or browse below.