Why is it that if you cook beef for a long time it softens up, but if you cook chicken for a long time it doesn’t?


I’m about slow cooker recipes where you add beef chuck, and at first it firms up and seems like it’ll never shred. But eventually it’ll just fall apart.

Versus chicken which seems too easy to overcook.

In: Biology

Both chicken and beef firm up when you first cook them because the muscle proteins undergo a chemical change and tighten up (squeezing out water in the process…this is why overcooked meat is dry).

Touch cuts of beef, like chuck, also contain a lot of connective tissue, mostly collagen. This is an insoluble and very tough protein…it’s why cheap steaks are tough and chewy. Collagen doesn’t break down quickly but if it’s stays hot for a looong time (hours) in the presence of moisture, it eventually converts to gelatin. Gelatin has basically no structure so the meat falls apart and it “lubricates” the fibers so they taste “moist” even though it’s massively overcooked in a traditional sense.

Chicken is incredibly lean. Chicken breast, in particular, contains very little fat or connective tissue. There’s nothing to break down and turn to gelatin if you cook it long, you just get tough chicken fibers. Chicken *thighs* do contain collagen, they can be cooked to a “fall apart” consistently like beef chuck, although it doesn’t take as long.

Chicken also gets incredibly tender, soft, and “falls apart” when you slow cook it, the temperature and time are just different from beef, and usually requires a little more ambient moisture in my experience.

Different meats have different amounts of connective tissue that need to break down, the more they have the longer they take to become pull-apart tender in a slow cooker.
The amount also influences the final texture of the meat- the more it has the more gelatinous and moist and amazing it tastes.
Chicken is fairly low in these things vs say short ribs. So while chicken will most certainly break down and tenderize over a long slow cook, it just won’t have the same texture when it is done.
You’ll have better luck with thighs and drums that have more connective tissue.