What is Beef Tendon and Why You Should Cook with It

Beef tendon is a unique and versatile ingredient that is worth getting to know. While not yet common in Western cuisines, beef tendon has been used for centuries in Asian cooking to create rich, gelatinous textures and add depth of flavor.

What Exactly is Beef Tendon?

Beef tendon comes from the lower leg of cattle, where it connects the muscles to the bones. It is made up of dense connective tissue and contains high levels of collagen, the protein that allows tendon to withstand tension and force.

When cooked low and slow through methods like braising, simmering or stewing, the collagen in beef tendon breaks down into gelatin, giving it a unique texture. Uncooked, beef tendon is extremely tough and chewy. Cooked, it becomes meltingly tender with a soft, gelatinous bite.

Beef Tendon Nutrition

While not as nutritious as cuts of beef muscle meat, beef tendon provides some nutritional value:

  • High in protein -contains over 20 grams of protein per 3 ounce serving. The collagen breaks down into amino acids during cooking.

  • Low in fat and calories – only 2 grams of fat and 60 calories per 3 ounce serving.

  • Source of iron – provides 10% of daily recommended iron intake.

  • Contains collagen – cooking converts the connective tissue into gelatin, which may provide health benefits for joints and skin.

Buying Beef Tendon

Beef tendon can be difficult to find in regular supermarkets in North America. Check with a local butcher shop, especially one that sells whole animals, to see if they stock or can source it for you.

Asian grocery stores may also carry frozen or fresh packaged tendon. When buying, look for pieces that are clean looking without an overly strong smell.

Online retailers are another option for buying beef tendon to be shipped frozen. Prices range from $6-12 per pound.

Prepping and Cooking Beef Tendon

Before cooking, beef tendon needs to be rinsed well and have any excess fat or silverskin removed. A quick blanching of 2-3 minutes helps reduce any strong flavors.

To maximize tenderness, beef tendon requires prolonged braising for many hours, either on the stovetop or in a slow cooker. Cooking times vary from 5-8 hours.

Tendon Cooking Methods:

  • Slow cooker – place in slow cooker with broth/sauce ingredients and cook on low for 8-10 hours.

  • Simmer on stovetop – simmer gently in broth or sauce for 5-7 hours. Check periodically to skim fat or residue.

  • Pressure cooker – cook for 90-120 minutes with natural release. Time varies by size of pieces.

  • Deep fry – sliced tendon can be deep fried into crisp puffs, but will not have the same gelatinous texture.

The liquid used to braise tendon is full of flavor and gelatin, making an excellent base for soups, stews or gravies.

The Taste and Texture

Properly cooked beef tendon is tender, yet has a distinct texture thanks to the high collagen content. Expect a soft, jelly-like bite, yet with more resistance than pork belly or bone marrow. The taste is mild, meaty and lightly beefy.

Some describe the mouthfeel as similar to cartilage or soft gristle. The texture stands up well in soups and braises. Deep fried tendon puffs have a crisp outside and chewy bounce inside.

Beef Tendon Dishes Around the World

In Asian cuisines, beef tendon is most often used in:

  • Chinese – Spicy Szechuan soups, braises and hot pot. Also deep fried tendon puffs.

  • Japanese – Oden stew and simmered dishes.

  • Korean – Ox bone soup, tendon stews and steam dishes.

  • Filipino – Slow cooked tendon stews like nilaga and bulalo.

  • Thai – Boat noodle soups and rice porridge.

  • Vietnamese – Pho noodle soup.

How to Use Beef Tendon

The gelatin released when cooking beef tendon makes it a delicious addition to stews, braises and soups. It’s also eaten on its own, especially in Asian cuisines. Here are some of the most common uses:

  • Simmer with aromatics and spices for a pot of Asian-style stew or soup stock. Strain and use the gelatinous broth as a base for noodle dishes.

  • Slice braised tendon and add it to bowl of pho or ramen. The tender pieces pair nicely with noodles.

  • Long braise chunks of tendon until fork tender. Cool until the tendon stiffens, then slice or shred for sandwiches or tacos.

  • Deep fry thin slices into crispy puffs for snacks or garnishes. They stay crisper than pork rinds.

  • Use pieces of braised tendon in place of bone marrow in dishes like pasta. The texture is similar when melted down.

Beef Tendon Substitutes

If you can’t get your hands on beef tendon, some alternatives provide a similar texture:

  • Oxtail – Another collagen-rich choice requiring long cooking times to become tender.

  • Beef shank or chuck – Needs hours of braising but produces unctuous shredded meat.

  • Pig’s feet – Contains high gelatin content. Must be cooked until very soft.

  • Bone marrow – Adds richness that melts into dishes like tendon. Has milder beef flavor.

How to Store Cooked and Uncooked Tendon

Raw beef tendon can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week. To freeze, wrap tightly in plastic and place inside an airtight freezer bag. It will keep for 3-4 months.

Cooked tendon pieces keep refrigerated for 3-4 days. The braising liquid can be frozen for months. Cooked tendon can also be frozen in an airtight container for up to 2 months.

In Conclusion

While it takes some effort to source and prepare, beef tendon delivers a unique textural experience with its soft, melting bite and gelatinous quality. With its neutral yet beefy flavor, tendon is suitable for both Asian-inspired dishes as well as soups, stews and braises of all cuisines. If you’re up for trying a more adventurous yet versatile cut of meat, get your hands on some beef tendon and let the long, slow cooking work its magic.

everything we always wanted to know about beef tendons


Is it healthy to eat beef tendon?

Rich in Collagen: Beef tendon contains a high amount of collagen, a protein that plays a vital role in supporting skin elasticity, hair strength, nail health, and joint mobility. Consuming beef tendon can contribute to promoting healthy skin, hair, nails, and joints.

Does beef tendon taste good?

What Does It Taste Like? Simply put, beef tendon tastes beefy. It has a mild beef flavor and a gelatinous texture, but it’s full of depth with a mouthfeel similar to pork belly. The key is cooking it long enough to make it tender and seasoning it well.

What is a beef tendon?

Tendon by definition is a fibrous band of tissue that connects the muscle to bone capable of withstanding tension. It becomes a marvelous cut after this collagen cooked down to a fork-tender state, the flavors are strong as well as its texture which is very satisfying for our taste buds.

Is beef tendon chewy?

tendon is chewy, but from my experience with things like short ribs…. I have found if they are braised long enough….all of the chewiness is transformed into a soft-gelatenous texture….that fully cooked collagen-like texture I actually do like.

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