Bone-In Versus Boneless Meat on the Grill

boneless meat
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Conventional wisdom has it that meat cooked on the bone is juicier than meat cooked without the bone. But conventional wisdom is wrong – at least when it comes to grilling.

Consider the science of a meat bone. There’s the calcified outer surface of the bone, of course. And inside is the marrow. The conjecture is that the marrow somehow makes its way through the dense bone matter and into the meat, making it juicier and more delicious. The other presumption is that the bone protects the surface of the meat it’s attached to from the intense heat of cooking.

A bone-in pork chop, on the left, and a boneless pork chop

The first supposition is wrong when the subject is grilling. Unless you crack a bone before grilling a T-Bone steak, for instance, the marrow will remain safely encased in the bone.  The bone can influence the flavor of meats that are braised in liquid for a long period of time, but that’s not what happens when meat is grilled.

Bone-In Versus Boneless Meat on the Grill
The ribeye steak on the left has the bone still attached; the one on the right is boneless

The second supposition is up for debate. Yes, the bone protects the meat attached to it from the heat of cooking. That’s why you should never test the internal temperature of the meat by placing a digital thermometer probe next to the bone. It will always give you a false reading, because the temperature next to the bone is always cooler.  But that effect doesn’t travel very far from the bone. And you eliminate one side of a pork chop, for instance, from getting that terrific crust we all love so much.

Meathead Goldwyn, the author of The Science of BBQ and Grilling, wrote an extensive article on whether bones contribute significantly to grilled meats. “Bones contribute no significant flavor to meats cooked by dry cooking methods such as grilling, low and slow barbecue, oven roasting, or frying,” he writes.

The article also quotes Dr. Jeff Savell, leader of the Meat Science Section in the Department of Animal Science at Texas A&M University: “We do have some national data about the tenderness, juiciness, and flavor of bone-in and boneless rib eye and strip steaks, but the differences were very small.”

So for grilling, whether the meat is bone-in or boneless essentially makes no difference.  If you love gnawing on a meaty bone, then go for the bone-in meats. If you want a uniform crust, stick with boneless.

There is one fairly new development in cooking pork that will make a difference in its juiciness – the United States Department of Agriculture recently released guidelines that pork can be safely cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees, followed by a resting time for the meat. That means the pork will retain its juices rather than turn out dry and tough. Consumers will just have to get used to the idea that pork with a rosy center is not only just fine — but preferable.

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