When it comes to savoring a mouthwatering steak, nothing beats sinking your teeth into a piece of meat that is tender, juicy, and bursting with flavor. However, not all cuts of steak are naturally tender, and that’s where the skill of tenderization comes into play. Understanding the techniques and methods of how to tenderize steak can turn even the toughest cuts into a culinary masterpiece that will leave your taste buds craving for more.
The process of tenderizing steak involves breaking down the muscle fibers and connective tissues that can make certain cuts chewy and less desirable. By employing a few tried-and-true methods, you can unlock the hidden potential of tougher cuts of meat, transforming them into tender delights that rival the finest steakhouses in town. So, whether you’re planning a special occasion meal or simply aiming to elevate your everyday cooking, learning how to tenderize steak is a skill worth mastering. Get ready to embark on a flavorful journey where tough cuts meet tender perfection, and taste becomes an unforgettable experience.
What Is Tenderizing?
Tenderizing is the process of breaking down the tough muscle fibers and connective tissues in meat to make it more tender and easier to chew. This technique is commonly used for tougher cuts of meat, such as steaks from the fewer tender areas of the animal, like the chuck or round. By tenderizing the meat, you can enhance its texture, juiciness, and overall eating experience.
There are various methods of tenderizing meat, each with its advantages and applications. One popular method involves using a meat mallet or tenderizer tool to physically pound the meat, which helps to break up the tough fibers. Another common technique is marinating, where the meat is soaked in a mixture of acidic ingredients, such as vinegar, citrus juice, or yogurt, to help soften the muscle fibers. Additionally, enzymatic tenderizers, such as papaya or pineapple, can be used to naturally break down proteins and tenderize the meat.
The goal of tenderizing is to make the meat more enjoyable and flavorful by improving its tenderness and reducing chewiness. By using appropriate tenderizing techniques, you can transform tougher cuts of meat into delicious and succulent dishes that are a delight to eat.
Should You Tenderize Steak?
When it comes to preparing steak, the question of whether or not to tenderize can arise. While tenderizing can certainly enhance the texture and tenderness of tougher cuts of meat, it may not always be necessary or beneficial for every steak. Here are some factors to consider when deciding whether or not to tenderize your steak:
The cut of steak: The cut of the steak you are working with plays a significant role in determining whether or not tenderizing is needed. Tender cuts like ribeye, tenderloin, or striploin typically do not require tenderization as they are naturally tender. However, cuts from fewer tender areas, such as the chuck or round, may benefit from tenderizing techniques to break down the tougher muscle fibers.
Cooking method: The cooking method you plan to use can also influence whether or not tenderizing is necessary. Tender cuts are well-suited for quick-cooking methods like grilling or pan-searing, where they can be cooked to perfection without the need for tenderizing. On the other hand, tougher cuts may benefit from tenderizing before cooking, especially if you plan to use a slower cooking method like braising or stewing, which allows for more time to break down the muscle fibers.
Desired texture: Consider the texture you prefer in your steak. Some people enjoy a firmer and slightly chewier texture, especially in well-marbled cuts. In such cases, tenderizing may not be necessary or desired. However, if you prefer a more tender and melt-in-your-mouth experience, tenderizing can help achieve that desired texture.
Time constraints: Tenderizing steak requires additional time and effort. If you’re short on time or prefer a quicker cooking process, you may opt to skip the tenderizing step altogether and focus on other aspects of seasoning and preparation.
Cuts of Steak that Benefit from Tenderizing
While there are cuts of steak that are naturally tender and don’t require tenderizing, there are certain cuts from fewer tender areas of the animal that can greatly benefit from this process. Tenderizing these cuts can help break down the tough muscle fibers and connective tissues, resulting in a more enjoyable eating experience. Here are some cuts of steak that commonly benefit from tenderizing:
Chuck Steak: Cut from the shoulder region of the animal, chuck steak is flavorful but can be tough if not tenderized. It contains a good amount of connective tissue, which requires tenderizing to achieve a tender and juicy texture. Tenderizing methods like pounding or marinating can help break down the tough fibers and improve the overall tenderness of the meat.
