Why Meat Is Not Tender When Cooked In Instant Pot

instant pot meat not tender
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Instant Pot Meat Not Tender

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Your Instant Pot is perfect for those cheaper but tough cuts of meat that require long, slow cooking. However, it can take longer than you think for some cuts like oxtail, chuck, or brisket to tenderize. Some cuts of mutton can also require a particularly long cooking time.

The problem here isn’t with the Instant Pot itself, but figuring out the time you need to allow for proper tenderization.

Meat Not Tender In Instant Pot 

Does Meat Turn Tender In An Instant Pot?

It may be helpful at this point to look at what happens to meat when it becomes tenderized. Meat consists mainly of muscle fibers that are held together by filaments of a protein called “collagen”.

Big pork raw meat
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Tenderizing the meat involves breaking down the long muscle fiber strands themselves and softening the collagen part until it turns to soft gelatin. The gelatin penetrates the meat, making it soft and succulent, and also enriches the cooking liquid.

To dissolve the collagen, it is essential to cook the meat in liquid to dissolve it. This is why we don’t use fast, dry cooking methods, like frying, for tough cuts of meat.

Tenderizing can also be partially done before cooking by pounding the meat with a mallet to break up the muscle fibers or by using a chemical tenderizer like an acidic marinade.

How Does Meat Become Tender in an Instant Pot?

An Instant Pot is basically a pressure cooker, so it will tenderize your tough meat the same way a slow cooker does, but much faster. Using a small amount of liquid under pressure, the Instant Pot can tenderize a tough piece of meat in about 45 minutes by dissolving the tough fibers into gelatin.

The Importance of Timing in an Instant Pot

Timing is the most important thing while cooking in an Instant Pot. A difference of a minute or two can greatly affect the meat and can turn it tender or tough. It takes under an hour at high pressure before most meat is cooked and tender.

Cooked meat
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Meat is cooked extremely quickly in an Instant Pot but still gives the same flavourful and delicious taste providing a few simple rules are followed.

Instant Pot meat not being tender is usually because it hasn’t been cooked for long enough or because the meat is not submerged in liquid to dissolve the fibers. Here are some useful times to help you have perfectly soft meat every time.

Remember to only start timing once the cooker has reached high pressure. Overcooking can ruin your meat, turning it tough again and drying it out.

  • Meat (beef, mutton, lamb, or pork) roast – 40 to 60 min
  • Meat (beef, mutton, lamb, or pork) 1-inch cubes – 15 to 20 min
  • Chicken pieces – 8 to10 min
  • Chicken whole – 15 to 20 min

Instant pot pressure cooker with meat
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What makes the meat juicy and tender?

Tenderness and juiciness are two important factors related to meat enjoyment. The tenderness and juiciness of the meat depend upon the cuts of meat, the use of a marinade, and the most important – cooking time.

After a certain point, the longer the meat is cooked, the more it loses water and the tougher it becomes. This means that a slight change in the cooking time can lead to overcooked or undercooked Instant Pot meat.

The use of a marinade can also help Instant Pot meat become tender more quickly. Use marinades containing wine, vinegar, or other acidic foods.

Tips for Tender and Tasty Instant Pot Meat Every Time

  1. Defrost the meat fully before starting

While it is possible to cook your meat from frozen, you will obtain much better results if it is completely thawed first.

  1. Brown the outside of the meat before cooking

Searing outside of the meat
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Sear the outside of the meat quickly over high heat with a little oil before putting it into the pot. You can also caramelize any onions or carrots you may be using. This browning of your ingredients will give a delicious umami flavor to your finished dish.

  1. Don’t use too much liquid

You need less liquid in a pressure cooker than a conventional pot. This is because very little of it escapes through evaporation. So, while some liquid is needed to bring the pot up to pressure and dissolve the meat’s connective tissues, too much will dilute your flavors.

Pouring water
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Conventional cooking calls for the meat to be completely immersed in liquid. Instant Pot cooking requires just a cup or two of liquid. Remember that the meat will also release some juice of its own.

  1. Never add thickener at the beginning of cooking

Anything with thickeners like cornstarch, flour, gravy browning, canned sauces, or soups must only be added after the meat has finished cooking. These products thicken the cooking liquid, making it difficult for it to boil and come up to the correct pressure.

Pressure Cooker Stuffed Pepper Soup
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They also make it more difficult for the collagen to dissolve into the cooking liquid.

  1. Give it time

While you’re probably using an Instant Pot to save time, it’s worth investing a few extra minutes to naturally release the pressure for meat recipes. It takes around 15 minutes and allows time for the meat to reabsorb moisture as the temperature comes down.

Lunchtime concept with a fork and knife.
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All cuts of meat and poultry can be made fairly tender in your Instant Pot, provided you follow the tips we’ve shared here with you. Using our tested methods, you’ll save time and money plus be able to serve your family tender, juicy meat dishes!

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