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I have a rather dumb issue; I have some cuts of steak that are too large for my cast iron, and if I tried to cook them, the ends would be lifted into the air which I assume is not preferable (although I am no expert). Is it fine to cut the steak when it is raw or will it do something terrible to it?

I am of the mindset that it is just cutting the raw beef, so no juices or anything will run out like cutting a steak before letting it rest, but again, I'm no expert!

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    It should be obvious, but the raw "cuts" of steak you're starting with have already been cut. – Ross Ridge Aug 9 at 22:08
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Why would it not be acceptable to cut raw meat? It was already cut from another larger piece of meat that was cut from a whole animal. Nothing terrible will happen. A steak is not a bag of juices, nothing significant will leak off of it.

It's indeed better to cut in a smaller piece that fits your pan, the whole steak should touch the bottom of the pan otherwise you might have uneven cooking / raw ends.

  • There are however best practises on how to cut your meat – Thomas Aug 9 at 14:35
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    @Thomas : that's for stir frying, and has little to do with cutting steaks. You want to consider that when cutting up the steak after it's been cut, but you often want to cut steak with the grain (to make the cuts across the grain shorter, so easier to do on your plate) – Joe Aug 10 at 23:03
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TL;DR: Yes, it's fine to cut meats before cooking.

Another option to pan cooking You might consider using a sous vide cooker (or water bath with a good thermometer) to thoroughly cook the meat before searing. This works by keeping the meat just below the temperature that makes the proteins bind up and squeeze out liquids (see below). The result is meat that is always perfectly cooked to the done-ness you want (pro-tip - use Ziploc or silicone bags, not vacuum sealing, to make it simpler). Then, because it's already done cooking you take the meat out of the bag, put a little butter in a very hot skillet, and sear the meat on all sides just long enough to brown. Result - perfectly done inside, tasty caramelized skillet cooked outside, without having to worry about if some part got under-cooked. I've been doing this for years, and have never even had a mediocre steak since I started it. That isn't bragging. It's just that easy.

Food too large for the pan You are correct that cooking just about anything with edges lifted in the air will result in those parts under-cooking compared to the rest of the food. As for cutting steak, doing so before cooking will not result in lost liquids, etc.

How to cut When sizing meat for a certain pan size, be sure to cut across the grain. Meat fibers run in strands that can be tough and stringy if cut so they stay long. Cutting across these fibers cuts them short, so they are easier to chew, and results in meat that can seem more tender.

Regarding lost liquid in meat For just about all meat cuts, as the meat heats, at certain temperature points the meat proteins tighten up. Think of a Slinky toy stretched out, and then pushing it together. As they tighten, liquids are forced out of the muscles. That is how we get dry meat from cooking too hot.

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    When using zip-lock bags in a sous vide setup, make sure you get freezer bags because they are made of a high-quality plastic. – JimmyJames Aug 9 at 19:27
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    Wouldn't a pre-cut steak already be cut across the grain, leaving you no choice but to cut along it? – Tetsujin Aug 10 at 8:45
  • @Tetsujin One would hope, but in the US it is often the case that the butcher at a store that sells meat actually has no training in butchery. People make mistakes. – LabGecko Aug 12 at 20:38
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I've cut roasting joints into steaklets before, one time it was all they had and another it was on special offer. Took a thick bit for me (I like it rare in the middle) and thinner slices for the others who like it well done. Was OK.

As others have said, cut across the grain. If you can't tell by looking it's usually less stretchy in the grain direction.

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