What Causes Meat To "Fall Off The Bone?"

Beef and pork are delicious, but only when they are cooked the right way. Luckily, even the toughest cuts of meat will fall off the bone when the right techniques are applied, leaving you with tender, juicy meat that will be the talk of the town. The question is: How? What causes meat to fall off the bone?

Why does it happen?

As weird as it may sound, the meat you know and love is nothing more than muscle; be it from fowl, fish or four-legged friend, it's more or less the same. Amongst the myriad muscle fibers in every cut of meat, there are also fibers of connective tissue. As the name would imply, this type of tissue "connects" different parts of the body to one another, providing structure and protection where needed. Some connective tissue, like ligaments, connects bone to other bone while others, like tendon, connect bone to muscle. That said, it'd be wise to consider what happens to connective tissue when you cook meat.

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, and is also what makes up a large ratio of all connective tissues. Under the heat stress of a stovetop, oven or grill, collagen begins to break down and liquifies around 150 degrees. Collagen is also extremely water-soluble, meaning that when you add liquid, the process is accelerated.

As both heat and moisture are effective ways of reducing connective tissue to gelatinous goodness that slides off the bone, cooking in moist heat — think braising or roasting — is your best plan of action.

Which meats will fall off the bone faster?

When it comes to cooking meat, keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • The connective tissue in the muscles of younger animals is weaker than that of older animals so, generally speaking, animals slaughtered at a young age should alleviate the need for prolonged, steady cooking.
  • Different cuts of meat contain different amounts of fat and connective tissue. The more connective tissue in a specific cut of meat, the more intense your cooking methods will have to be. When shopping for the perfect cut, tenderloins and sirloins will be the least difficult, while cuts like chuck steaks and rump roasts will put up the most fight.
  • Unlike other types of meat, fish meat does not contain any connective tissue between the muscles and the bones. For this reason, rigorous cooking techniques are not needed to reach fall-off-the-bone tenderness — it happens almost immediately.

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