While the word "tender" is included in the name, a beef chuck tender is not, in fact, a naturally tender cut of meat. The chuck tender is from the beef chuck primal, consisting of the supraspinatus muscle, which is situated forward of the large chuck subprimal known as the shoulder clod. It's sometimes called a mock tender, scotch tender, chuck eye, medallion pot roast, or petite tender.
When Does "Tender" Not Mean Tender?
The chuck tender is not tender. It's a heavily exercised muscle, which is used for walking around and supporting the weight of a 1,300-pound animal. This is not to say that the beef industry or your butcher are deliberately misleading you. The chuck tender muscle is long and narrow, with a pointy tip at one end, which is the same shape as a beef tenderloin (the most tender cut of beef).
It is a general belief that butchers started calling certain cuts of meat a chuck tender because of the shape. It's unquestionably misleading to have the word "tender" in the name of a tough, utterly untender piece of meat. When shopping at the store, remember that the word "tender" without "loin" likely does not mean the meat is, in fact, tender. However, chuck tender is a flavorful and affordable cut of meat that tenderizes when cooked slowly.
How to Cook Chuck Tender
In a traditional 7-bone chuck roast, you'll get a cross-section of the supraspinatus muscle and lean meat, making it tough. These days, butchers are pulling apart the beef chuck into all kinds of subprimes and merchandising the resulting steaks and roasts as things like flat iron steaks, Denver steaks, chuck eye steaks, and so on. Regardless of the name, beef chuck of all kinds can be tough when grilled, pan-fried, or otherwise cooked quickly. The best way to combat this toughness is by low and slow cooking such as braising.
While naturally tough, chuck tends to be full of rich, beefy flavor. Braised, chuck tender and chuck tender steaks will be tender and succulent. Try cooking in a slow cooker, pressure cooker, or low and slow in the oven or on the stove. Cubed, it can also be used in a slow-cooked beef stew.
A Note on Petite Tender Steaks
Petite tender steaks, or the chuck tender cut sliced into steaks, can be priced unusually high at the grocery store for this affordable cut of beef. Sometimes the packaging doesn't even indicate that these steaks were from the chuck. If you didn't know, you might think they were tenderloin steaks. Again, it's misleading, which is not to say you shouldn't buy the chuck tender. It's just important to know what it is and how to cook it.
Avoid over-priced cuts of beef chuck tender, which should run around $3 to $5 per pound. If you want to make a classic, beefy pot roast, look for a chuck blade roast or a 7-bone roast.