Round Steak: This cut comes from the rear leg of the animal and is often leaner and tougher compared to other cuts. Round steak is well-suited for tenderizing techniques such as marinating or using a meat tenderizer to soften the meat fibers. By tenderizing, you can make the round steak more tender and enjoyable to eat.
Flank Steak: Flank steak is a flavorful cut that comes from the abdominal area of the animal. While it is known for its rich taste, it can be tough due to its long, thick muscle fibers. Tenderizing methods like marinating or using a meat mallet can help break down these fibers, resulting in a more tender steak.
Skirt Steak: Skirt steak is another cut that benefits from tenderizing. It is a long, thin cut from the diaphragm muscles of the animal and can be tough if not properly prepared. Tenderizing techniques like marinating or using a meat tenderizer can help break down the tough muscle fibers and improve the tenderness and flavor of the meat.
Blade Steak: Blade steak, also known as blade chuck steak, comes from the shoulder area of the animal and contains a significant amount of connective tissue. It can be tough when cooked without tenderizing. Using tenderizing techniques like marinating or using a meat mallet can help break down the tough fibers, resulting in a more tender and enjoyable steak.
How To Tenderize Steak – 10 Ways for You!
To tenderize steak, you can use various techniques and methods. Here are 10 effective ways to tenderize steak:
Pounding your steak
Pounding your steak is a classic method of tenderizing meat that involves using a meat mallet or tenderizer tool to physically break down the muscle fibers. This technique is especially effective for thicker cuts of steak or tougher cuts that require additional tenderization. Here are the steps to properly pound your steak:
Prepare your steak: Start by placing your steak on a clean cutting board or a sturdy surface. If necessary, trim any excess fat or silver skin from the steak, but be mindful not to remove too much as fat contributes to flavor and moisture.
Protect the steak: To prevent the steak from tearing or sticking to the mallet, place a sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper over the steak. This creates a barrier between the meat and the mallet.
Begin pounding: Using a meat mallet or tenderizer tool, gently pound the steak. Start from the center and work your way toward the edges. Aim for even, controlled strikes rather than heavy forceful pounding. The goal is to break down the muscle fibers without tearing or damaging the meat.
Flip and repeat: Once you have pounded one side of the steak, remove the plastic wrap or wax paper and flip the steak over. Cover it with a fresh sheet of wrap or paper and repeat the pounding process on the other side. This ensures both sides of the steak are evenly tenderized.
Adjust thickness if desired: If you’re looking to achieve a specific thickness for your steak, you can continue pounding until it reaches the desired thickness. However, be cautious not to overdo it, as excessive pounding can result in a mushy texture.
Season and cook: After pounding, season the steak with your preferred spices, herbs, or marinade. Allow the steak to rest for a few minutes to allow the flavors to penetrate the meat. You can then proceed to cook the steak according to your preferred methods, such as grilling, pan-searing, or broiling.
Be generous with the salt
When it comes to tenderizing steak, being generous with salt can make a noticeable difference in the final texture and tenderness of the meat. Salt is not only a seasoning agent but also acts as a tenderizer by drawing out moisture from the steak and breaking down the proteins.
Here are some key points to keep in mind when using salt to tenderize steak:
Choose the right type of salt: Opt for coarse salts, such as kosher salt or sea salt, rather than fine table salt. Coarse salt adheres better to the surface of the meat, allowing it to penetrate deeper and work its magic.
Season in advance: To maximize the tenderizing effect, generously salt both sides of the steak at least 40 minutes before cooking. This gives the salt enough time to dissolve and be absorbed into the meat. Avoid salting too far in advance, as the meat can become overly salty if left for too long.
Use the right amount of salt: It’s important to use enough salt to adequately season and tenderize the steak. As a general guideline, aim for approximately 1 teaspoon of coarse salt per pound of meat. Adjust the amount according to personal preference and the size of the steak.
Pat the steak dry: Before salting, make sure the surface of the steak is dry. Pat it gently with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. This helps the salt adhere to the meat and enhances the tenderizing process.
Let it rest: After salting, allow the steak to rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes. During this time, the salt begins to draw out moisture from the meat, creating a brine that is eventually reabsorbed, resulting in a more tender and flavorful steak.
