Fast/Tender Beef (Meat)

This page isn't a recipe, although it is concered with food and cooking. It does divide into 2 rough parts, that concerned with the speed of cooking, and that about how to make meat tender.

Cooking Speed

For any small piece of meat, the cooking time depends on how long that piece of meat is at the cooking temperature. Lower temperatures require longer times. In cooking, there are often a few different minimum temperatures which need to be considered.

Food safety as practised by most people is a relative term. Only labs can do things like culturing to actually measure bacterial counts. Bacteria is the typical thing we are worried about, although things like parasites and poisons might also be involved. A rule of thumb to get you started is that most of the things we are worried about like to live at temperatures similar to our body temperature. At higher temperatures we can kill them, and lower temperatures usually put things to sleep/hibernation. In food science, they are asking that we either keep the temperature below 4C (40F) or above 60C (140F). The colder temperature is significantly below what any comfortable room temperature might be, and the higher temperature is higher than the warmest temperature on Earth (near equator).

The safest way to cook food is to obtain some minimum temperature. The typical recommendation is to reach at least at least 63C (145F). and we want to minimize the length of time the food is cooler than 60C (140F). Cooking food until some kind of colour change happens (beef turns brown for example) is not a safe way to cook. The chemical reactions that change the colour of beef happen faster than the ones which call any dangerous organisms, so you can find meat that "looks" cooked, but is still unsafe.

These cooking recomendations are largely assuming the meat has not been penetrated (pierced) in any way, so that any bacteria (pathogens in general) are only on the surface. If we are cooking the center of the meat to 62C, the surface is expected to get considerably warmer than this. Cooking meat that has been pierced (flavour injectors and inserting garlic are examples) or ground (hamburger) or cut up (leftovers) requires cooking to 74C (165F) in general.

Contrary to expectations, the colour of meat isn't an indicator of "doneness", usually measured on the rare - medium - well-done scale. If meat is held at 75C for a long time (say for example, bagged in a water bath for 30 minutes) the meat will be well-done but still red in colour.

So, we cook our meat to attain some magic temperature at the center of the meat. Meat closer to the surface will have been heated to a higher temperature. If we want to cook meat faster, the biggest trick is to get that center of the meat closer to the surface. Meat that looks like a sphere or a cube takes longer to cook, than meat which looks like a disc (steak). Bone conducts heat better than muscle does (the meat), so a piece of meat with a bone in it might cook like a thinner piece of meat. In the microwave, this isn't necessarily true.

The other part of the fast cooking problem, is getting the heat to the meat. Air is a good insulator and has little thermal mass. If we want to cook meat fast, we need to minimise how much air the heat has to pass through. The typical way most people do this is to fry foods, so we are conducting heat across oil instead of air. What is usually a better medium for cooking is water. Poaching is one technique employing water for cooking. Steaming is another method employing water. If we put the water under pressure, we raise the boiling temperature, and can further reduce cooking times. Adding salt will also raise the boiling temperature, but this may then introduce salt to the meat, which might not be desired.

If we are cooking meat in water, probably the best method is to put the meat, and any flavouring agents, inside a sealed bag with no air in the bag. That way the large excess of water doesn't "disolve flavour" from the meat. Another method is to flavour the water.

So, fast cooking would indicate that the thickness of the meat be the same as "bite size", and we bag the meat before we cook it in boiling water. The boiling water could be salted or pressurised. The problem with bagging meat however, is that finding out the internal temperature punctures the bag. If we bagged a few "test samples", we could puncture them instead, as long as they are all the same thickness. You want enough water that the bags don't touch the bottom (and melt) or stick to each other.

Tenderising Meat (Beef)

Tenderising meat is about breaking up the structure of the meat. Grinding meat into hamburger is probably the ultimate in tenderising.

Your butcher probably makes something called minute steak, which is a thin piece of meat which looks beat up. You can also beat up the meat yourself. You do want to use something clean. One recommendation is to use something which looks more like an array of small sword than a hammer, to put a bunch of small nicks in the thin cut of meat. You would apply this piece of equipment across the meat in 2 perpendicular directions on both sides, thoroughly nicking the meat.

Some cuts of meat, such as flank steak, have a pronounced grain to them. All the muscle fibers run in a common direction. You will end up with a more tender product, if you cut the meat against (across) the grain after cooking. Cutting it thinly across the grain is better than cutting it thickly across the grain.

There are a few kinds of fruit which can chemically tenderise meat. Papaya might be the best known. I think Kiwi is probably the most effective, half a kiwifruit can tenderise up to 5 pounds of beef. Pineapple is a mild tenderiser. Figs are even less potent as a tenderizer. Apparently pears have a tenderising enzyme, but I don't know which one. The enzymes responsible do not diffuse well in meat, and only tenderise the meat they diffuse into. If the cooking temperature doesn't get high enough, the enzyme may not be completely broken down, which can give you some surprises in the leftover department. Papaya can requires temperatures as high as 85C (185F) to neutralise it. Most of the chemical tenderisers also make use of acids, typically vinegar, but could be lemon juice (citric acid) or other food acids. Acids will denature proteins, which is part of the tenderising process. Alcohol (ethanol) will also denature proteins, but not as effectively as acids. Wine would be the typical marinade ingredient using alcohol.

Aging (especially dry again) can tenderise meat. However, keeping meat around for long periods of time uncovered requires clean conditions. And you lose meat, as the overdry outside "husk" gets cutoff before cooking. Aging is done at low temperatures, below 4C (40F) and above freezing. Meat freezes at a temperature slightly less than 0C (32F), but not a lot below 0C.

Cooking tough meats for a long time will tenderize them. Stews are a great way to make use of tough meat.

For those who are extremely adventurous, apparently the shock wave of an explosion will tenderise meat. This method needs to be used with care if you actually want to have some meat to cook. :-)

With almost all of these tenderising methods, we are perforating the meat. The meat must then be cooked to 74C (165F). Just say no to the idea of rare or medium cooked meat that has been tenderised. Acids will "cook" a food at room temperature, but I have no guidance as to how acids substitute for temperature in cooking food safety of meat.