Low And Slow Or Hot And Fast?


So you bought three different cuts of meat on your last trip to the butcher’s. When you cooked them using the same method, each of them yielded different results – good, not so good and barely edible.

Whether you are a meat lover to the degree of keeping it in your freezer at all times or can go to the extent of making your wardrobe out of it (a la Lady Gaga), you would naturally want to cook every cut of meat to perfection. While this may not seem like an easy job at first, it would help to remember some important rules of thumb about cooking meat.

Low And Slow Vs Hot And Fast: The Rules Of Thumb

Ever since we were children, we have heard of the classic battle between slow and fast, courtesy the story of rabbit and tortoise that ends with the moral ‘slow and steady wins the race’. When it comes to cooking meat, however, slow and steady may not always mean that you will end up with a palatable dish. In times where slow cooking may potentially ruin your prized cut of meat, hot and fast could be the way to go.

Rule of thumb #1: Cuts with high fat content and marbling should be cooked low and slow, while leaner cuts need the hot and fast treatment.

  • Low and slow: Even though there certainly are cuts that prove to be an exception to this rule, it is still a good general rule to work with. The best thing about considering the fat content is that a quick look at the cut can easily give you the idea of how fatty or lean it is. Portions like pork shoulder, chicken legs and Boston Butt Roast are visibly higher in fat not only on the outside but within the meat fibers as well. These cuts are best served when cooked on a low heat for a longer time.  Cooking for an extended time allows the connective tissue and fat to break down, which not only softens the meat up but also preserves its moisture.
  • Hot and fast: Consider a prized lean cut like the Tenderloin or even a chicken breast. Being low on fat, a longer cooking time for these cuts would completely dry out whatever natural moisture they have. Cooking them quickly over high heat will ensure that their internal juices remain intact and you get a succulent piece of meat as reward for your hard work.

Rule of thumb #2: Thin-cut meat should be cooked hot and fast, while thick cuts are best cooked low and slow.

  • Low and slow: Let’s say you have a thick, tough cut of meat like Brisket or Lamb shank and you are wondering what to do with it. This rule suggests that these tough meaty portions will yield the best results when they are cooked on low heat for a good amount of time. If cooked using the hot and fast methods, these cuts will develop a sear from the outside but will remain uncooked on the inside, rendering them virtually inedible. Longer cooking times ensure that the heat reaches to the innermost parts of the cut and cook them well.
  • Hot and fast: Anytime you are planning to use a thinner meat cut like the Skirt steak or the Flank, cooking it fast on high heat will yield the best results. With a thin cut, any slow cooking method will overcook the meat and leave it with a chewy, rubbery texture. Hot and fast methods help make sure that the pieces of meat sear well on the outer side without completely drying them out from the center.

Rule of thumb #3: Low and slow cooking methods employ moist heat, while hot and fast cooking is done with dry cooking techniques.

  • Low and slow: Cooking something for a longer time means you have to cook the meat in ample amount of a cooking liquid, such as stock, water or wine. As the liquid warms up, it allows its heat to permeate through the meat fibers while maintaining its inner moisture. When done right, moist cooking methods like poaching, boiling, stewing and braising can help even the toughest of meat cuts to tenderize multifold.
  • Hot and fast: The quick modes of cooking are generally those that do not require any additional liquid, making use of the dry cooking methods. Tender cuts of meat like the Tenderloin or Pork Spareribs best suited for dry heat cooking techniques like roasting, grilling, sautéing and deep-frying. If these already soft cuts are subjected to moist heat, they can actually lose all their tenderness and turn incredibly tough. Searing these portions using dry heat allows their internal moisture to remain locked in, giving you the chance of enjoying a juicy portion of meat.