Rinse or wipe off excess salt: Before cooking, rinse off any excess salt from the steak and pat it dry again. This helps to avoid an overly salty taste. Alternatively, you can lightly brush off excess salt with a clean, damp cloth.
It’s worth noting that salt alone won’t transform a tough cut of meat into a tender steak. However, when combined with other tenderizing techniques, such as pounding or marinating, salt can significantly enhance the overall tenderness and flavor of the meat.
Making a proper marinade
Making a proper marinade is a great way to tenderize steak while infusing it with delicious flavors. A well-balanced marinade can enhance the tenderness, juiciness, and overall taste of the meat. Here’s a detailed guide on how to make a proper marinade for steak:
Choose your marinade base: The base of your marinade will determine the overall flavor profile. Common options include acidic ingredients like vinegar, citrus juice (lemon, lime, or orange), or even wine. You can also use oil-based marinades that add moisture and help carry the flavors.
Add flavorings: To enhance the taste of the marinade, add flavorings such as minced garlic, chopped herbs (rosemary, thyme, basil), spices (paprika, cumin, chili powder), soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, honey, or brown sugar. Experiment with different combinations to suit your preferences.
Balance the flavors: Ensure a well-balanced marinade by considering the acidity, sweetness, saltiness, and spiciness. Taste the marinade before adding the steak and adjust the flavors as needed. Keep in mind that the flavors will intensify as the steak marinates, so don’t make it overly salty or spicy initially.
Include a tenderizer: For an extra tenderizing boost, add natural tenderizers like papaya or pineapple juice. These fruits contain enzymes (papain and bromelain, respectively) that help break down the proteins in the meat, making it more tender. Be cautious with the amount of tenderizer to avoid over-marinating, which can result in a mushy texture.
Prepare the steak: Place the steak in a shallow dish or a resealable plastic bag, ensuring it is fully submerged in the marinade. If using a bag, remove as much air as possible before sealing to allow the marinade to evenly coat the steak.
Marinating time: The marinating time depends on the thickness and cut of the steak. Thinner cuts like flank steak or skirt steak require around 30 minutes to 2 hours, while thicker cuts like ribeye or sirloin may benefit from marinating for 4 to 12 hours, or even overnight. Avoid marinating for too long, as the acidity can start to “cook” the meat and affect the texture.
Marinating process: Place the steak in the refrigerator while it marinates. If using a bag, gently massage the marinade into the meat every few hours to ensure even distribution. This helps the flavors penetrate and tenderize the steak.
Remove excess marinade: When you’re ready to cook the steak, remove it from the marinade and let any excess marinade drip off. However, do not reuse the marinade that has come into contact with raw meat to avoid cross-contamination.
Pat dry and cook: Before cooking, pat the steak dry with a paper towel to remove excess moisture from the surface. This ensures proper browning during cooking. You can then proceed to grill, pan-sear, or broil the steak according to your preferred method.
Velveting your beef
Velveting is a Chinese cooking technique that involves marinating beef in a mixture of egg white, cornstarch, and sometimes other ingredients, resulting in a tender and velvety texture. This method is commonly used in stir-fried dishes, and it helps to retain the juiciness and tenderness of the meat. Here’s a detailed guide on how to velvet your beef:
Choose the right cut of beef: For velveting, it’s best to use lean and tender cuts of beef, such as filet mignon, sirloin, or flank steak. These cuts are naturally flavorful and will benefit from the velveting process.
Prepare the marinade: In a bowl, whisk together egg white, cornstarch, and any additional flavorings you desire. Common additions include soy sauce, rice wine, ginger, garlic, and a pinch of salt and pepper. The marinade should be thick but still pourable.
Slice the beef: Slice the beef against the grain into thin strips. This helps break down the muscle fibers and results in a more tender texture.
Marinate the beef: Place the beef strips in the marinade and mix well, ensuring each piece is coated evenly. Allow the beef to marinate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 hours, in the refrigerator. The longer you marinate, the more tender the meat will become.
