How to Tenderize Steak (Pro Tips & Techniques)

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 how you can tenderize steak.

What is Tenderizing Steak?

Tenderizing breaks down the meat’s connective tissue, making 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 learned a few tricks to turn these cheap and tough cuts into juicy, tender bites. Now, 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

Tenderized Steak on The Grill

What Is The Best Type of Steak To Tenderize?

The best cuts to tenderize include chuck steak, flank steak, hanger steaks, and round steak.

If you are lucky enough to have filet mignon, porterhouse, New York strip steak, or ribeye, don’t try to tenderize them; just add a little salt for flavor! You might ruin them! Just tenderize the tough cuts.

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, and I think it works best. You will need a rolling pin, meat mallet, or flat cast iron skillet to do this.

You don’t have to pound your steak to death. Just lightly pound it so the muscle fiber begins to break down. You don’t want to pound so hard that you bruise your hand or turn your steaks into mush.

Steps for Physically Tenderizing Meat

  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 tenderizing hammer in plastic wrap to avoid covering it in raw meat.
  3. Lightly pound the cut of the steak until it is your desired thickness. Ensure it is evenly pounded for best cooking results.
  4. Before cooking, let the steak rest and come up to room temperature.

2. Chemical Tenderizers

Salt, pineapple, and papaya are all chemical tenderizers, but I prefer salt. As the meat draws some of the salt in, the salt breaks down the protein and improves the steak’s texture.

I recently tested three methods 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

  1. Pour 1/8 cup of kosher salt (sea salt, table salt, or vampire salt will also work) onto a plate and spread it to the same size as the steak.
  2. Then, pour 1/8 of a cup of kosher salt onto the top of the steak.
  3. Carefully rub the salt into your meat cut, ensuring 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.
  4. 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 so your steaks will be ready to cook when it’s time. If you are in a pinch for time, you can leave them for half an hour.
  5. Then, you can cook your steak as planned, whether on the grill or in a smoker.

The reason that pineapple and papaya can help tenderize meat is due to their enzymes.

Papaya contains a natural meat tenderizer called papain, while pineapple contains enzymes called bromelain.

Steve Raichlen
Steven Raichlen

FAQ
How Long Does Meat Tenderizer Stay Fresh?
It lasts a long time if it is MSG.

3. Acidic Tenderizers

You can also use any 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 apple cider, balsamic, or regular household vinegar. I like to use white vinegar when using the acidic tenderizer method on my steaks.

Steps for Acidic Tenderizing

  1. Pierce your meat all over with a fork.
  2. Then, put it in a dish and soak it in vinegar/ juice/ citrus segments for an hour or two before cooking.
steak with oranges on it to tenderize it
My meat tenderizing with orange segments on it.

4. Mechanical Tenderizers

Mechanical tenderizers use a set of sharp knives that create tiny heat channels or holes within the meat proteins. This process 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 can penetrate the incisions made by the knives rather than only heat the surface.

Note: By reducing the cooking time of your steaks, 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 beef’s enzymes and softens the meat’s proteins.

You can theoretically use any milk product; however, I recommend using buttermilk or yogurt in your marinades for best results. These products have slightly higher acidity levels than milk, perfect for breaking down meat fibers.

Steps for a Milk Marinade:

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

6. Scoring Your Steak

Scoring your steak is good for tenderizing flat, fibrous steaks like skirts and flanks. Using a sharp knife, 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, helping speed up the marinade’s absorption and making your steak tender and flavorsome.

Ensure You Are 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.

How to Tenderise Steak
Tenderized Steak Resting
My delicious t-bone steak

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

For example, flank steak is a full-flavored cut from the center of the chuck. I like to smoke it, as it gives it a delicious flavor. It will look and cook like a skirt steak but cuts like a tender steak from the loin.

Other alternative steaks that 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

Want to Tenderize Cubed Steak?

Cube steak is known as minute steak for its short cooking time.
While this cut of meat comes packaged already tenderized, you can tenderize it more to bring out more flavor.

  1. Score the steak lightly across the top and underside of the meat with a sharp knife.
  2. Then, tenderize the cube steak with a mallet, cover it in a plastic bag or plastic wrap, and pound it thoroughly until the entire steak is covered with marks from the mallet. This may not be easy to see, as most cube steaks are tenderized in this fashion at the supermarket before they are packaged for sale.
  3. 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.
  4. Allow the meat to rest for at least 15 minutes
  5. 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 pull something out of the freezer and challenge myself to create something 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 can look in the bargain section and create magic with any “cheap cut.”

What is your favorite cheap cut with which to create magic?

Charlie

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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7 thoughts on “How to Tenderize Steak (Pro Tips & Techniques)”

  1. Havin read this I beⅼieved it was vеry informative. I аpprеciate yoοu taкing the timе and energy to put
    this artiϲlе tоgether. I once again find myseⅼf spending a lot of time both reading and poѕtting ϲomments. Butt so what, it was still worth it!

    1. Hey I’m an average cooker of meat and I’ve never beaded my meat before so if I beat my meat can I still use the dry rub method with salt and seasonings and let it rest in the fridge for an hour or so I would appreciate an answer thank you Dennis

      1. Hiya Dennis,

        I would suggest doing both methods, the beating helps tenderize the steak and adding the salt and seasonings help with tenderizing and the flavor:)

  2. Really good information and recommendations for tenderizing. I prefer the salt and rubs. makes great steaks every time.

    Thanks!

    1. Hiya Penny!

      I don’t rinse the salt off the meat. However, if you try this method and find it too salty, you can wipe a little of excessive salt off. Let me know how you go 🙂

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