How to Tenderize Steak (Pro Tips & Techniques)

There was a time in my life when I couldn’t afford good steak. I could only afford the flank or chuck type cuts of beef. In that time I learn a few good tricks to turn these cheap, tough and overlooked cuts into beautiful juicy, tender bites. 

Now they are some of my most preferred cuts over prime steaks. You can’t beat a cheap dinner that tastes amazing right!!

These days lots of people try to avoid these tough pieces of meat, but you don’t need too. I will show you how to make them absolutely delicious, very, very simply. 

It was early in my smoking days and I had some guidance from my cousin who was an obsessed when it came to smoking meats. He told me:

”no matter what cut you can afford, you will always be able to make it one of the best steaks of your life if you know a way to tenderize it”

He was the one who showed me the basic tricks of the trade which I have come to know like the back of my hand. I feel that it is only appropriate to pass on this knowledge.

How to Tenderise Steak

What Is The Best Type of Steak To Tenderize?

Some of the tougher types of meat that you can experiment with and learn how to tenderize include chuck steak, flank steak, hanger steaks and round steak. If you are lucky enough have filet mignon, porterhouse, New York strip steak, ribeye or other tender cuts please don’t try and make them more tender! You will ruin them! Please ensure you are only tenderizing tough cuts.

These cheaper cuts tend to be comprised of tough meat fibers and connective tissue however, they do usually have more flavour than the pricier cuts.

When you’re learning a way to tenderize, then you want to start with a piece that isn’t too tough.This will ease you into tenderizing and help you understand what the different techniques are, without ending up with something inedible.

As you get better, you’ll be able to choose tougher cuts of meat and get the same amazing results.

Here are some of the top strategies for ensuring you serve a delicious and tender steak every time.

Tenderized Steak on The Grill

What is The Best Way to Tenderize Steak?

Physically Tenderizing or Pounding

Physically tenderizing is the most common way to get tender steak, and the way that I think works best.

To do this you will need a rolling pin, meat mallet or even a flat cast iron skillet. When pounding, you don’t have to pound your steak to death. Just lightly pound so the muscle fiber breaks down and becomes tender. You don’t want to be pounding so hard you bruise or turn your steaks into mush.

  1. Ensure your steak has been in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. This will help the steak keep its shape when pounding.
  2. Place your steak on a flat surface. Place your steak in a zip lock bag, or cover your pounding tool in plastic wrap to avoid covering it in raw meat.
  3. Lightly pound the cut of steak until it is your desired thickness. For best cooking results ensure it is evenly pounded out.
  4. Before cooking, let the steak rest and come up to room temperature.
Tenderized Steak Resting

The Best Techniques to Tenderize Steak

Chemical Tenderizers

Ensure you salt your steaks. As the meat draws some of the salt in, the salt breaks down the protein and improves the steak’s texture.

Pour 1/8 of a cup of kosher salt (sea salt or table salt will also work) onto a plate and make sure it’s spread out to the same size as the steak. Then, pour 1/8 of a cup of kosher salt onto the top of the steak. Carefully rub the salt into the your cut of meat, making sure both sides are thoroughly coated. If you’re doing several steaks, you can continue to use the same salt and plate until all the steaks have been coated in salt.

Next, you’ll need to put your steak in the fridge for 1 hour per inch of thickness. If you have a 1-inch-thick steak, for example, it needs to be in the fridge for 1 hour. For this reason, it’s important to plan ahead so your steaks will be ready to cook when it’s time to cook them. If you are in a pinch for time, you can just leave them for half an hour.

Once it’s time to cook the steak, you’ll need to rinse the salt off the steak by running them under water, being sure to rub the steak as you clean it to get off all of the salt. Then, all you have to do is cook your steak as planned, whether you’re tossing it on the grill or into a smoker.

Acidic Tenderizers

You can also use any of the following wine, vinegar or citrus juices. These are acidic liquids that soften meat muscle fibers and add flavour too. For juice, try pineapple juice, lime juice or lemon juice.

Vinegar can be apple cider, balsamic or regular household vinegar. If I’m using the acidic tenderizer method on my steaks, I like to use white vinegar.

Pierce your meat all over with a fork and then soak it in vinegar for an hour or two before you cook it. Whichever method you choose, be sure to cook your meat in a coated non-stick pans or glass baking dishes.

Mechanical Tenderizers

Mechanical tenderizers, utilize a set of sharp knives that create tiny heat channels within the meat proteins, it also provides pathway for marinades to be absorbed deeper into the steaks.

Using a mechanical tenderizer can also help reduce cooking time by up to 40 percent. The heat is able to penetrate the incisions made by the knifes rather than only heat the surface.

Keep in mind, because you are reducing the cooking time of your steaks also it reduces the risk of ending up with an overcooked, tough piece of meat.

Milk Marinades

Milk is a great marinating tenderizer. Milk is high in calcium, which reacts with the enzymes in beef which in turn softens the proteins in the meat.

You can in theory use any milk products, however, for best results I recommend using buttermilk or yogurt in your marinades. This is because the acidity levels are slightly higher than milk, perfect for breaking down meat fibers.

To milk marinade, season your chosen milk product to taste with your favorite herbs, spices and seasonings. Ensure you have enough marinade to fully cover the steak. Place steak in the marinade and cover (you can also use a zip lock bag for this). Place in the refrigerator marinating for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours. Remove from marinade and rise with cold running water. Pat dry with paper towel, then let come up to room temperature before grilling.

Scoring Your Steak

This a good method for tenderizing flat, fibrous steaks like skirt and flank steaks.

Using a sharp knife, you will need to make a series of shallow cuts incisions 1/3 inch apart in a cross pattern on both sides.

The cuts will sever tough meat fibres and muscle tissue. This can help speed up the absorption of the marinade. Thus making your steak tender and flavoursome.

Resting and Slicing Steak

Always let the meat rest on a chopping board for 5 – 10 minutes after the grill before you slice it.

Letting the steak rest before cutting will relax the meat, making it juicier. Then slice it very thinly across the grain (always slice across the grain). Thin slices mean short meat fibers, making even a fibrous steak like a skirt steak seem tender.

Speaking of resting the steak, it is also very important to have your steak at room temperature before cooking. This will help the muscle tissue of the steak get more tender before cooking.

Cooking Chicken Tonight?
We have a full guide on how to tenderize chicken, so you can also cook your chicken to juicy perfection!

Try the “Cheapest” Cuts of Steak

The flank steak, for example, is a full-flavored cut that comes from the center of the chuck.

It will look and cook like a skirt steak, however, you will find that it cuts like a tender steak from the loin.

Other alternative steaks which are just as flavorful are beef chuck, chuck steak, charcoal steak, chuck tenders, chuck roast, tri-tip, eye round steak, rump roast, hanger steak and flap steak.

A Diagram Explaining the Different Cuts of Beef

Regular salt and pepper seasoning not cut it for you anymore? I used to just use them as well. That was until I tried my first rub, now I have a kitchen cupboard overflowing with them! Start experimenting!

Wrapping It Up

Although it may be hard to believe, it is 100% possible to tenderize any steak by following one of these strategies.

Sometimes I will pull something out of the freezer or off the shelf at the supermarket and challenge myself to create something so juicy and tender with it. Its surprising how often you can turn a cheap, sale piece of meat into one of the most delicious meals of your life.

Once you master one (or more) of these techniques, you’ll be able to look in the bargain section and create magic with any “cheap cut” with lots of protein strands and muscle fibers.

What your favourite cheap cut to create magic with? and how do you do it?

Charlie

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1 thought on “How to Tenderize Steak (Pro Tips & Techniques)”

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