Bone-in vs. Bone-out - Which is Better?
We’ve discussed a few hot button topics that tend to get people fired up, including when to salt meat before cooking, which is the best fuel source for grilling, and why steak shouldn’t be grilled past medium. This time we are talking about cooking with the bone-in or out. Many suggest that barbecuing or even cooking bone-in is the only way to go, while others suggest that there is absolutely no difference regarding taste and texture. Bone-in vs. Bone-out, learn more about the benefits of both right here and form your own opinion.
What is a Bone?
First, we should explain what a bone is. Bones make the framework that bodies are made of. Whether it’s you and me or the chicken, pork, beef, or game that you are eating, they provide stability and framework for muscles and organs. Bones are made from collagen and calcium, as well as other important minerals. They act as reservoirs for many important chemicals and minerals such as fatty acids in the marrow. Bones are responsible for managing calcium balance, acid balance, and some metabolic functions within the body.
But what ARE they? Bones are made up of living cells and collagen that are part of a mineralized form in conjunction with inorganic matter consisting of hydroxyapatite – a combination of compacted calcium phosphate and mineral salt. They are nonporous but allow access to blood vessels that will help in passing the above-mentioned chemicals and minerals throughout the living system. They also contain red marrow – blood-forming stem cells and yellow marrow – which produces fat, cartilage, and bone.
Bones are pretty important to many functions in the body whether it’s a person or an animal. But what do they have to do with barbecuing? Many believe that all meat should be cooked with the bone in. There are thought to be many benefits to bone-in grilling, including:
Providing micronutrients like calcium, phosphorus, sodium and magnesium
Supplying food with additional gelatin and glycine, which are great for your digestive health and prevent inflammation in the body
Meat cooked bone-in is said to be more tender, flavorful and holds its shape better
Bone-in meat is less expensive
While these things are true and the extra money in your pocketbook is great, there are few things about these benefits that should be explored.
Micronutrients and Gut Health
Yes, you can receive micronutrients from bones when cooking, however, it depends on the preparation method. As mentioned above, bones are not porous enough to release marrow into the meat, plus there is a layer of collagen that adds an additional barrier between bone and meat. Any dry cooking method like barbecuing, frying, roasting or baking will not help in transporting these substances, not to mention that when meat is prepared for consumers the blood is removed so there is no transference from the vessels inside the bone into the meat.
That is not the case with other methods like braising and simmering. When the bone has been cut in such a way that it directly exposes the marrow, you will find a difference, however, these methods of cooking are not directly flavoring the meat and those micronutrients are passing into the liquid.
More Tender and Flavorful
It is said that the meat near the bone will always be more tender and flavorful. Cooking anything bone-in requires a little finesse. The meat near the bone is insulated. In fact, it will generally be between 5 and 10°F cooler than the meat throughout the rest of the cut. That means that the meat being cooked will be cooked more away from the bone, while that which is nearer the bone will be less cooked. If you are a medium-rare kind of person who is cooking a steak to that temperature you will run into one of two problems. A perfectly medium-rare steak with the bone in will have the meat near the bone range anywhere from blue to completely raw. Or, if you cook so that the meat near the bone hits that sweet sweet medium-rare, the meat further from the bone will be overcooked compared to your preference.
When cooking bone-in and using a meat thermometer, remember to keep the meat thermometer away from the bone. The bone will provide insulation and create a false low-temperature reading which can lead to overcooking.
What about if you are cooking in a method that melts the collagen at that magic temperature to make meat jell-o as discussed in The Science of Smoking Meat? The melted collagen will only move a little. This is due to the fact that while the muscle fibers of the food you are cooking are almost 70% water, it doesn’t just flow freely throughout the cut of meat. That water is located in the fibers – tube-like structures that will shrink when heat is applied and squeeze the water out. Those muscles squeezing can’t squeeze anything from the hard bones. In fact, there is no way to get at any of the flavorful things you are looking for, found in the yellow marrow unless you crack or saw the bone open. And in doing that, you have likely removed the bone from the meat or have a cut that provides a cross-section of the bone so that the marrow is exposed to air, not the meat – like a cross-cut shank for osso buco.
Keep the Shape
Now, when meat is cooked it will shrink because the heat is making those water-filled fibers contract. Bone is great for helping to keep those cuts of meat from shrinking too far or going funny shapes for the most part. Esthetically this is quite pleasing. I can’t tell you how many times I had a beautiful and large boneless rib eye go funny shapes on me. They were, nonetheless, delicious.
Bone-in vs. Bone-out
Those points above are a strong argument to say that there is no scientific proof that cooking bone-in is the be-all and end-all best way to cook all of your meat. There is no taste difference and tenderness is dependent on the preparation method and proper grilling techniques. In blind taste tests, there was no noticeable difference to the tasters. That being said, there are pros to these cons. Keeping the shape and preventing char on the sides are pluses, as well as the benefit to your bottom line if that is a concern too. It all comes down to your personal preference.
What is the Best Way to Handle Bone-in Meat?
For larger cuts, bone-in meat can be beneficial. A standing rib roast or frenched rib roast of pork and other similar cuts where the bone is located towards the outside and is easily removed, these bones will actually provide insulation. This reduces the surface area for moisture loss, a benefit in big roasts. You can, however, cut the bone off and tie it back on to make carving easier when you go to serve.
For smaller cuts like a T-bone and poultry, it’s generally just better to leave the bone where it is for the most part. Leave deboning a whole bird to the pros if you are inexperienced.
If you can. Save the bones. Bones with their collagen-based connective tissues are the best way to build yourself a lovely soup stock. If the bone is broken open or sawed like beef soup bones are, you have the makings of the best broth you have ever made.
Use bones to make the best soup stock ever. Try this Recipe for Smoked French Onion Soup.
This is one of the biggest hot-button topics when it comes to barbecue. Many believe that it is the only way to grill up a delicious meal, while others find the logic a little hard to swallow. Where do you stand on the great debate? Has this article changed your mind at all? Share your bone-in or bone-out barbecue thoughts and grilled masterpieces on our social pages like Facebook and Instagram using the hashtags #NapoleonEats and #NapoleonGrill.