Does Pressure Cooking Tenderize Meat?

beef slices on a cutting board

I know you love a well cooked piece of meat. I sure do to.

A while back I asked myself, "Does pressure cooking tenderize meat"? and this is what I found out.

The pressure will in fact make your meat super tender, almost as if you slow cooked it for the better part of a day.

beef slices on a cutting board

You still have to figure out how long to cook it though so for that I invite you to read a little further.

Cooking time also changed depending on the meat type, So cooking beef steak is not the same as making pork roast.

Cooking London broil is much different than making small beef chunks or tenderize an octopus!

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In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best ways to ensure that you are getting the best possible, most tender results from your pressure cooker. The concepts are simple, but will make a world of difference to your cooking.

How Does Pressure Cooking Make Meat Tender?

Here is my summation of how a pressure cooker does what it does so efficiently.

The collagen in meat (the connective tissues) can sometimes be broken down (a little bit) by beating it with a mallet. In a slow cooker it is cooked at such a low temperature that it slowly melts away into a substance called gelatin. This is why it starts falling apart rather than acting as connective tissue. The pressure of the cooker however is able to cook the meat faster and still "melt" the collagen into gelatin. Without the pressure the higher temperature would just toughen up the collagen just like it does in a roast or seared piece of meat.

fall of the bone tender

To learn more about collagen read on a tad; this is fascinating stuff.

Everyone Wants to Eat Tenderized Meat

One of the great concerns that all meat-eaters, all carnivores, all gastronomic enthusiasts share is one simple question: how can I make this more tender? It’s a timeless question, and one suspects that caveman sitting around his fire wrangled with the same concept many eons ago.

There are few things in life more satisfying than a perfectly cooked, juicy, and tender cut of meat. So how can the pressure cooker help you achieve this pinnacle of satisfaction, this zenith of existence?

Before looking at the best ways to ensure the most tender results every time you cook with meat in your Instant Pot (or any other pressure cooker), it’s important to understand what this elusive property we call 'tenderness' actually means.

What Happens to Meat When it is Tenderized?

As suggests, the tenderness of a piece of meat is dependent on several factors working together in a perfect harmony of texture, flavor, and pure, unbridled delight. Fair warning: if you prefer not to think too much about the origin of this meaty delight, skip over the next paragraph!

The key to tenderness lies in collagen. This is a structural protein found in the connective tissue of many animals, and has one important feature which aids in providing that texture we know and love. When heated up during the cooking process, it breaks down into gelatin which is a much more familiar food ingredient.

Depending on the cut of meat that you’re starting with, there will be more or less of this connective tissue available to break-down into gelatin. This is why some cuts are inherently more prone to becoming tender than others, and you should always take the advice of an in-store butcher as to which cut is the best choice for whatever type of meal or occasion you’re catering for.

Does Pressure Cooking Tenderize Meat

All Cuts of Meat Can Become More Tender in a Pressure Cooker

But there’s more to tender meat than simply choosing a particular cut. As you’ll know, starting with great ingredients is a must, but how you treat them in the cooking process is also of paramount importance. It’s only be combining fantastic quality product with great cooking techniques that you’ll end up with the perfect, mouth-watering result that you’re looking for.

This is where a pressure cooker really starts to shine. Because of the high-pressure environment created inside the cooker, meat (like everything else you may want to throw into your pressure cooker) can cook extremely quickly relative to other methods. This means that you’re essentially able to accelerate the process of breaking-down those connective tissues into the gelatin that will make your meat succulent and tender as can be.

Of course, there is a slight danger of over-cooking because of how comparatively speedy the process is, but be sure to follow a well-known, high-quality recipe to the letter, and you’ll soon get the hang of what you’re doing. After just a few tries, you’ll be able to get it right every time, and it makes a world of difference.

16 thoughts on “Does Pressure Cooking Tenderize Meat?

  1. My Dream Cooker (pressure cooker) has low, medium and high settings. Will pressure cooking on a lower setting/temperature for a chuck roast, for example, for a longer period of time result in more tender meat, further breaking down the collagen?

  2. I’m new at trying to tenderize meat by cooking in an Instapot. I grew up with an old fashioned pressure cooker. My thoughts. If you cook it all day it’s tender I guess it’s not true. The old pressure cookers are a big piece of metal, often aluminum, with a pressure valve and a rubber. Usually the rubber goes bad. Call if it’s Presto bc they’ll send you a new one. Prob other brands would too. I also had/ still have An old model. But I’m trying to use and learn my instapot. Help
    (Ok if I use the old one to can it’s ok but don’t cook food in aluminum. Use a stainless steel vessel.
    But I need help cooking anything but chicken in an Instapot.
    Like Pork chops for instance. Yikes I was going to cook the pork chops all day like 75 mins, then slow cook for the day. Then more pressure cooking w/ veggies. . I’m Trying to cook today. Never ate pork so I have no previous knowledge yikes I need help

  3. Glad I read this... gonna try beef tongue in pressure cooker. I was told 90 min slow release. Any tips for my first time? Kat

    1. Hmm, it may not be quite the same, but you can try... cook it with some water (or other liquid like beer or chicken stock). Hopefully it will start to fall apart so you can shred it.

