Certain cuts of beef are tougher than others because of the muscle and connective tissue. High temperature and overcooking can cause any cut of beef to become tough because heat can cause the muscle fibers to contract. When the meat becomes too tough, you need to know how to tenderize cooked beef.
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Pounding and Cutting
The basic methods for tenderizing beef make meat more tender -- even cooked beef. Pounding the beef with a meat mallet helps to break down the muscle fibers to make them softer. Cutting against the grain -- a common practice for flank steak and skirt steak -- results in meat that's easier to chew, and it reduces the meat's toughness. Cutting the meat into small cubes or thin slices helps moisture and tenderizing products to work more effectively.
Marinade or Tenderizer
Marinating a tough steak or other piece of beef can make it more tender, especially if the marinade is acidic, such as a marinade containing vinegar or citrus. Cutting the cooked beef into thin strips helps the marinade penetrate the meat fibers to soften them. Although commercial tenderizing products might help, they're less effective on cooked beef than raw meat. Their tenderizing improves exposed surfaces of the meat, so the middle will remain tough. Using an injector designed for marinades or tenderizer can help these solutions penetrate the meat.
Braising breaks down the collagen, the tissue that connects meat fiber, according to the Exploratorium's Science of Cooking website. This results in softer meat. Braising requires adding moisture, such as broth, wine or ale, to the beef. Adding vinegar to the liquid in a braising pot or other shallow cooking pot with a tightly fitting lid increases the tenderizing effect. It's important to simmer the meat slowly at a temperature of 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit, because high heat can make the meat tougher.
Tips for Tenderizing Cooked Beef
A braising pan or a shallow pot with a lid that fits tightly give the best results for braising. Deep pans allow more steam to form and dilute the meat stock. Using a slow-cooker appliance or simmering the beef in a skillet with a lid that fits also works for tenderizing cooked beef. Thinly slicing or shredding the beef helps the meat break down faster. Braise or simmer it for at least two hours. Avoid dry cooking methods, such as frying or broiling, or using high-temperature cooking, as these methods can make the muscle fibers contract even more.