Prepare the velvet coating: In a separate bowl, prepare the velvet coating by adding cornstarch. This will be used to coat the marinated beef.
Coat the beef: Remove the beef from the marinade, allowing any excess to drip off. Toss the beef in the velvet coating, ensuring each strip is well coated. Gently shake off any excess coating before cooking.
Cook the beef: There are various cooking methods suitable for velveted beef, but stir-frying is the most common. Heat a wok or skillet over high heat, add some oil, and cook the beef quickly until it reaches your desired doneness. Be careful not to overcook the beef, as it can become tough.
Incorporate into your dish: Once the beef is cooked, it can be added to stir-fry dishes, noodle dishes, or even served on its own with vegetables. The velveting process ensures that the beef remains tender, moist, and flavorful.
Cover it in baking soda
Covering steak with baking soda is a technique used to tenderize the meat by altering its pH level. Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, is an alkaline compound that helps break down the proteins in the meat, resulting in a more tender texture. Here’s a detailed guide on how to use baking soda to tenderize steak:
Select the steak: Choose a steak that would benefit from tenderizing, such as a tougher cut or a thicker piece of meat.
Sprinkle baking soda: Sprinkle a thin, even layer of baking soda over both sides of the steak. Use approximately 1 teaspoon of baking soda for every pound of meat. Ensure that the entire surface is covered, but avoid using an excessive amount, as it can leave a noticeable taste.
Massage the baking soda: Gently rub the baking soda into the meat, ensuring it is evenly distributed. Be careful not to apply too much pressure to prevent damaging the steak.
Let it sit: Place the steak on a plate or in a resealable plastic bag and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 hours. This allows the baking soda to penetrate the meat and begin the tenderizing process.
Rinse off the baking soda: After the desired resting time, rinse the steak thoroughly under cold running water to remove the baking soda. Make sure to remove any residue and pat the steak dry with a paper towel.
Season and cook: Once the baking soda is rinsed off, season the steak with your preferred spices, herbs, or marinade. Let the steak rest for a few minutes to allow the flavors to meld. You can then proceed to cook the steak using your preferred methods, such as grilling, pan-searing, or broiling.
Monitor cooking time: It’s important to note that the tenderizing effect of baking soda can cause the meat to cook faster than usual. Keep a close eye on the cooking time to prevent overcooking and achieve the desired level of doneness.
Rest and serve: After cooking, let the steak rest for a few minutes before slicing and serving. This allows the juices to redistribute within the meat, resulting in a more tender and flavorful steak.
Score the surface
Scoring the surface of steak is a simple yet effective technique to help tenderize the meat and enhance its flavor. By making shallow cuts or scoring marks on the surface of the steak, you create more surface area for seasoning to penetrate and allow for even cooking. Here’s a detailed guide on how to score the surface of steak:
Choose the steak: Select a steak of your choice, preferably a thicker cut such as ribeye, striploin, or T-bone, as these cuts benefit the most from scoring.
Prepare the steak: Before scoring, ensure that the steak is at room temperature. Remove the steak from the refrigerator and let it sit for about 30 minutes to take the chill off.
Season the steak: Season the steak with salt, pepper, and any other desired seasonings. Allow the seasonings to sit on the steak for a few minutes to slightly penetrate the surface.
Score the surface: Using a sharp knife, make shallow cuts across the surface of the steak. Create diagonal or diamond-shaped patterns, making sure not to cut too deep. The cuts should be about 1/4 to 1/2 inch apart, depending on your preference. This scoring technique helps to tenderize the meat by breaking up the connective tissues and allowing for better absorption of flavors.
Flip and repeat: After scoring one side of the steak, flip it over and repeat the scoring process on the other side. This ensures that both sides of the steak benefit from the tenderizing and flavor-enhancing effects.
Massage the seasonings: Gently rub the seasonings into the scored surface of the steak, making sure they get into the cuts you made. This will further enhance the flavor and tenderizing process.
Rest the steak: Allow the scored steak to rest for about 10-15 minutes. During this time, the seasonings will penetrate the meat, enhancing its flavor.