    2. I have found a little smoke,cumin and roasted green chilis plus 2cups vegetable stock is a no fail flavor boast when I mess up my roast and turn it into a to for tender pulled pork tacos and then the next day Bbq Sammies. So YES indeed you can is my answer to your inquiry. Hope it helps and Thank you.

  4. I use the pressure cooker for way less time than I find in most recipes and I let the pressure release on its own. Every time I stick to the timing on a recipe, I get tough meat.
    EX. I regularly cook boneless/skinless chicken thighs for enchiladas/chicken tacos/quesadillas/nachos, 2lbs at a time with 1 1/2 cup of water, a healthy splash of olive oil, a few tablespoons of lime juice, salt, pepper, garlic and cumin and cook it on high pressure for 8 minutes and let the steam release on its own. I pull it it out from 20 up to 35 minutes later, let it cool and clean it up before adding my secret seasoning that everyone begs for. The chicken falls apart with no effort, most of the fat has melted away and its perfect shredded chicken. We just do a lot of TexMex around here. I have had similar results making carnitas if you have the right cut of meat and add some acidity (lime juice, vinegar, Sprite) to help tenderize the meat.

    1. Wow....Great tips. I keep trying different things so my chicken or pork won't come out dry. This one sounds like it is tried and true for you so I will give it a try today. I never thought about leaving it in longer than the natural release to give it more time to rest. Thanks for sharing that.

  5. I cooked a brisket in the Instant Pot. I had 1/2 cup of liquid, 2tbsp of cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons on honey and some onions. Pressure cooked on High for 75 minutes then a 15 minute release and the meat came out tough. It was the flat end of the brisket. It weighed about 4 pounds. What did I do wrong? From the comments earlier it seems I should've used 1 cup of liquid.

  6. I always add some sort of gravy after I sear the meat. London broil or beef I pressure cook for 26 mins, release the pressure, check the meat, it's usually still tough at this point and I set another 26 mins.
    I release the pressure, check the meat, which is beginning to fall apart.
    I add my potatoes and any veggies if my recipe calls for it and I set my last 26 mins, I don't release the pressure on this last one. I let the pressure release on its own.
    The meat is always fall apart, melt in your mouth tender and the veggies are also cooked in the gravy! I basically cook all my meats this way. Never had one come out tough yet! ✌

  7. I became a little concerned when I read how exact one must be. LOL
    I put the pressure cooker on burner, brown whatever meat. I use lamb or beef. Don’t eat pork. Chicken only works for me in brazing pot at 155-165°.
    After browned I toss in veggies and wine or broth. Turn in high. Put on cover. Wait to hear it hiss. Look at clock. 25 minutes small amount of nest. 60-90 minutes for large. Turn off. I have Italian cooker so too drops an inch when steam left. Works great.
    My beets come put great every time. When I smell the food it’s done.

  8. I want to make a boneless sirloin pork roast, not sure if I should use the pressure or slow cooker on my Ninja Foodi. I am using apple juice as my liquid.
    Thank you
    Stay safe

  9. I tried to cook a arm roast in pressure cooker fo one hour,,it still came out tough,,I rubbed olive oil on it and put salt on it,,So can u help me please and Thank you,,

    1. I found cooking roasts longer in pressure cooker tends to make them tougher. My prime time for a roast is around 37 min in pressure cooker and 10min of slow release.

      1. And that slow release is essential. Turn it off and let it depressurize on its own. If you open it up as it finishes, it releases a lot of delicious juices rather than keeping them in the meat.

        And yes, try to cook for shorter times, or cut it up and cook it even shorter (15-20 min). Pressure cooker work is a bit like using a piece of scientific equipment. Being exact is important.

    2. What I do is check my meat at various intervals. My pressure cooker is older (at least 35 years old) and probably doesn’t hold pressure like the new ones. So I need to use more liquid or it burns. But not hard to let it cool off check it snd cook for a few more minutes. Cooking time runs from 20 - 45 minutes depending upon what I’m making. Beets, large roast stew meat, etc. Never needed more than 45 minutes. Bon appétit!

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