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What Causes Stringy Meat?

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Meat has become incredibly expensive. What’s even worse is that it’s difficult to find good-quality meat cuts — even if you’re willing to pay the price! 

So, you finally treat yourself to an extraordinarily succulent (and pricey) cut and spend hours preparing and cooking it. Then, once you cut into it, you see a super dry, tough, and stringy piece of meat. It is truly heartbreaking!

So, what exactly causes stringy meat? The number one cause of stringy meat is overcooking meat or using incorrect cooking techniques. Choosing the correct cooking method will help you retain moisture in your cut and will simultaneously help prevent overcooking and stringy meat.

In today’s article, we will look at exactly how meat should be cooked versus why it comes out stringy. Then, we’ll discuss how to prevent this from occurring, whether you can salvage it, and which cuts are exceptionally prone to it.

What Should Perfectly Cooked Meat Feel And Taste Like?

Stringy meat is a term used to describe a specific texture of cooked meat. Unfortunately, as you may have guessed, this isn’t an appealing type of texture we are referring to.

But, before we look at exactly what this texture is, let’s look at what perfectly cooked meat has to look and taste like.

Naturally, there are many different types of meat cuts and different cooking methods that you can use to prepare them. There are even varying degrees to which you can cook each cut of meat!

Overhead shot of chef preparing ribeye with butter, thyme and garlic.

A simple example would be a fillet steak versus a chuck roast that has been cut into blocks to form stew meat.

Fillet is best cooked using extremely high heat to sear the outside. It gets cooked for only a couple of minutes. The final result is an extremely juice, tender, and rich piece of meat.

However, if you used the same cooking method for chuck, the meat would be tough and wouldn’t be completely cooked. Instead, the chuck has to be cooked over a low and slow heat to soften all the connective tissue and make it palatable.

So, as you can imagine, these factors cause a variety of meat textures. But, one thing that every piece of meat should have in common is that it shouldn’t be dry or tough!

How you can achieve this depends on the preparation methods and cooking techniques you use for your specific cut of meat.

Meat should always be tender, juicy, flavorful, and perfectly cooked. Even well-done meat can have a ton of flavor and be tender. And remember, meat doesn’t have to be as juicy as rare steak to be tender!

What Is Stringy Meat And What Causes It? 

Fresh fillet steak on table.

As meat is cooked, the muscle fibers in the cut contract or shorten in width and length. When this happens, the fibers squeeze out the juices (moisture) that the meat has.

The trick to getting your meat cooked perfectly is to control how much moisture the piece of meat loses. Or, even if it does, how to reintroduce moisture into the cut.

Stringy meat is a texture caused by dry and tough meat. That makes the meat very difficult to eat. Not to mention that it lacks flavor and doesn’t even look appealing. But why does this happen?

The number one cause of stringy meat is overcooking meat or using incorrect cooking techniques.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at some common causes of stringy meat. These will help you better understand how to prevent it entirely!

Overcooking The Meat

Overcooking meat is the first cause of stringy meat. But, there are several reasons why meat gets overcooked in the first place!

It can be something as simple as forgetting to remove your meat from heat or turn it over. Or that you used the wrong cooking technique for a specific cut of meat, which then overcooked it.

When you overcook the meat, you remove too much moisture from the cut.

That eventually dries out the piece of meat so much that it loses its tender texture and even meaty flavor. What you are left with is a piece of rubber that is chewy and bland.

Incorrect Cooking Method For Specific Cut

Imagine you cook two pieces of steak over the same heat for the same amount of time — one is 1/2-inch thick, and the other is 1-inch thick. Naturally, the thinner steak could be completely overcooked, or the thicker steak will be undercooked!

Here is another example. Imagine cooking brisket inside a pressure cooker for 12 hours. Just because there is liquid in the recipe doesn’t mean that the meat fibers won’t contract beyond what they should!

You have to consider the cut of meat you are working with and the qualities. Thinner or smaller pieces will cook for less time to get the same results and prevent overcooking.

