Many home cooks stay away from tough cuts of meat like chuck round, skirt steaks, flank steaks, and bottom sirloin steaks because they don’t know how to tenderize them. Instead, they go for more premium cuts like ribeye or tenderloin. Well, I have good news for you. There are a few different ways to tenderize steak, and you can choose the method that best suits your needs, taste, and cooking style. In this article, I’ll show you how to tenderize steak like a pro chef.
As a chef, I do love experimenting with different cuts. Yes, I’m talking about tough steak cuts. There’re so many different ways to make steak tender and flavorful, but at the same time, you do not want to overpower the natural taste of the meat. So read along to learn new methods on how to treat delicate this delicate product to make it tender but at the same time packed with flavors.
6 Ways to Tenderize Steak
Cheap steak doesn’t mean it has to be tough and chewy. With the right cooking methods and tenderizing, you can turn even the toughest and leanest cuts of steak into something that’s tender, juicy, and full of flavor. Here are six ways to tenderize steak:
- Use Salt To Tenderize (Dry Brine)
- Pound the steak
- Slow Cook on Low Heat (Braising)
- Wet Brine
- Leave Steak To Rest
1. Use Salt To Tenderize (Dry Brine)
I’m sure it will come as a surprise for most of you. Are you ready? Salt rub is actually one of the best ways to tenderize meat. No, it’s not going dry out your steak. By seasoning your chosen steak cut with a generous amount of salt on both sides and letting it sit for at least 30 minutes, you are essentially giving the steak a quick dry-brine. The salting method helps break down some muscle fibers and makes the steak incredibly tender and flavorsome.
Take your tough cut of steak and rub it with a generous amount of kosher salt. Next, take a piece of plastic wrap and tightly wrap the steak. To add additional flavor to the steak, add some fresh herbs (fresh thyme and rosemary are great). Put the steak in an airtight container and place it in a fridge overnight. Remember that 30 minutes is not enough for a tough cut to tenderize properly. Yes, it will work for more tender steak cuts like ribeye, but unfortunately, for a tougher cut, you need to give it at least 12 hours.
2. Pound the steak
Pounding the steak is another great way to break down the muscle fibers and make it more tender. Just be careful not to overdo it, or you’ll end up with a mushy mess.
It’s a very convenient method if you need a piece of steak quickly for some homemade tacos, fajitas, or stir-fry noodles. You’ll need a meat mallet with a flat side and a studded side for this tenderizing method.
To avoid mess, here’s how to pound the steak. First and foremost, if there’s too much fat or marbling on the steak, make sure to remove some before pounding. Place the steak on a cutting board and cover it with plastic wrap. Gently pound the meat making sure it’s not breaking apart. It’s best if you do not destroy connective tissue. You want to achieve an even thickness throughout.
3. Slow Cook on Low Heat (Braising)
The best way to tenderize steak without constantly looking after the meat is to cook it on low heat slowly until it’s tender. This method is called braising and is perfect for cheaper, tougher cuts of meat like chuck steak.
Start by browning the steak in a bit of cooking oil over high heat in a pan or Dutch oven. Then add some aromatics like garlic, onion, carrot, and celery. Pour in some beef broth, red wine, or beer. Make sure the liquid covers at least half of the meat. Bring it to a simmer, then put a lid on it and transfer it to the oven (preheated to 275° Fahrenheit). It usually takes around 3-4 hours (depending on steak size) until the meat becomes incredibly tender. It goes through a weird phase when about halfway through cooking it – it becomes very tough. But when giving it an extra hour or so, it will become fall-apart tender.
Alternatively, if you like to add some BBQ flavor to your meat, you can slow cook steak on the grill. It’s easy to do, and all you need is a little time and patience.
Simply preheat your grill to low heat (around 225° Fahrenheit). Place saute or saucepan on the grill and brown the steak. Add aromatic and some liquid, then put the lid on and let it cook until tender. Check on the steak every hour or so to make sure the liquid hasn’t evaporated.
In most households marinating meat is probably the most popular tenderizing method. The acidic ingredients in the marinade help to break down the muscle fibers making the steak more tender. However, most steak lovers prefer not to marinate their steak because it can often overpower the natural flavors of the beef. I do not have a problem with that. In fact, some ingredients may enhance the taste of the meat. Here’s one simple piece of advice I got from a Michelin star chef – use a light hand when it comes to adding spices and acids to your marinade.
Take your favorite acidic ingredient, which acts as a tenderizer. It can be apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, or yogurt. Then add some olive oil and spices of your choice. I like to add garlic, onion powder, smoked paprika, and black pepper (feel free to swap the ingredients). Mix everything in a bowl or zip bag and rub the steak with a marinade. Keep in mind if you leave your steak in marinade for too long, it may fall apart, so 4-24 hours is more than enough for the marinade to work its magic.
If grilling, you can use the marinade for basting the steak. I often make a sauce from the marinade. Add leftover marinade to the pot or saucepan, bring it to a boil and add some heavy cream to it. Without wasting any product, you’ll have a steak with a delicious sauce.
In case you’re wondering how to cook marinated steak read this article.
5. Wet Brine
Wet brining is very similar to dry brining, but instead of salt, you use a saltwater solution. Salted water infused with some aromatics will tenderize the meat helping to keep the steak moist during cooking and adding flavor.
To wet brine steak, mix together water and kosher salt in a large container. Make sure to use a ratio of 2/3 cup of salt per gallon of water. A quick note: there’re many different types of salt with varying levels of saltiness; make sure to read this article to learn more. Submerge the steak in the mixture and let it sit for at least 2 hours but no more than 24 hours. If you leave it for too long, the steak will become too salty and can start to break down when cooking.
After the steak has brined, rinse it off with cold water and pat it dry with paper towels if you plan to cook it right away.
6. Leave Steak To Rest
While it’s the simplest thing you can do to make your steak more tender, many home cooks overlook it. And honestly, I do not know why? It’s so simple. Once you’ve cooked your steak, transfer it to a plate or cutting board and leave it to rest for at least five to ten minutes. It will give the juices time to redistribute evenly throughout the meat, making it more tender and flavorful.
If you cut into a steak too soon, all the juices will run out and dry your steak. So be patient; it’ll be worth it!
Oh, and last but not least, please cut your steak against the grain. It is essential for tougher cuts of meat like flank steak or skirt steak. It will make tougher steak cuts more chewable.
There you have it, everything you need to know about tenderizing steak. Using one or more of the methods above, you can take a tough cut of meat and turn it into something that’s melt-in-your-mouth delicious. So next time you’re at the store, pick up a cheaper cut of meat and give it a try. Your taste buds will thank you!
Make sure to check this video on different ways to tenderize the steak:
What is the best way to tenderize steak?
The best way to tenderize the steak is by using a dry brine or slow cook on low heat. These two methods are different; however, both are excellent in turning a tough piece of steak into a mouthwatering, tender dish.
How long does it take to tenderize steak?
It usually takes around two hours for the dry brine to work its magic and three to four hours if you’re slow cooking on low heat. However, this will vary depending on the thickness of the steak as well as the tenderizing method. Marinating steak for 30 minutes to a few hours can also help make it more tender.
How do restaurants make their steaks so tender?
As a chef, I can tell you that restaurants often slow cook tough steaks. In contrast, high-end restaurants dry brine and marinade steaks since slow cooking are so common and they like to experiment with different tenderizing methods.