Does smoking (even a little) tenderize?
A few weeks ago we bought some thin (3/4'?) 7-bone chuck steaks. Smoked them for about 40 minutes (2 bisquettes) then cooked one in a CI skillet over super high heat 2 minutes and 1. SO tender. Then tonight cooked another one the same way. Again, it was so tender. Does the smoking contribute to this or is it just the thinness and the quick cooking. How good regardless.
Not to my knowledge...keep in mind when people smoke meat so that it's cooked all the way, it's done for long periods of time. You can get flavor with a little smoke, but unless the meat is cooked to a certain point, it's not going to be tender. Fish, since it takes a short amount of time to cook can get flavor and be cooked with a small amount of smoking.
Chuck steak is a tender cut anyway; the fact that it is a thin steak helped cook it quick and keep it's juicy tenderness.
I'm not aware of any property of smoke itself that tenderizes.
OTOH, bringing the temperature of the meat up more slowly has the potential to tenderize in a few ways. For one, you'll tend to get a more even doneness throughout the meat - meaning that when your steak is cooked to your desired doneness in the center, the meat nearer the surface will tend to be less overcooked, and usually more tender and juicy.
If you salted before smoking, the extra 40 minutes might have effectively dry brined your meat.
Also, meats own natural enzymes can have a tenderizing effect, by slowly breaking down proteins in the meat. These enzymes tend to break down above 130 degrees (quoting from memory, so my figures might not be exact), but are most active as the meats temperature warms to 80-120 degrees. Holding it at those temperatures for a while can have a tenderizing effect.
Longer exposure to moderate heat also can break down connective tissues within meat from the heat alone, but you'd need more than 40 minutes (and probably higher internal temperatures) for any significant effect.
Chances are the extra 40 minutes wasn't long enough for any major effect from the meats enzymes, and the tenderness was more the result of more even cooking or else just an especially good piece of meat. Hard to say for certain though.