Cook the steak: Now you can cook the steak according to your preferred method, such as grilling, pan-searing, or broiling. The scored surface will help the steak cook more evenly and allow the flavors to infuse into the meat.
Let it rest and serve: After cooking, let the steak rest for a few minutes to allow the juices to redistribute. This step ensures a more tender and juicy result. Slice the steak against the grain before serving to maximize tenderness.
Slow-cooking your meat
Slow cooking is a popular method for tenderizing meat and creating flavorful, melt-in-your-mouth results. This technique involves cooking meat at low temperatures over an extended period, allowing the collagen and connective tissues to break down gradually, resulting in tender and juicy meat. Here’s a detailed guide on how to slow-cook your meat:
Choose the right cut of meat: Slow-cooking is best suited for tougher cuts of meat that have a higher collagen content, such as chuck roast, brisket, or pork shoulder. These cuts benefit from the slow-cooking process as it helps to break down the tough fibers and render them tender.
Prepare the meat: Trim excess fat from the meat, leaving a thin layer for flavor and moisture. Pat the meat dry with a paper towel to ensure better browning and flavor development during the cooking process. Season the meat with salt, pepper, and any desired spices or herbs.
Preheat and sear: Preheat a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add a small amount of oil and sear the meat on all sides until it develops a rich brown crust. Searing adds flavor and helps to lock in the juices.
Prepare the slow cooker: Transfer the seared meat to a slow cooker or crockpot. If using a Dutch oven, you can continue cooking in it on the stovetop or transfer it to an oven-safe dish with a lid.
Add flavorings: Enhance the flavor of the meat by adding aromatics such as onions, garlic, carrots, or herbs like rosemary, thyme, or bay leaves. These ingredients will infuse the meat with their flavors during the slow-cooking process.
Choose your liquid: Add a liquid to the slow cooker to keep the meat moist and create a flavorful cooking environment. Common choices include broth, stock, wine, beer, or a combination of these. The liquid should be enough to cover about 1/3 to 1/2 of the meat.
Set the temperature and time: Set the slow cooker to the desired temperature. Low heat is typically around 200°F (95°C), while high heat is around 300°F (150°C). Slow-cooking times can vary depending on the size and type of meat, but a general guideline is 6 to 8 hours on low heat or 3 to 4 hours on high heat. Follow specific recipes or adjust the time accordingly.
Check for doneness: After the recommended cooking time, check the meat for doneness. It should be fork-tender, easily pulled apart, and have reached a safe internal temperature according to food safety guidelines.
Rest and serve: Once cooked, remove the meat from the slow cooker and let it rest for a few minutes. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat. Slice, shred, or serve the meat whole, depending on your preference. You can serve it with the cooking liquid as a flavorful sauce or gravy.
Reverse searing to perfection
Reverse searing is a cooking technique that involves slow-cooking the meat first, followed by a quick sear at high heat to achieve a perfectly cooked and tender steak with a flavorful crust. This method is particularly useful for thicker cuts of meat and allows for precise control over the desired level of doneness. Here’s a detailed guide on how to reverse-sear your steak to perfection:
Select the steak: Choose a thick-cut steak, such as ribeye, striploin, or filet mignon, for best results. Thicker cuts are ideal for reverse searing as they allow for more even cooking.
Season the steak: Season the steak generously with salt and pepper or any desired dry rub. This helps to enhance the flavor of the meat. Let the seasoned steak sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes to ensure even cooking.
Preheat the oven: Preheat your oven to a low temperature, around 225°F (107°C). This low and slow cooking method allows the meat to cook evenly and retain its moisture.
Slow-cook the steak: Place the seasoned steak on a wire rack set over a baking sheet or on a baking dish. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the steak to monitor the internal temperature. Slow-cook the steak in the preheated oven until it reaches an internal temperature that is about 10-15°F (5-8°C) below your desired level of doneness. This can take around 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the thickness of the steak and your desired level of doneness.
Rest the steak: Once the steak reaches the desired temperature, remove it from the oven and let it rest for 10-15 minutes. This resting period allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, resulting in a more tender and flavorful steak.
Preheat a skillet or grill: While the steak is resting, preheat a skillet or grill over high heat. The surface should be very hot to achieve a quick sear.
