Does beef get more tender the longer you cook it? Everyone has overcooked beef at some point in their life. I’ll be the first to admit, it used to happen to me all the time. You might be taking your first bite of your steaming gray hunk of meat and saying, “why is this so tough? I thought beef got more tender the longer you cook it?”
Believe it or not, you are correct! Beef does get more tender the longer you cook it, but you’re also misinformed about the methods used to cook beef for extended periods of time. I’m going to go over simple cooking methods that will help you understand what is happening to your meat the longer it’s in the oven, and I’ll even write you a list of certain cuts of beef that are preferred for longer cooks. Let’s make cooking beef delicious again.
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Proper Cooking Methods
You can’t just throw your hunk of beef into the oven, wrap it in foil, cook it forever and expect a succulent “fall off the bone” product. The proper cooking methods for getting slow-cooked, pull apart beef is called braising or stewing. In order to enhance flavour when braising or stewing you need to understand caramelization of beef by the Maillard Reaction.
is a cooking method that uses both wet and dry heat. Typically, the food is first seared or sautéed at a high temperature. Then cooked for a long time in a covered pot at a lower temperature while sitting in flavoured liquid, either in the oven or on the stove top. I like to use my Staub Cast Iron Cocotte as the cast iron promotes even heat distribution.
When your beef is nice and tender in the braise, take it off the heat and keep your beef in the hot liquid until it cools by 50%. If you take your hot braised beef out of the liquid it will continue to steam and naturally remove some of its moisture. Let it cool as much as possible by leaving your pot out at room temperature or putting it in the fridge. You can always reheat your beef again when you are ready to serve.
is a long, slow cooking method where food is cut into uniform pieces. Then cooked in liquid with other flavourings and/or vegetables. Usually cooked uncovered on the stove top. Stewing is great for home cooking, as it only requires one pot and a lid. It’s delicious, easy to do, something you can turn on and forget about until it’s ready to be enjoyed.
is a cooking method that uses dry heat where hot air covers the food, cooking it evenly on all sides with temperatures of at least 150C (300F). From an open flame, oven, or other heat source. Roasting can enhance the flavour through caramelization and Maillard browning on the surface of the food. Roasting can be done in a pan or in the oven, the addition of oil with a high smoking point aids in caramelization, vegetable or olive oil will do just fine. When making your stew, be sure to use a large enough pot where you can properly colour your beef, before the addition of other vegetables and flavourings.
For those who don’t know, the Maillard Reaction is a chemical reaction between an amino acid and a reducing sugar, usually requiring the addition of heat. Like caramelization it is a form of non-enzymatic browning. In simpler terms, when you caramelize sugar on top of your crème brulè it develops a darker brown colour. The Maillard Reaction is when you are caramelizing something that doesn’t contain a lot of sugar, mainly beef and other animal proteins.
For a great video breaking down the science behind the Maillard Reaction in everyday items.
Also, if you want to see just how it makes your food delicious follow this.
Best Tender Cuts of Beef
Specific cuts of beef are better for certain cooking methods. All meat consists of muscle, connective tissue and fat. Most of what you see in a piece of meat is the soft, dense muscle. Connective tissue is the broad term for ligaments, tendons and the collagen membranes that hold the muscle together. Fat can appear in thick layers over the muscles, also known as a “fat cap,” and be fine white flecks running through your cut of meat. More fat marbling in your cut, the more tender and succulent your finished cooked product will be.
Tougher cuts of beef are pieces that will not cook quickly, they are full of connective tissues that need a lot of cooking time to break down. With patience and using proper cooking methods (braising and/or stewing), these tough cuts will be tender, moist and delicious. These tougher cuts are usually available for cheaper, as most people do not know how to use them. Keep in mind before purchase, it takes a long time for these cuts to get tender, approximately 3-4 hours. If you are in a rush to make dinner, I’d stay away from these.
Here is a video by Gordon Ramsay explaining how to properly braise beef short-ribs:
Tender cuts of beef are going to be more expensive at your local grocer. They are high in fat marbling, get great Maillard Reaction colour when searing in your pan, and finish cooking much quicker. With these cuts there is a lot more room for error if you do not know how to cook your steak.
Here is a video on how to properly sear a Fillet Mignon and develop the Maillard Reaction:
Below is a list of the most popular tough cuts and tender cuts of beef:
- Chuck Roast
- Shoulder Roast
- Rump Roast or Steak
- Top Round
- Bottom Round
- Eye of Round
- Short Ribs
- Rib-eye Steak
- Standing Rib Roast
- Tenderloin (Filet Mignon)
- Strip Steak
- Strip Loin
- T-bone Steak
- Porterhouse Steak
- Sirloin Steak
It is very possible to get that succulent, tender beef you are searching for. Just make sure you follow the videos provided and stick to proper cooking methods. For further examples of beef cuts look at the diagram below to see just where they are coming from.