How To Cook Beef for Better Looking Shreds

The popularity of shredded beef is at an all time high and smart companies are finding ways to produce a more consistent, hand pulled look to their product.

The reason is obvious: consumers want to buy a shredded beef product that closely resembles what they could make at home. The more consistent the shreds, the more it looks like it was pulled apart with forks, the better.

Achieving that hand pulled look is difficult though. Shredding product by hand isn’t scale-able and often requires a large investment in labor, while some meat shredding machines can produce a clumpy product.

So how do you get that hand pulled look consumers want? Simple, you change how you cook your product.

Cooking: The Path to Better Shreds

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A hand-pulled look to your shreds is achieved only when the connective tissue of your beef product is broken down during the cook cycle and the muscle fibers are pulled apart from one another.

Perfecting the look and consistency of your beef shreds starts in the cook cycle. If the cook cycle is too short, or your pork product isn’t held at temperature long enough, the connective tissue doesn’t break down as well, leaving you with “clumpy” and mushy shreds. Left in too long, and your shreds will be very fine.

The method of shredding, whether by hand or in a meat shredding machine, affects the quality of shreds minimally. If your beef product isn’t cooked correctly, you won’t achieve desirable shred quality and consistency.

Cook Smaller, Uniform Beef Chunks

The distance between the outside of the product and the core of the product constitutes how long you must cook the product to break down the connective tissue. Generally, this means getting the product up to 83°C (180°F) and holding for a period of at least 30 minutes.

Whole pieces of beef (defined as larger than 4 inches) can take upwards of 12 hours to reach an internal temperature of 180°F. The extended length of time required to cook the product can cause the outside to become “mushy.”

The best method is to cut beef into 3 or 4 inch sized pieces to improve cooking and product consistency.

Practice Step Cooking

Step cooking is the process of slowly increasing the cook temperature over a period of time to retain purge. Rather than starting the cook process at 190° F, start the process at 145° F and work up to 190° F over the course of 1-3 hours.

Step cooking prevents chicken from giving up outside moisture too quickly and retains a greater amount of purge. It also helps prevent the outside from getting “mushy”.

Best Step Cooking for Beef

Beef takes the longest to cook, as the connective tissue within the muscle renders only after internal temperature is held longer at the higher temperature. Beef is also the most difficult to adjust the shred size because it doesn’t break apart until it reaches a certain temperature, then it falls apart.

These properties make it even more important that the total product height is consistent: no more than 4 inches tall to get the longest shred size and still be able to cook in a reasonable amount of time.

Like pork, it doesn’t really matter what beef cuts you are using; they all render about the same.

Most companies choose not to shred beef, as it is costly per pound and shrinks a lot when cooked the necessary amount of time — meaning the overall yields on shredded beef are not as good.

In order to combat this issue, brine can be injected into the raw meat or the product can be vacuum tumbled to add 15-20% weight before cooking. Salt brine binds the muscles to an extent, making the muscle fibers and shreds softer resulting in more chunks.

Sample steam cook process (a smoke step without humidity can be added):

  1. Cook at 140° F for one hour
  2. Cook at 155° F for one hour
  3. Cook at 170° F for one hour
  4. Cook at 190° F until internal temperature reaches at least 180° F
  5. Hold for at least one hour

The Ultimate Shred

Cooking your beef product using the tips outlined above will improve the quality of your shreds and give you the hand pulled look that consumers want — whether you shred by hand or using an industrial meat shredding machine.

Play around with the cook cycle of your beef product to dial in the exact process that will produce the shred you want — and then follow that process consistently. Doing so will improve the quality of your product and set you apart from the competition.