Why Is Deli Roast Beef Red? A Detailed Guide

Have you ever wondered why deli roast beef is always so red? Does it make you question whether the meat is actually cooked or safe to eat?

Well, fear not! The answer lies in the science behind the meat itself. From the protein that adds color to the meat to the way it’s cut, there are a variety of factors that contribute to the vibrant hue of deli roast beef.

In this article, we’ll explore the reasons behind why deli roast beef is red and put your mind at ease about its safety and deliciousness.

So sit back, relax, and let’s dive into the world of deli roast beef!

Why Is Deli Roast Beef Red?

The first thing to understand is that the meat contains a protein called myoglobin, which is responsible for adding a red color to the meat and its juices. When the meat is exposed to air or heat, the myoglobin turns brown, which is why well-cooked meat is not red inside.

But why does deli roast beef stay red? The answer lies in the way it’s cut. Slicing meat “against the grain” means cutting through, rather than parallel to, the bundles of fibers composing the meat’s musculature. This makes for a more tender bite and also leaves a grid of evenly-spaced meat fibers.

In the right light, this surface lends itself to something called “diffraction.” Diffraction occurs when light hits a repeating pattern of nooks and crannies. As the white light bounces off the grooves in the meat, it separates into a spectrum of distinct colors. Some of these colors are amplified, creating a mother-of-pearl appearance when viewed together. This is the same effect we see on the backs of CDs and DVDs.

Another possible culprit behind your rainbow meat is thin-film interference. This is sometimes present in meat with a thin layer of oily fat on the surface. The film affects the light passing through it in such a way that only some of the colors in the spectrum come through, hence the rainbow.

This phenomenon produces a sheen closer to that of bubbles or oil slicks than laser discs. Why do meat rainbows only seem to show up in deli slices, not raw cuts? The answer lies in the curing process. A cured ham is likely greasier than a raw pork cutlet, which makes thin-film interference more likely. The muscle fibers in cured and cooked meats are also more tightly packed together, producing the rigid grid necessary for diffraction.

The Role Of Myoglobin In Meat Color

Myoglobin is the protein responsible for the red color of meat. It is a heme protein that stores oxygen in muscle cells, similar to how hemoglobin stores oxygen in blood cells. The more myoglobin content meat contains, the darker red it will appear in color. Myoglobin content is higher in beef and lower in poultry, with lamb and pork having intermediate amounts.

The age of an animal also impacts the myoglobin content of the muscles, with older animals having more myoglobin and darker meat. Muscles that are used for movement also have more myoglobin content than muscles used for support. Along with water from muscle, myoglobin is what is found in meat packages that leaks out of the muscles during storage and most people think is blood.

Myoglobin has three natural colors depending on its exposure to oxygen and the chemical state of the iron. If no oxygen is present, the meat appears purple-red, like in vacuum-packaged meat, and is in the deoxymyoglobin state. Meat is bright red when exposed to air and is typical of meat in retail display. Bright red color indicates oxymyoglobin is present. Meat appears tan or brown when only very small amounts of oxygen are present, such as when two bright red pieces of meat are stacked on each other excluding the oxygen. Meat can also appear brown when the meat’s color life is exhausted late in display when the iron in the pigment becomes oxidized. Metmyoglobin is the state when the iron has oxidized and is tan or brown in color.

Therefore, the red color of deli roast beef comes from myoglobin content and how it’s cut, rather than from any added dyes or chemicals. The thin slicing technique creates a grid-like pattern that amplifies some of the colors in the spectrum, producing a rainbow-like effect due to diffraction or thin-film interference.

The Importance Of Proper Cooking Temperatures

When it comes to cooking deli roast beef, it’s important to understand the importance of proper cooking temperatures. Undercooked or raw meat can contain dangerous bacteria that cause food poisoning, while overcooking can lead to a blander taste and an unsightly gray band around the edge of your sliced roast beef.

To ensure that your deli roast beef is cooked to perfection, it’s essential to use a cooking thermometer. Every type of food has its own proper temperature to effectively eliminate bacteria and bring out the best flavor. Using a leave-in probe like the ChefAlarm® will help you know when to take it out of the oven so that it’s temperature perfect every time you make it.

