Costs for meat have skyrocketed recently. What’s even worse is that it’s tough to find good-quality meat cuts – even if you’re ready to pay the money! So, you spend hours preparing and grilling a particularly succulent (and expensive) cut. After further investigation, however, it turns out to be an extremely dry, rough, and stringy slab of beef. It’s so sad it hurts!
Then why does meat often become tough to chew? Overcooking and other improper cooking methods are the leading causes of stringy meat. Keeping the meat juicy and tender by not overcooking it will help you avoid stringy meat.
Here, we’ll dissect the reasons why meat often turns out tough and examine the ideal cooking time and temperature. Then, we’ll explore how to avoid this from occurring, whether you can salvage it, and which cuts are unusually prone to it.
What Should Perfectly Cooked Meat Feel And Taste Like?
The word stringy meat is used to describe a certain texture of cooked meat. Unfortunately, as you may have suspected, we are not referring to an appealing form of texture. But before we examine this texture in detail, let’s examine what perfectly cooked meat should look and taste like.
Clearly, there are a wide variety of meat cuts and cooking techniques available for their preparation. Even the degrees to which each cut of meat can be cooked vary!
Chef preparing ribeye with butter, thyme, and garlic from above.
A straightforward comparison would be between a fillet steak and a chuck roast that has been sliced into blocks to create stew meat.
The exterior of fillet is ideally seared using extremely high heat. It is simply cooked for a couple minutes. The ultimate product is a juicy, tender, and flavorful piece of beef.
However, if the same cooking process was applied to chuck, the flesh would be tough and undercooked. Instead, the chuck must be cooked slowly over a low temperature to soften the connective tissue and render it edible.
Consequently, as you might expect, these factors result in a range of meat textures. However, all beef should be juicy and tender.
Depending on the preparation methods and cooking techniques you employ for your individual cut of meat, this can be accomplished in a variety of ways.
Meat must always be soft, juicy, tasty, and cooked to perfection. Even well-done meat can be incredibly flavorful and soft. And remember, tender meat does not need to be as juicy as rare steak!
What Is Stringy Meat And What Causes It?
Cooking causes a shortening and narrowing of the muscular fibers in a piece of meat. The fibers exert pressure on the meat, causing the moisture to be drawn out. The key to correctly cooked meat is limiting its moisture loss. And even if it does, how to rehydrate the wound is another matter again.
Dry and rough meat causes a stringy texture. Because of this, chewing the meat is a chore. What’s more, it doesn’t have much flavor and doesn’t seem very appetizing. To what end does this occur, though?
Overcooking and other improper cooking methods are the leading causes of stringy meat. Let’s investigate the most typical reasons for tough meat. These will shed light on how to avoid the problem altogether.
Overcooking The Meat
Overcooking is the primary cause of tough meat. However, there are several reasons why meat is overcooked to begin with! It could be as simple as forgetting to remove the meat from the heat or flip it. Or that you utilized the incorrect cooking method for a particular cut of meat, resulting in its overcooking.
When a cut of meat is overcooked, it loses too much moisture. This eventually causes the meat to become so dry that it loses its tender texture and even its meaty taste. What remains is a piece of rubber that is chewy and tasteless.
Incorrect Cooking Method For Specific Cut
Assume you cook two pieces of steak for the same amount of time over the same heat — one is 1/2-inch thick and the other is 1-inch thick. Naturally, the thinner steak may be entirely overcooked, while the thicker steak may be completely undercooked!
Here’s another case in point. Consider cooking brisket for 12 hours in a pressure cooker. Just though the recipe contains liquid does not ensure that the meat fibers will not contract more than they should!
You must evaluate the cut of meat you are working with as well as its attributes. Thinner or smaller pieces will require less cooking time to achieve the same outcomes and avoid overcooking.
Incorrect Preparation Technique For Specific Cut
Some types of meat are inherently prone to drying out, therefore in order to prevent them from becoming stringy during cooking, they must be prepared first. Using a meat tenderizer or marinating the cut of meat are two different ways to prepare it.
These wounds are frequently deeper or more difficult. If the meat has minimal fat or connective tissue, that is another indication that it needs to be tenderized.
How To Prevent Stringy Meat
The secret to avoiding cooking your meat until it has a stringy feel is to use the proper cooking procedure for the meat cut at hand! Once you’ve decided on a technique, you must ensure that you use it appropriately.
There are hundreds (if not thousands) of articles on various cooking techniques and when to employ which. This, in turn, will aid in preventing the meat from overcooking in the first place.
Don’t omit this step if you need to tenderize a specific cut of meat before cooking it. Yes, it requires time. But you chose that cut of beef because of its characteristics! So, if tenderizing the beef for 24 hours is part of achieving the juicy and tender texture, go ahead and do it!
Finally, avoid overcooking the meat. Even if you use the best technique and meticulously follow the processes, if you overheat it, it is typically irreversible!
You can avoid this by regularly checking the internal temperature and tracking the progress of the meat. Temperatures vary depending on the type of meat and the cut.
Roasted whole chicken with veggies
Chicken, for example, must be cooked to 165oF (74.9oC). Anything greater than this will cause the chicken to dry out faster than it should!
Pork, lamb, and beef must be cooked to an internal temperature of 145oF (62.8oC).
Beef has variable internal temperatures for different degrees of doneness.
A rare steak, for example, has an internal temperature of roughly 125-130oF (51.7-54.4oC). Medium steaks, on the other hand, are cooked until the internal temperature reaches 140-150oF (60-65.6oC).
Can You Fix Stringy Meat?
Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done to save stringy meat. Once flesh acquires a texture that is chewy, thick, and rubbery, it is irreversible. Therefore, you must avoid overcooking it to begin with!
Although stringy meat cannot be preserved, it can be utilized in a variety of ways to reduce its stringy texture. This is also an excellent way to utilize old, dried-out meat from the refrigerator!
Beef stew served in a bowl with crusty bread.
Remove the stringy meat from the bone (if applicable). Then, cut it into little pieces. Remove any sinew from cooked meat. Then, boil the meat in a beef broth or sauce to make it juicy. Due to the smaller size and cooking in sauce, it is less apparent that the meat is dry.
Is Stringy Meat Safe To Eat?
Stringy meat is totally safe to consume; it just may not be attractive. This meat has the potential to be incredibly tough and chewy. It’s difficult to bite through and even more difficult to swallow.
The stringy flesh is likewise rather dry in texture. Again, swallowing is difficult, and the meat frequently becomes stuck between your teeth. That adds another element of annoyance to your meal.
Finally, aside from the chewy and dry texture, there aren’t many flavors in the flesh. Unless you absolutely cooked it to a fire, chewy meat is still edible. So, use the procedure described above to conceal the unpleasant texture.
Which Types Of Meat Are Prone To Becoming Stringy?
Overcooking is the primary culprit in turning any kind of meat into a stringy mess. Certain cuts, however, are more likely to become overcooked and stringy than others. These are the larger cuts, typically low in fat content.
It takes a long time to prepare any huge cut of meat. The meat may get overcooked and tough if you don’t take care during cooking. Overcooking the meat is a real possibility if you just leave it in there without monitoring it.
Second, lean meat has a greater propensity to dry out quickly. The fat in the meat traps moisture and keeps the meat juicy while it cooks. Thus, lean cuts are more likely to dry out.
Finally, meat that has been cut from a tougher portion of the animal will be stringier than other cuts. You need to be extra careful when cooking this cut because it is already fairly dry.