Sear the steak: Once the skillet or grill is hot, add a small amount of oil with a high smoke point, such as canola or grapeseed oil. Carefully place the rested steak onto the hot surface and sear each side for 1-2 minutes or until a rich brown crust forms. Use tongs to flip the steak and sear all sides evenly.
Rest and serve: Remove the steak from the skillet or grill and let it rest for a few minutes before slicing. This allows the juices to redistribute and the steak to reach its final level of doneness. Slice the steak against the grain and serve it hot.
Sous vide to exact temperature
Sous vide is a cooking technique that involves cooking food in a precise temperature-controlled water bath. This method allows you to cook your steak to an exact temperature, resulting in consistent and perfectly cooked meat with excellent tenderness. Here’s a detailed guide on how to use sous vide to cook a steak to an exact temperature:
Preheat the water bath: Fill a large container or sous vide machine with water and preheat it to the desired temperature. The recommended temperatures for steak are as follows:
- Rare: 130°F (54°C)
- Medium Rare: 135°F (57°C)
- Medium: 140°F (60°C)
- Medium Well: 150°F (66°C)
- Well Done: 160°F (71°C)
Prepare the steak: Season the steak with salt, pepper, and any desired seasonings. You can also add herbs, garlic, or butter to enhance the flavor. Place the seasoned steak in a vacuum-sealed bag or a ziplock bag, ensuring it is sealed tightly to prevent water from entering.
Cook the steak sous vide: Submerge the sealed bag with the steak into the preheated water bath, ensuring it is fully immersed. Use a clip or weight to keep the bag submerged if necessary. Let the steak cook in the water bath for the recommended cooking time, which varies based on the thickness of the steak. As a general guideline, cook a 1-inch thick steak for 1-2 hours, and adjust the cooking time accordingly for thicker or thinner cuts.
Finish with a sear: Once the steak has finished cooking sous vide, remove it from the bag and pat it dry with a paper towel. Preheat a skillet or grill to high heat. Add a small amount of oil with a high smoke point, such as canola or grapeseed oil, to the hot surface. Sear the steak for 1-2 minutes on each side until a brown crust forms. This quick sear adds color and flavor to the steak.
Rest and serve: After searing, let the steak rest for a few minutes to allow the juices to redistribute. This step ensures a more tender and flavorful result. Slice the steak against the grain and serve it hot.
Rest it after cooking
Resting meat after cooking is an essential step that allows the juices to redistribute within the steak, resulting in a more tender and flavorful final result. Resting also helps to retain the moisture in the meat and prevents the juices from spilling out when you slice into it. Here’s a detailed guide on how to properly rest your steak after cooking:
Remove from heat: Once your steak is cooked to your desired level of doneness, whether it’s grilled, pan-seared, oven-baked, or sous vide, remove it from the heat source. This can be a grill, stovetop, oven, or sous vide water bath.
Tent with foil: Loosely tent the cooked steak with aluminum foil. This helps to trap the heat and keep the steak warm during the resting period. The foil also acts as a barrier to prevent the steak from cooling too quickly.
Allow for resting time: Let the steak rest for approximately 5-10 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of the cut. Thicker steaks may require a longer resting period, while thinner cuts can be rested for a shorter duration.
Maintain the resting environment: It’s important to keep the steak in a warm and undisturbed environment while it rests. Avoid placing it in a drafty area or near a fan that can cool it down. Instead, place it on a cutting board or a warm plate to retain its heat.
Let the juices redistribute: During the resting period, the steak’s internal temperature will equalize, and the juices that have been forced towards the center during cooking will redistribute throughout the meat. This helps to ensure that each bite is juicy and flavorful.
Avoid cutting too soon: Resist the temptation to cut into the steak immediately after cooking. If you slice into it too early, the juices will spill out, resulting in a drier steak. Waiting for the resting period allows the juices to settle back into the meat, resulting in a more succulent texture.
Slice and serve: After the resting period, it’s time to slice and serve your steak. Use a sharp knife to cut against the grain for maximum tenderness. Serve the steak while it’s still warm to enjoy it at its best.