I’ll admit it… sometimes we do, and sometimes we don’t. It all depends on what else is going on in the kitchen.
See this steak? Perfectly seasoned, perfectly grilled to an internal temperature of somewhere between rare and medium rare. And then I sliced it open before I let it rest. So there’s a puddle under the steak, and the inside looks like it’s not cooked very well. If I had let this steak rest for just a few minutes, there would be more juice inside the steak and less on the plate, and the entire center of the steak would have a more uniform, appetizing appearance. (In other words, it wouldn’t look undercooked in the middle.)
So, you should rest your meat! Every time! Here’s why.
When you cook meat (any meat – a steak, a turkey, a big roast), the temperature of the proteins inside the meat increase. Of course, that’s the point – to increase the temperature of the meat so it’s cooked.
But, when the proteins get hotter, they also get a little smaller. All the moisture that is inside the protein fibers gets squeezed out and is left “loose” in the center of your meat. Have you ever stabbed a steak on the grill and seen all the juices flow out? What about the juices that come rushing out of the turkey when you pull out the pop-up thermometer? What about that messy puddle that comes flowing out of a steak when you cut into it (like in the picture above)? That’s because these juices have nowhere else to go. For now.
If you try to eat a steak right off a grill or a turkey right out of the oven, you’re going to be disappointed. Yes, it will be piping hot. But by slicing into it when it’s still that piping hot, most of the natural juices will be left on your cutting board or your plate, and you’ll be eating a dry, tough turkey. No one wants that.
By letting meat rest after you take it off the heat, you’re giving it a chance to cool down – just a little bit. As the meat cools down, the protein fibers relax and let most of the juice back inside. This means that when you slice into that turkey or the roast that’s been simmering in the crock pot all day long, the juices are going to stay inside the meat instead of running all over your plate. And your dinner will be a little more juicy, and a lot more tender.
How long should you rest meat before slicing and serving? That depends on the size and thickness of the meat you’re working with. Ideally, you want the meat to rest until the internal temperature is 5-10 degrees Fahrenheit lower than the finished cooking temperature. So if you’re shooting for a rare steak, you would cook it to 125 degrees F, then let it rest until the internal temperature comes down to 115-120 degrees F. For a turkey, you’re looking for a finished internal temperature of 160 degrees F in the thickest part of the breast. Leave your thermometer in place, and let it rest until the temperature comes down to 150-155 degrees F.
This way, the meat will be juicy, tender, and still plenty warm. Meat should be rested either uncovered or under a loose tent of foil, in a moderately warm area. Usually on the kitchen counter is a perfect space, unless it’s right under a ceiling fan or an air conditioning vent. Keep it out of cool breezes so it doesn’t get too cool before serving.
Don’t have a meat thermometer? You definitely need one. Check out my recommendations.
Check out this article from The Food Lab for more of the science behind resting meat before serving.
So… do you rest your meat? Are you going to start now?