Food Q&A: Meat shrinkage

How do I account for cooking shrinkage when I'm determining portion sizes?

Chances are, you've been there: You buy several pounds of meat to cook for a crowd only to take it out of the oven and find a cut that it looks much smaller than the cut you bought at the store. What?!

The good news is that this phenomena is not all in your head. Meat and other animal proteins such as poultry and fish do shrink while they cook. Here's what you need to know to cut back on kitchen surprises and track SmartPoints® with accuracy when following the WW program. 

Q: What causes meat to shrink?

A: When animal protein is heated, it releases juices that cause the protein to shrink. The amount the protein-containing food shrinks depends upon how fatty it is and how much moisture it contains. It also depends on how long the food is cooked and at what temperature.

Q: How do you keep meat from shrinking? 

Typically, higher cooking temperatures result in greater shrinkage. So cooking animal proteins at a lower temperature can reduce moisture loss to some extent. 

Q: How much does meat shrink when cooked? 

In general, meat, poultry and fish will shrink about 25 percent when cooked. Sixteen ounces (1 pound) of raw boneless, skinless chicken breast will therefore yield about 12 ounces of cooked chicken.

To help understand the 25 percent shrinkage rate, compare the calories of 4 ounces of raw chicken breast (134 calories) to 3 ounces of cooked chicken breast (139 calories).  As you can see, 4 ounces raw is comparable to 3 ounces cooked calorically.

Make sure to take the shrinkage into consideration when purchasing raw meat. If you want to end up with four 4-ounce burgers for example, you’ll need to buy 20 ounces of raw meat.

Q: Does meat shrink in a slow cooker?

Any time an animal protein is heated, it changes form and releases liquid. But since higher heat typically causes more shrinkage, it may shrink less in a slow cooker. What's more, because slow-cooker meats sit in the liquid they release, they may come out tasting juicier. However, lean proteins like chicken breasts are an exception; they could end up drying out in a slow cooker. Because the cut, preparationg (i.e., whether you sear the meat before slow-cooking it), and cooking temperature and time also affect the final product, there's no hard-and-fast answer that applies to all animal proteins.