I don't cook meat very often, however when I do it often turns out "dry" rather than moist and juicy.
How do I ensure my cooked meat turns out moist?
- braise the meat?
- cook less time?
- high temp vs low temp?
The way to ensue moist meat is to make sure that you don't overcook it. It is really just that simple. Variations on cooking method are to achieve certain effects on the meat, i.e. searing to develop more flavor due to the maillard reaction, sous vide to allow you to cook to a specific temperature, ect. In the war against dry meat, a thermometer is your best foxhole buddy.
That said, some cooking methods allow you to hit that temp mark easier than others. Typically, the slower heat enters the food, the closer to the specific temperature you will be able to get. Thus things like a braise more often result in a meat that is moist as the window between cooked and over-cooked is much larger than on something like a grill.
I am not sure how you cook your meat. You may need to be more specific how you cook you meat like stir-fry, deep fry or roast.
A lot of people think "dry" meat is mainly related to cooking technique, but I think it's more to do with the ingredients. We can still look at this from both directions
1/ Cooking Technique
The main reason why meat are dry because the juice & fat in the meat get lost during the cooking process and usually it's related to the temperature & cooking time. It means our cooking technique should focus on how to persevere juice and fat. You mention Braise which is pretty safe technique to make sure that, however, it depends on the ingredients as well.
Try to pick meat that has higher fat content that usually will keep the juice and fat when the meat is cooked. Let's let about beef. Rid-Eye is usually better steak because they are tender. The reason they are tender is because the fat and juice are still kept in the meat. If you use beef that has low fat content, you will more likely to have a dry cooked meat. Another example, chicken breasts are always drier regardless how you cook. Chicken thighs are usually better and you can't really make dry chicken thighs.
Let's try to answer your question
Not sure how it will help as you can still dry your meat with cooking at any particular temperature
Braise is usually pretty safe as mentioned above. Ask your butcher which are the better cuts.
This is interesting question. Cook less time may not mean anything as Braised beef takes hours to cook and the meat turn out tender.
My vote goes to low temp as low temp usually can give you better control of the meat and also low temp mean you are less likely to cook out the juice and fat of the meant
Along with FoodRules comment, I would also say brining or marinating helps too. The exchange of a slightly salty liquid with the internal water not only brings quite a lot of flavor to the party, but also helps the meat retain moisture. I've only ever done this with Chicken, but it stands to reason, where it works with one protein, so too would it work on another. Can't say I'd feel too comfortable brining a burger, but that's hopefully not the kind of meat you are talking about.
One of the reasons slow cooked meats do not typically turn out dry if you cook them slow enough is the conversion of collagen to gelatin. It’s that lip smacking unctuousness of pulled pork sandwiches and pot roast. Though the meat may technically be barren wastelands at this point, the gelatin coats all the fibers giving them the perception of very moist and tender.
There are many ways to keep meat moist, and they pretty much fall in to one of two categories. Keep moisture in the meat, and replace the moisture with something that feels moist.
In the first category we have various techniques, including but not limited to:
In the second category, you mainly replace the moisture with fat, which although it isn't moist, feels like it, or break down collagen into gelatin. Techniques include:
There is also a third category, which isn't really a category at all, trying to hide that your meat is dry. This include sauces and soups. However, in these cases, you will still be able to detect that the meat is dry.
Beef: You are probably overcooking your meat and/or you are using very low-fat cuts.
Chicken breast: I found this method to work very well: After turning the chicken breast over after about half the cooking time, place a lid on the frying pan for the second half.
Many factors influence how juicy prepared meat ends up being. Just on the ingredient side, the type of animal, when and how it is butchered, how fatty the meat is, and any other pre-processing that might take place (e.g. dried, smoked, salted) prior to it landing on a store shelf may vary considerably, and affect juicyness as well as every other parameter you may care about.
If it ends up drier for you than in the same dishes at restaurants, chances are that you are simply overcooking it.
If you just want to follow a recipe and get a good result, a thermometer and a little practice is probably all you need.
In general, here are a few pointers:
It is important to get your meat out of the fridge, unpack it and let it sit for at least half an hour in room temperature. Starting with fridge-cold meat means you must raise the core temperature nearly 50%(!) more to reach optimum, and there is a much greater chance that the outer parts of the meat will be badly overcooked by the time the core is perfect.
The leaner the meat is, the easier it dries out. Marbled fat (fat that is distributed in the meat, as opposed to fat just sitting next to a big block of meat) such as in entrecôte/sirloin helps protect agains the meat drying out.
The higher the temperature, the more the meat contracts, and the more of its juices are squeezed out. Consider that when you start to heat a piece of meat, it does not evenly heat up everywhere at the same time. When frying, the bit that is in direct contact with the pan is obviously a lot hotter than the side that isn't. You can heat up more evenly by using low heat and by flipping frequently. (The latter is often more useful, because browning the meat is essential to developing flavor and requires that you use a fairly hot pan.)
Salt the meat only just before or during frying, as salt binds water and tends to draw juices out of the meat.
When cooking large pieces of meat, start by browning it well on all sides in a very hot frying pan, then transfer it to a low-temperature oven. Using an oven temperature not very much above the desired core temperature, and a thermometer, this is a slow but fool-proof way to get perfectly cooked meat. Try it with tough meats, which are often the most flavorful, and delight in how simple it is to turn it into something magical. The long, slow heating in the oven will tenderize the meat by breaking down the collagen.
Lastly, be aware that although meat cooked all the way through is probably safer, whole meat is normally free of pathogens except for the surface. The surface becomes contaminated when the animal is butchered, and therefore it is important to heat the surface sufficiently to kill off any buggars. There is no reason to heat the core any more than to where it tastes best though.
If you're a bit nerdy and you want to learn about what actually happens when you cook, so you can more easily figure out what to do to modify recipes than just random experimentation, take a look at "Cooking for geeks". If that isn't hard-core enough for you, turn to "On food and cooking" by Harold McGee - a book that is considered almost a founding document for a new, scientific approach to cooking. I found it a heavy read, and think the former is a better fit for most people who aren't chemists! :)