If you ever picked up a bargain steak, thinking you would end up with a tender steak, then you have learned the hard way that all steaks are not created equal.
Tomahawks, tenderloins, and ribeyes come from a sedentary part of the animal.
This makes these cuts of beef super tender and fattier.
On the other hand, cuts of beef that originate from the more active parts of the animal, such as the shoulder or legs, are not so lucky.
These steaks contain less fat which makes the cut less tender. These steaks are usually economical cuts.
In addition to this, tougher steaks tend to be larger, which makes them the choice cut for feeding large crowds of people.
However, you must know how to tenderize these steaks to receive the best results.
What’s the Best Type of Steak to Tenderize?
The ideal candidates for tenderizing steak include flank steak, round steak, chuck steak, and hanger steak.
Steaks such as porterhouse, ribeye, filet mignon, and New York steak strip do not need to be tenderized as they are already tender cuts of meat and only require a dash of salt.
Tenderizing tender cuts of beef will ruin its flavor.
How to Tenderize Steak
There are several ways to tenderize steak, such as baking soda, cooking it low and slow, using a mallet, and even using fruit.
Luckily all these tenderization methods are relatively easy.
Cook Steaks Low And Slow
Braising is a cooking method that uses low temperatures and cooks meat slowly, and transforms tough steaks into a tender steak. It is also the most common way to tenderize steaks.
Cooking steaks such as chuck steaks for long periods of time allows the collagen within the meat, which is responsible for its toughness, to break down into gelatinous material.
Braising also creates the same fall of the bone effect in pot roasts or short ribs.
In addition to this, liquids are required for braising to maintain a wet cooking environment.
The steam will keep your steaks juicy and prevent them from drying out even if you cook them for hours.
Though this method requires a hefty amount of patience, cooking leaner steaks this way is worth it.
Use a Mallet
Not only will you end up with a tender steak, but it is also a healthy way to release anger or stress. Meat mallets flatten a thicker piece of steak into a slice of thinner meat.
This allows you to cook the steak quickly, which yields a tender steak and prevent it from drying out and becoming tough.
Typically meat mallets are designed with two sides: a flat side and a pointed ridged side. The flat side is used to pound meats into a flat thin cut.
On the other hand, the ridged side of the mallet is designed for tenderizing meat as it breaks up the muscles and loosens the fibers of the meat.
Smaller boneless steaks are the ideal candidates for pounding with a meat mallet.
In addition to this, tenderization via meat mallet is best for steaks that you intend to fry or sautee your steaks.
Some fruits have the enzyme protease that naturally breaks down the fibers of the meat.
For example, kiwi is one of the well-known fruits used to tenderize meats as it contains actinidin.
This delicate enzyme has a relatively neutral flavor, and some cooks even allow the meat to marinade in kiwi for up to a week.
Another popular enzyme is pineapple. It contains bromelain, which is a potent enzyme.
Pineapple may cause your steaks to develop a mush texture if it is left to marinate too long.
Other fruits that are perfect for tenderizing meats include papayas, Asian pears, figs, and mangoes. Fruit marinades should only contain about two tablespoons of fruit puree.
Alternatively, rather than using fruit puree, you can use the whole fruit or a pre-packaged tenderizing powder derived from fruit enzymes. Fruit enzymes work best on thinner steaks.
In addition to this, as a precautionary step, do not let your meat marinate for extended periods of time when using fruit enzymes.
The ideal environment for fruit enzymes to tenderize steaks ranges between (120-160°F).
Thinly Slice Your Meat
When it comes to lean or tender steaks, always cut them against the grain. This is essential to tougher cuts of beef, such as flank steak.
Cutting steaks against the grain allows you to slice through connective tissue, which is known for its chewiness, and create a tender bite of steak.
The grain of a steak can be easily identified by looking for visible muscle fibers on the steak’s exterior.
Before the steak is cooked, these fibers are white in appearance and can be seen running throughout the meat.
In contrast, after the meat is cooked, it will be a lighter shade than the rest of the steak. Cut across the lighter shade of muscle fibers to get a tender steak.
Marinate Your Steak
Unfortunately, some individuals do not think that marinades can actually tenderize steak. However, marinades will stimulate tenderness.
The perfect marinade should also contain fat, acid, and seasonings for flavor. The acid is designed to tenderize the meat.
Depending on how much time you allow your steak to marinate, the acid can start to break down the meat’s collagen.
Once add your steak to the pan, the meat will remain in its relaxed state as the collagen will not be able to contract it.
Even though marinating steaks can be effective, slice your steaks against the grain for added tenderness.
Moreover, you can also tenderize your steaks with a meat mallet before placing them into the marinade to promote even more tenderness.
Let The Steak Come To Room Temperature
This tip is particularly relevant to lean cuts of steak or grass-fed beef as they contain minuscule amounts of fat. These cuts will not be pleasant even if they are overcooked slightly.
Neither undercooked nor overcooked steaks are pleasant. While overcooked steaks are dry undercooked steaks are chewy.
