Does beef get more tender the longer you cook it?

Whether beef gets more tender the longer you cook it is a common question for home cooks and chefs alike. The tenderness of beef can depend on a variety of factors, including the cut of beef, the cooking method, and the length of cooking time.

Quick Answer

The quick answer is yes, beef does generally get more tender the longer you cook it, up to a point. This is because the longer beef cooks, the more the collagen in the meat breaks down from the heat, making the beef more tender. However, cooking beef for too long can make it dry or tough. The ideal cooking time will depend on the cut and thickness of the beef.

What Makes Beef Tender?

To understand why longer cooking makes beef more tender, it helps to know what makes beef tender in the first place.

The main factors that affect beef tenderness are:

  • Amount of collagen – Collagen is the main connective tissue in beef that can make it tough. Cuts with more collagen need longer cooking.
  • Amount of fat marbling – Fat marbling helps keep beef juicy and tender during cooking.
  • Grain of the meat – The grain refers to the direction of the muscle fibers. Cutting across the grain helps shorten the fibers for tenderness.
  • Age of beef – Aging beef for several days helps break down collagen over time.

Understanding these factors helps explain why different beef cuts have different optimal cooking times and methods.

How Cooking Breaks Down Collagen

The most important factor for tenderness is the collagen content. Collagen is a tough, fibrous protein that binds muscle fibers together. The more collagen a cut of beef contains, the tougher it will be.

Applying heat from cooking causes collagen to breakdown into gelatin, which is soft and tender. The longer collagen is exposed to heat, the more it converts to gelatin and the more tender the beef becomes.

This process allows traditionally tough cuts like brisket, chuck roast, and shoulder steaks to become tender and juicy when cooked for prolonged periods either through braising, stewing, or grilling/smoking at low temperatures.

Tenderness by Cut and Quality Grade

Certain cuts of beef are naturally more tender than others based on their collagen content and fat marbling:

Tender cuts:

  • Ribeye
  • Tenderloin
  • Sirloin
  • Strip steaks

Tender cuts come from parts of the cow that get little exercise, so they have low collagen content. They can be cooked quickly by grilling or broiling.

Less tender cuts:

  • Chuck roast
  • Brisket
  • Round steaks
  • Flank steak

Less tender cuts come from heavily exercised areas and require moist cooking methods like braising to break down their collagen.

The USDA beef quality grading system also influences tenderness:

  • Prime grade is most tender due to heavy marbling.
  • Choice grade is moderately tender with modest marbling.
  • Select has less marbling so not as naturally tender.

Higher quality grades like Prime or Choice will be more tender at shorter cook times than lower grades like Select.

Cooking Methods for Tender Beef

Certain cooking methods are better for tenderizing beef:

  • Slow moist heat: Braising, stewing, pot roasting, or barbecuing/smoking at low temps for prolonged periods tenderizes by slowly breaking down collagen.
  • Marinades: Acidic marinades can help tenderize and flavor the meat.
  • Mechanical tenderizing: Slicing, cubing, pounding, or needling meat helps break down muscle fibers.
  • Quick dry heat: Grilling, broiling or sautéing at high temps gives quick browning for tender cuts.

Combining methods, such as marinating meat before a quick high-heat cooking method, can further ensure tender results.

How Long to Cook Different Cuts

The optimal cooking times for different cuts of beef to maximize tenderness are:

Tender Cuts

Cut Cooking Time
Ribeye, Tenderloin 4 to 8 minutes to reach medium rare
8 to 12 minutes to reach medium
Strip, Sirloin steaks 6 to 10 minutes for medium rare
10 to 15 minutes for medium

Tender cuts can be grilled, broiled, pan-seared or roasted using quick, dry heat cooking methods. Cooking past medium doneness can make them dry.

Less Tender Cuts

Cut Cooking Time
Chuck roast 1 1/2 to 3 hours braised or pot roasted
Brisket 8 to 12 hours smoked/barbecued
3 to 4 hours braised
Round or flank steak 45 minutes to 1 hour grilled, sautéed, or broiled

Less tender cuts require moisture and prolonged cooking times to become tender. Roasting, braising, stewing, or barbecuing at 225-250°F are best. Marinating can help shorten cooking times.

Doneness Temperatures and Tenderness

Higher internal temperatures make beef more well-done but not necessarily more tender. The collagen breakdown that improves tenderness typically peaks around 160-170°F for most cuts.

Here are the different doneness levels and temperatures:

Doneness Internal Temp
Rare 120-125°F
Medium Rare 130-135°F
Medium 140-150°F
Medium Well 155-165°F
Well Done 165°F and above

For most tender cuts, medium rare to medium provides ideal tenderness without drying out the meat. Cooking higher than medium often dries out the meat which can make it tough.

For less tender cuts, cooking to 195-205°F ensures collagen breakdown while keeping the meat moist. Lower temperatures around 160°F may still leave some tough collagen.

Factors that Make Beef Tough

While prolonged cooking helps tenderize beef, there are also some factors that can make beef tough and dry even with long cooking times:

  • Overcooking – Cooking at too high a temperature or well beyond medium doneness can dry out the meat.
  • Cooking unevenly – Thick or uneven cuts may end up overdone on the outside but underdone on the inside.
  • Freezing and thawing incorrectly – This can damage muscle fibers.
  • Cutting against the grain – Cutting against the muscle fiber direction makes meat tougher.

To avoid these pitfalls, use a meat thermometer to monitor doneness, thaw beef safely in the fridge, and cut across the grain for tenderness.


In most cases, yes, beef does get more tender the longer you cook it. Cooking helps break down the tough collagen in beef into gelatin, up to temperatures around 170°F. The exact cooking time for tender beef depends on multiple factors like the cut, thickness, cooking method and desired doneness.

Tender cuts only need quick cooking with dry heat. Less tender cuts benefit from braising, stewing, smoking at low temperatures, or other slow moist cooking methods to fully tenderize.

While prolonged cooking tenderizes beef, overcooking can also dry it out and make it tough. Using the proper techniques for the cut of beef is key for maximizing tenderness.

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