How Long-Time, Low-Temperature Cooking Affects Meat

Long-Time, Low-Temperature

Compared to traditional cooking, the sous vide method involves exposing a product to a lower temperature for a longer time.

This slow, sustained cooking is one of the major advantages of sous vide. It results in a product with better taste and texture than can be achieved through many traditional cooking methods.

Getting it right, though, relies on understanding how it all works. Each product and preparation may require a different time-temperature combination to reach the perfect state of delicious. That’s why processors looking to integrate a sous vide step into their production lines need to understand exactly what happens to the products in the bag.

This article explains how long-time, low-temperature cooking affects meat.

The science of perfectly cooked meat

In his 2012 article Sous Vide Cooking: A Review, Douglas Baldwin provides extensive details about how time and temperature affect muscle meat. Here, we summarize the research into practical information for food processors.

Sous vide cooking usually takes place between about 130°F to 140°F. This temperature range is exactly where proteins in the meat denature and create tenderness. The trick is that there are two main types of changes that occur in meat.

  • Fast changes. Meat starts to change around 95°F to 105°F. As the temperature rises, the muscle fibers shrink, the sarcoplasmic proteins aggregate and gel, and then the connective tissues shrink.
  • Slow changes. Over time, the collagen in the meat dissolves into gelatin and inter-fiber adhesion decreases.

In the past, it was believed that tenderness was produced by the fast changes. However, more recent research suggests that this isn’t the case. Instead, tenderness is the result of the slow changes. In particular, enzymes denature slowly. Even after 6 hours of cooking, the collagenases are still active, and they will continue to increase the tenderness of the meat. This is why sous vide can achieve a more tender final product compared to traditional cooking methods.

Another factor to keep in mind is the starting tenderness of the meat. Tender cuts of meat, like tenderloin, don’t need to be made more tender. But they do need to be made safe to eat. Here, the goal is to get the meat up to temperature and hold it there for pasteurization. For tough cuts of meat, you want to cook it long enough to dissolve the collagen and reduce the inter-fiber adhesion.

Of course, tenderness isn’t the only quality of meat that consumers are concerned with. There’s also color, aroma, other textures, and of course, taste. All of these are affected in some way by both time and temperature.

A study published just last year in the journal Flavour explored the interaction of time and temperature on various sensory properties of beef (e.g., juiciness, chewing time, aroma, flavor). In general, they found three main types of processes that determine the sensory properties of sous vide cooked beef. What this means is that processors can adjust their time and temperature parameters based on a range of desired sensory results.

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Sous vide is a versatile cooking method that processors can use to enhance safety, improve yield, and, most importantly, achieve perfectly cooked meat every time. Contact us to learn more about how you can incorporate sous vide cooking into your production line, or visit one of our test kitchens to try it out for yourself.

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