Incorrect Preparation Technique For Specific Cut

Some pieces of meat are naturally prone to drying out, which is why they have to be prepared before cooking to make them less stringy.

Different preparation methods include tenderizing the meat cut inside a marinade or using a meat tenderizer.

These cuts are often larger ones or very tough ones. Another sign of meat in need of tenderizing is if they have very little fat or connective tissue.

How To Prevent Stringy Meat

Sliced medium rare grilled Steak Ribeye with french fries on serving board block on wooden background.

The key to avoiding cooking your meat until it has a stringy texture is choosing the correct cooking technique for the meat cut you are working with!

Once you choose the technique, you have to ensure you do it correctly.

There are hundreds (if not thousands) of articles on all the different cooking techniques and when you should use which. This step, in turn, will help prevent the meat from overcooking in the first place.

If you need to tenderize a specific cut of meat before cooking it, don’t skip this step. Yes, it is time-consuming. But you chose that cut of meat for its qualities!

So, if part of achieving the juicy and tender texture involves tenderizing the meat for 24 hours, then do so!

And finally, don’t overcook the meat. Even if you chose the ultimate technique and follow the steps perfectly, if you overcook it, it is usually unsavable!

You can prevent this by constantly monitoring the progress of the meat and by checking the internal temperature. Different types of meat and different cuts have different temperatures.

Whole roasted chicken with vegetables.

For example, chicken has to be cooked to 165ºF (74.9ºC). Anything higher than this and the chicken will start drying out more than it should!

Pork, lamb, and beef have to be cooked until it reaches an internal temperature of 145ºF (62.8ºC).

Beef also has varying internal temperatures for different levels of doneness.

For example, a rare steak has an internal temperature of about 125-130ºF (51.7-54.4ºC). But, medium steaks are cooked until they are about 140-150ºF (60-65.6ºC) on the inside.

Can You Fix Stringy Meat?

Unfortunately, there isn’t really anything you can do to salvage stringy meat. Once the meat has that chewy, dense, and rubbery texture, it is irreversible. That is why you must avoid overcooking it in the first place!

Now, while you cannot save stringy meat, you can utilize it in different ways to make the stringy texture less noticeable. This is also a great way to use old leftover meat that has dried out in the fridge!

Beef stew served with crusty bread in a bowll.

Cut the stringy piece of meat off the bone (if applicable). Then, dice it into tiny blocks. Cut away any sinew on the cooked meat. Next, cook these pieces in a beef broth or sauce to make them juicy.

Because the pieces of meat are smaller and cooked in sauce, it is less obvious that they are dry.

Is Stringy Meat Safe To Eat?

Stringy meat is completely safe to eat, it just might not be very appealing. This meat can be extremely tough and chewy. It makes it hard to bite through and even harder to swallow.

Then, the stringy meat also has a very dry texture. Again, swallowing is difficult and often the meat gets caught between your teeth. That adds another level of irritation to your dinner.

And finally, besides the chewy and dry texture, the meat doesn’t have a lot of flavors. Unless you actually burnt it to a lump of crisp, chewy meat is still safe to eat. So, utilize our technique above to hide the unappealing texture.

Which Types Of Meat Are Prone To Becoming Stringy?

Raw Red Grass Fed Chuck Beef Roast Ready to Cook.

All types and cuts of meat can easily become stringy, seeing as the cause is more overcooking than anything else.

However, some cuts are more prone to overcooking and stringiness than others. These are usually the large pieces and the ones that don’t contain a ton of fat

Any large meat cut takes a long time to cook. If you don’t use the correct cooking technique, it could dry out the meat as it cooks. And, if you leave it without setting a timer, you may easily overcook the meat.

Then, meat without fat tends to dry out faster. Fat helps moisturize meat when cooking because it gets trapped inside. So, any cut with little fat is generally more prone to become stringy.

And finally, any cut that comes from a tougher part of the animal will be more prone to stringiness. That is because the cut is already very dry, so you have to cook it perfectly and carefully.

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