Tom Petty said waiting is the hardest part. Maybe he was talking about letting meat rest after it’s done cooking?
Anyone who’s seared a beautiful rib-eye steak or removed a crispy-skinned roast chicken from the oven knows the excruciating anticipation that accompanies the resting period. Unfortunately, waiting while meat rests is necessary if you want to serve the juiciest, most delicious meat possible. But with a basic scientific understanding of why resting meat is important, cooks can maximize meat’s deliciousness while not waiting a second too long to serve it.
Resting is all about controlling meat’s juices. According to America’s Test Kitchen’s science editor, Paul Adams, those juices are proteins dissolved in water, and at higher temperatures, they flow more freely than they would at lower temperatures. As a piece of meat begins to cool once it’s removed from heat, the juices’ proteins (notably gelatin) and melted fat firm up slightly and become more viscous. This is especially true at the surface of a piece of meat, where the temperature is coolest.
“So cooler meat has thicker juice that's less inclined to flow all over the plate when you slice into it,” Adams says.
That means more delicious proteins and fat end up in your mouth instead of pooled at the bottom of a plate.
So, how long should meat rest to achieve that? There’s no ironclad calculation, but again, understanding what’s happening inside the meat offers some guidelines.
Types and cuts of meat that naturally contain more fat and collagen will have thicker juices at any temperature, so they don’t necessarily need to rest for as long as leaner meats. Not sure about your meat’s collagen content? Tougher cuts that you’d roast are generally high in collagen, while cuts that you’d sauté or sear have less collagen; this means there’s less need to rest a pork shoulder than there is to rest a filet mignon. Thicker cuts of meat also have more thermal mass, which means you can rest them longer than thinner cuts without worrying they’ll get cold.
And if you ever wondered whether you should be resting seafood or fish like you do meat, you can skip it.
“Fish typically cools off faster, contains more collagen, and gets cooked to a lower target temperature, all of which make it less amenable to and needing of resting,” Adams says.
At America’s Test Kitchen, we like to cover and rest meat in a relatively warm part of the kitchen or near a grill so that it doesn’t cool off too quickly and become lukewarm. (Meat that registers 120 degrees Fahrenheit on its surface is hot for serving, while 105 degrees is where it starts to feel rather lukewarm.) We also like to run a cutting board under hot water for a few moments to warm up its surface, then rest our cut of meat on that cutting board. Not only does it keep the meat from getting too cool, but the grooves in the cutting board collect tasty juices that can be spooned over the meat before serving.
Worried about resting too long? Don’t be. Our testing showed that a pork loin roast, even after 40 minutes of resting, still had an internal temperature warm enough to serve.
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