To eliminate the possibility that you will overcook or undercook your meat, use an instant-read thermometer. The ideal temperature for tougher steaks is 130°-140°F.
Allow Your Meat To Rest
It does not matter how perfectly you cook your steaks. A tender steak can turn into a tough steak if you do not let it rest.
The standard steak resting time is 5 minutes for every inch of thickness.
Letting the steak rest allows its juices to be reabsorbed into the meat rather than the juices running onto your cutting board and leaving you with a tough, dry steak.
Baking soda can alkalize the steak’s surface, thwarting the protein bonds and making tougher steaks more tender, even though many people love the baking soda technique.
In contrast, others avoid baking soda because it leaves a slight alkaline aftertaste even after washing the meat.
Most cuts work with baking soda. However, since it alters the taste and texture of meat, lean, tough, economical steaks should only be used for this method.
In addition to this, the baking soda method is ideal for small bite-sized pieces of steak.
To tenderize your steaks with the baking soda method, sprinkle the baking soda over your meat and massage it into the steaks.
Alternatively, you can also combine the baking soda with water and submerge your steaks into the water.
Let your steaks marinate in the baking soda mixture for 15-20 minutes. Unlike fruit enzymes, if you allow your meat to sit for some time, it will have no effect on the meat.
The baking soda won’t tenderize the meat any further or turn your steaks into a pile of mush.
Restaurant Secrets for Tenderizing Steak
It doesn’t matter whether you are a steak house regular or eat at a steak house once in a blue moon. You will always find an incredibly tender, flavorful steak.
This is due to the fact that they have their own tricks to create the most tender steaks.
Most steakhouses serve prime-grade beef that is difficult to source from your local grocery store. Furthermore, they enhance the meat’s flavor by aging the steak.
Essentially aging is a technique that entails storing meat for days or weeks in a regulated environment.
Aging beef at home is not recommended at home because there are extremely high risks associated with food wastage and foodborne illness.
Fortunately, you can check with your local butcher to seek out find a cut of dry-aged beef.
In addition to this, you can also visit online meat retailers to find dry-aged beef and have it confidently delivered right to your door.
Unfortunately, most people are pulled into the allure of grilling or searing steaks that they forget about broiling steaks.
Steakhouses utilize a specialized infrared overhead broiler that is able to produce extremely high temperatures that are perfect for creating a steak.
While the kind of equipment plays an integral role in creating a tender steak, the average at-home cook can still replicate the same results.
There’s no need to purchase specialized broiling equipment when your oven already contains a broiler. The trick to a tender steak is in the cooking time and cooking method.
As long as your steak is in the line of an extremely hot fire, you will be able to create an irresistibly tender steak.
Most steaks do not need copious amounts of seasoning to tenderize them. In fact, this is one of the easiest and quickest ways to ruin a steak.
While you can season your steaks with salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary, or parsley, ingredients such as butter must be added to steaks at the right time.
If the butter is not added at the right time, it could result in a less pleasant burnt steak rather than a tender, juicy steak.
Moreover, salt also acts as a natural bringing agent. It intensifies the flavors of the meat by pulling moisture particles from the steak’s interior.
In addition to this, rather than a bright red color, your meat will transform into a deep ranch color after it sits for some time.
Some people salt their steaks 1-2 hours in advance while others alt their steaks up to 24 hours in advance and allow them to sit in the refrigerator uncovered.
If you do refrigerate your salted steaks, ensure they are on a shelf by them shelf away from ready-to-eat foods such as lettuce or leftovers to avoid cross-contamination.
Use Cast Iron Pans
While you can cook steaks using an infrared burner since their flames are intense, the average person does not have access to this kind of range.
This is where cast-iron pans come in. They are generally affordable, and most people already have a cast-iron skillet in their homes.
Moreover, they are the preferred pan for cooking tender steaks.
Cast-iron skillets are excellent heat conductors, which means the steaks will be exposed to intense heat.
Therefore you can cook tougher cuts quickly and still end up with a tender bite.
However, using a cast-iron skillet requires you to preheat the pan for at least 3-4 minutes.
Next, you add the steaks to the hot cast-iron skillet and cook them for 2-3 minutes per side.
Depending on your steaks to an oven to complete the cooking process and cook them until they reach your desired temperature.
Everyone has cooked a tough, dry steak at least once in their lifetime. The trick is knowing how to tenderize steaks to yield the best product.
Luckily you have a myriad of tenderization techniques to make sure tough and dry steaks are a thing of the past.
You might also be interested in the following:
- How Do You Tenderize Chicken?
- How Do You Tenderize Stew Meat?
- How Do You Tenderize Skirt Steak?
- How Do You Tenderize Sirloin Steak?
- How Do You Tenderize Ribeye Steak?
- How Do You Tenderize Pork Chops?
- How Do You Tenderize Flank Steak?
- How Do You Tenderize Cube Steak?
I have been smoking and grilling meat from an early age and enjoy sharing my knowledge and expertise through the hundreds of articles I have written about BBQ. I hope to make everyone’s BBQ journey that little bit easier.