Want to know how to tenderize steak like a professional? Maybe you have budget cuts of beef that need tenderizing? You might have seen people pounding steak with a wooden or metal mallet. This isn’t the only way to tenderize steak!
Below I show you the process of tenderizing, from what cuts benefit from this technique to all the ways you can tenderize steak.
Table of contents
What is Tenderizing Steak?
Tenderizing is the breaking down of the connective tissue in the meat. This helps to make the meat more tender.
Cheaper cuts of beef are comprised of strong meat fibers and connective tissue. These cuts usually have more flavor than the pricier cuts.
When you’re learning a way to tenderize, start with a piece that isn’t too tough.
This will ease you into tenderizing and help you learn the techniques. Without ending up with something inedible.
Why Should You Tenderize Steak?
Cuts of steak with more connective tissue can be tastier. Plus they can also be more budget-friendly There was a time in my life when I couldn’t afford expensive cuts of steak
I could only afford the flank or chuck cuts of beef. Then I learn a few tricks to turn these cheap and tough cuts into juicy, tender bites. Now they’re I prefer these cuts over prime steak. Many people try to avoid these tough pieces of meat, but you don’t need to.
Below are my top strategies for ensuring you serve a delicious and tender steak every time
What Is The Best Type of Steak To Tenderize?
If you are lucky enough have filet mignon, porterhouse, New York strip steak, or ribeye. Don’t try and tenderize them, just add a little salt for flavor! You might ruin them! Just tenderize the tough cuts.
Treating yourself but unsure what is better? Check out my guide to filet mignon vs ribeye.
What is The Best Way to Tenderize Steak?
There are 6 techniques to tenderizing steak, see them below.
1. Physically Tenderizing or Pounding
Physically tenderizing is the most common way to get tender steak. This is 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.
You don’t have to pound your steak to death. Just lightly pound so the muscle fiber begins to break down. You don’t want to be pounding so hard that you bruise your hand or turn your steaks into mush.
Steps for Physically Tenderizing Meat
- Ensure your steak has been in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. This will help the steak keep its shape when pounding.
- Place your steak on a flat surface. Place your steak in a zip lock bag, or cover your tenderizing hammer in plastic wrap to avoid covering it in raw meat.
- Lightly pound the cut of steak until it is your desired thickness. For best cooking results ensure it is evenly pounded out.
- Before cooking, let the steak rest and come up to room temperature.
2. Chemical Tenderizers
Salt, pineapple, and papaya are all chemical tenderizers, my preference is to use salt. As the meat draws some of the salt in, the salt breaks down the protein and improves the steak’s texture.
Recently I tested three methods when I wanted to know how to tenderize NY strip steak for the most tender steak. I concluded that dry brining with sea salt was the best method.
Steps for Chemically Tenderizing Meat
- Pour 1/8 of a cup of kosher salt (sea salt, table salt, or vampire 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 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.
- Then, all you have to do is cook your steak as planned, whether you’re tossing it on the grill or into a smoker.
The reason that pineapple and papaya can help tenderize meat is due to their enzymes.Steve Raichlen
Papaya contains a natural meat tenderizer called papain, while pineapple contains enzymes called bromelain.
How Long Does Meat Tenderizer Stay Fresh?
It last a long time if it is MSG.
3. Acidic Tenderizers
You can also use any of the following acidic tenderizers; wine, vinegar, citrus juices, or citrus segments (I like to use bloody orange).
These are acidic liquids that soften meat muscle fibers and add flavor too.
You can use any type of vinegar; apple cider, balsamic or regular household vinegar. If I’m using the acidic tenderizer method on my steaks, I like to use white vinegar.
Steps for Acidic Tenderizing
- Pierce your meat all over with a fork
- Then put it in a dish and sit it in vinegar/ juice/ citrus segments for an hour or two before you cook it.
4. Mechanical Tenderizers
Mechanical tenderizers, use a set of sharp knives that create tiny heat channels or holes within the meat proteins, it also provides a 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 knives rather than only heat the surface.
Note: You are reducing the cooking time of your steaks. So that means you reduce the risk of ending up with an overcooked, tough piece of meat.
5. 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.
Steps for a 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.
6. Scoring Your Steak
Scoring your steak is 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 1/3 inch apart in a cross pattern on both sides.
The cuts will sever tough meat fibers and muscle tissue. This can help speed up the absorption of the marinade. Thus making your steak tender and flavorsome.
Ensure Your Resting The Steak Before Slicing it
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.
Thin slices mean short meat fibers, making even a fibrous steak like a skirt steak seem tender.
Cooking Chicken Tonight?
We have a full guide on how to tenderize chicken, so you can also cook your chicken to 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. I like to smoke the flank steak, it gives it a delicious flavor.
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.
Cube steak, also commonly known as minute steak for its short cooking time.
While this cut of meat comes packaged already tenderized. You can tenderize it more helps bring out more flavor.
- Score the steak across the top and underside of the meat very lightly with a very sharp knife.
- Then tenderize the cube steak with a mallet, cover your steak in a plastic bag or plastic wrap, and pound it thoroughly, until the entire steak is covered with marks from the mallet. This may be difficult to see, as most cube steaks are tenderized in this fashion at the supermarket before they are packaged for sale.
- Marinate the cube steak in baking soda. Estimating 1 teaspoon per pound of meat, cover the meat in baking soda, working into the meat with your hands.
- Allow the meat to rest for at least 15 minutes
- Wash the baking soda off before you cook the meat.
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 spices! Start experimenting!
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 and challenge myself to create something so juicy and tender with it. It’s surprising how often you can turn a cheap, sale piece of meat into one of the most delicious meals.
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”
What is your favorite cheap cut to create magic with?
Author: Charlie Reeves
Hi, I’m Charlie, I am head taste tester at Simply Meat Smoking! I love it grilling, smoking, and getting out in the yard with the kids! The family also love to test all my recipes (especially my EXTRA CRISPY pulled pork, smoky pork loin, and ANY SEAFOOD I grill)
You will usually find me playing with the kids, perfecting my brisket bark, or sipping beers with boys around the fire. Can’t wait to share all my delicious smoking and grilling adventures with you!
You can read more on our About Us page.
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