For the best roast beef, you want two things in your cooking: a quality sear and a perfect pinkness from edge to edge inside the roast. The sear will give a deeper, meatier, roasted flavor. Without it, it’s just beef, not roast beef. To get the sear right, heat a heavy skillet over high heat, put a little high smoke point oil in the pan, and sear all sides of the roast hard. Get a nice, rich brown on as many sides of the meat as you can.

As for the perfect rosy color, that’s easily accomplished by slow-roasting the beef. Slow-roasting decreases the temperature gradients in the meat, as well as minimizing carryover cooking. That means you’re less likely to overcook the meat or end up with an unsightly gray band around the edge of your sliced roast beef. Pulling the beef out of the oven at 130°F (54°C) will ensure a beautiful medium-rare after the 3–5°F (2–3°C) of carryover cooking you can expect from this roast.

The Effects Of Oxygen And Packaging On Meat Color

The color of fresh red meat is determined by the myoglobin molecules it contains. Myoglobin is a protein that contains iron ions, and the structure of protein + ions can make it combine with oxygen, causing the color of red meat to change. The amount of oxygen present in the packaging atmosphere can prevent undesirable oxidation and discoloration of meat. However, too much oxygen can promote deteriorative reactions such as fat oxidation and microbiology failure.

Different packaging methods affect the color of meat differently. Vacuum-packed and skin-packed meat will turn brown or even purple due to the lack of oxygen. However, when the package is opened and oxygen is present again, the myoglobin in the meat will immediately react with oxygen and slowly turn back to red. Modified atmosphere packaged red meat can maintain a bright red color for a long time due to specific gas filled in the box. On the other hand, manual packaging directly in bags has no measure for maintaining color stability. After prolonged exposure to oxygen, it will start to oxidize until it spoils.

Humidity also plays a role in meat color. High humidity in the environment can form a water vapor layer on the surface of meat, which affects the diffusion of oxygen and slows the oxidation of myoglobin. Low humidity and fast air flow speed up the formation of methemoglobin and accelerate the browning of the flesh.

The Difference Between Deli Roast Beef And Other Cooked Meats

When it comes to cooked meats, there are a few key differences between deli roast beef and other types of meat. One of the main differences is the way the meat is sliced. Deli roast beef is typically sliced against the grain, which makes for a more tender bite and also leaves a grid of evenly-spaced meat fibers. This surface lends itself to diffraction, which can produce a rainbow effect in the meat.

Another difference between deli roast beef and other cooked meats is the curing process. Deli roast beef is often slow-cooked at lower temperatures until it is tender, while other meats may be roasted in an oven at a high temperature to form a crust. This difference in cooking methods can affect the tenderness and flavor of the meat.

Finally, deli roast beef is often served cold or quickly reheated, while other cooked meats may be served hot on a plate. This means that deli roast beef is typically leaner and more tender than other cooked meats, as it needs to be easy to slice and serve cold.

Tips For Choosing And Storing Deli Roast Beef

When selecting deli roast beef, it’s important to pay attention to the color and texture. The meat should have a bright, vibrant red color with minimal browning or discoloration. The texture should be firm, but not tough or rubbery. If the meat appears slimy or has an off smell, it’s best to avoid it.

To ensure the deli roast beef stays fresh and flavorful, it’s important to store it properly. After purchasing, remove the meat from its original packaging and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. This will help prevent air exposure and keep the meat from drying out. Alternatively, you can store the meat in an airtight container.

It’s also important to keep the deli roast beef refrigerated at a temperature of 40 °F or below. This will help prevent bacterial growth and keep the meat safe to eat. If you don’t plan on using the meat within a few days, consider freezing it for later use. Wrap the meat tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and place it in a freezer-safe bag. Be sure to label the bag with the date and type of meat for easy identification later on.

When ready to use the deli roast beef, thaw it in the refrigerator overnight before heating or serving. Avoid thawing at room temperature or in warm water, as this can promote bacterial growth and compromise the safety of the meat.

By following these tips for choosing and storing deli roast beef, you can ensure that your meat stays fresh and flavorful for longer periods of time. Enjoy this delicious protein source in sandwiches, wraps, salads, and more!