Fat means energy for a living animal, which builds stores of the stuff. And for an animal that later takes a turn as food, that same fat means flavor and moisture. Without it, meat tends toward the tough, bland, and dry.
Muscle fibers have much the same consistency from animal to animal. Muscles do what they do in the same manner, whether that project is powering a wing or driving a lope across the meadow. Fat cells are where the differences among meat come into play. Because they're the closets of biochemistry, storing any fat-soluble matter the animal takes in, they reflect the animal's eating habits and the intestinal microbes (microscopic organisms that contribute to digestion, as well as the fungi and viruses that cause illness) that make it into its digestive tract.
Because fat stores hang onto food energy, they also maintain any flavor from that food that's fat soluble. You see "grass-fed" advertised so often on beef packaging because that diet is not just more natural for the cattle but tends to produce a more flavorful beef.
Big sheets of fat serve a purpose on cuts like brisket, which has a blanket of fat that covers the cut. (Check out the upcoming "Brisket" section.) That fat layer melts as the brisket heats up and drips down into the meat to keep it flavorful and moist.
ABEfl What you want in every cut of pork, lamb, or beef is good marbling — the network of meandering veins of thin fat that run throughout the cut. This kind of fat feeds the meat moisture and flavor, giving it a toothsome texture.
As animals age, they build stores of fat in their muscles as energy reserves. These stores show up as thick deposits in the meat, and they aren't as beneficial as the thinner, more evenly distributed marbling that you want to look for. The veins of fat break up the strong, chewy muscle tissue and add juiciness as they melt during cooking.
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