Several factors can contribute to a steak being tough and chewy. First, the cut of meat plays a significant role, as certain cuts like brisket or round have more connective tissue, making them naturally tougher. Second, overcooking the steak can lead to a loss of moisture, which can cause the fibers to contract and become more difficult to chew. Third, the cooking method and temperature can also affect the texture of the meat; cooking at too high a temperature or not allowing the steak to rest after cooking can cause it to toughen up. Fourth, the quality of the meat itself can influence the tenderness; a lower-quality steak may have been subjected to stress before slaughter or have less marbling, leading to a tougher texture. Lastly, the way the meat is cut can impact its tenderness; slicing against the grain helps to shorten muscle fibers, making the steak more tender and easier to chew.
Achieving the perfect steak texture can sometimes feel like an elusive pursuit, but understanding the factors at play is crucial to elevating your home-cooked steaks to restaurant quality. In this post, I’ll explain various elements that can contribute to a less-than-tender steak, from the cut of the meat and cooking method to the quality of the beef and the way it’s sliced. As a chef, I had my fair share of tough cuts, so throughout the years, I’ve learned how to detect and avoid having terrible meat.
Why is My Steak Tough and Chewy?
If you want to know what makes steak tough and chewy and how to make it less chewy, read the detailed guide below:
- The Steak Cut
- Fat Content
- Preparation and Cooking Method
- How Fresh is the Steak
- Grass-fed or Grain-fed Beef?
- The Age of the Animal
1. The Steak Cut
If your steak cut is chewy, first look at the steak cut you are using. What part of the animal does it come from?
Lean steak cuts like the flank or skirt steak come from the cow’s abdomen and will be tougher since this part of the animal gets a lot of exercise. These cuts contain a lot of connective tissue. For example, ribeye and porterhouse steaks come from the cow’s back and are some of the most tender and best steak cuts. They contain a lot of marbling (fat) which makes them melt in your mouth.
At the same time, steak coming from a chuck is going to be tough no matter what since it comes from the shoulder area of the cow. It’s a well-worked muscle that needs proper preparation to make it tender enough for a good eating experience.
2. Fat Content
The second reason your steak may be tough and chewy is the fat content (or marbling). A good rule of thumb is that the higher the fat content, the more tender the steak will be.
When you cook a well-marbled steak, the fat will melt and lubricate the fibers in the steak making it more tender. On the other hand, a leaner steak will be tougher since there’s not enough fat to lubricate the fibers.
However, it doesn’t mean that overcooking fatty steak cuts will prevent them from drying out. No, it will only make it dry and tough to chew.
3. Preparation and Cooking Method
The preparation and cooking methods of meat are critical factors in avoiding tough and chewy steak. Proper preparation, such as marinating and seasoning, can help break down the muscle fibers and add flavor to the meat.
The cooking method and technique, including temperature and duration, can affect the texture and tenderness of the steak. While overcooking the steak can cause it to become tough and chewy, undercooking can result in a raw and unpleasant texture. You should always aim for a perfect balance.
A small detail such as letting the steak rest after cooking is incredibly important since it allows the juices to redistribute and settle back into the meat, resulting in a more tender and flavorful steak. Below in the article, I have some tips on what techniques we use in high-end restaurants to avoid tough and chewy steaks.
4. How Fresh is the Steak
If your steak is tough and chewy, it’s very likely, that it’s not fresh. However, to prevent it, buying steak (or any meat) from a reputable butcher or grocery store where you know the meat is fresh and of the highest quality is essential. Here I have an excellent steak-buying guide that will help you to avoid buying bad steak.
To be clear, it’s best to eat steak within 2-3 days of purchasing it. It’s the freshest if consumed within this time frame. However, I want to touch briefly on the subject of frozen steaks.
Defrosted steaks can become tough and chewy. Even ones that are the best steak cuts (on the premium end), like t-bone or filet mignon. Unfortunately, I know it’s not the best practice, but most home cooks and chefs prefer to buy meat in bulk. Guess what? Some of the steaks end up in a freezer for a long time. Sometimes weeks or even months. So make sure to store it properly to prevent the meat from going bad. If you have to defrost your steak, make sure to do it properly. The best way is to thaw the steak overnight in the fridge.
5. Grass-fed or Grain-fed Beef?
The difference between grain-fed and grass-fed beef is the diet of the cow. Grain-fed cows are fed a diet of corn and soy, while grass-fed cows are fed grass and other plants.
The debate over which beef is better has been going on for years with no end in sight. Some people say that grain-fed beef is more tender, while others claim that grass-fed beef has a better flavor.
As for toughness, grain-fed is more tender due to the simple fact that grain makes the cow fat. The more marbled the steak is, the more tender it will be. On the other hand, grass-fed beef is leaner and tougher.
6. The Age of the Animal
The age of the animal plays a vital role in meat tenderness. The older the cow is, the tougher the meat will be. That’s because as cows age, their muscles become harder and tougher.
The good news is that most beef sold in supermarkets comes from young animals. So if you buy a steak from the supermarket or your local butcher shop, the chances are that you’re getting a steak from a young animal.
How to keep steak tender?
First and foremost, you can tenderize steak before cooking it. It’ll help you to make even the toughest piece of meat easy to chew. However, using several tips listed below can help you avoid a tough and chewy texture:
- First, make sure you choose the right cut of meat – cuts such as ribeye, tenderloin, and sirloin are known for their tenderness.
- Second, properly season and marinate the steak to add flavor and help tenderize the meat.
- Third, use a meat thermometer to ensure the steak reaches the appropriate internal temperature for your desired level of doneness.
- Fourth, avoid overcooking the steak, which can cause it to become tough and chewy.
- Fifth, let the steak rest for a few minutes before cutting into it to allow the juices to redistribute. Finally, slice the steak against the grain to help break down the muscle fibers and create a more tender texture.
What are some of the most tender cuts of steak?
Generally, if you want a tender steak cut, cuts from less-exercised muscles, such as the loin and rib, tend to be more tender than those from more heavily used muscles, such as the shoulder or leg. The tenderest cuts of beef are usually those that come from the loin and rib areas, including filet mignon, ribeye, and New York strip steak. These cuts have a relatively low amount of connective tissue, which helps to make them tender. They also have a good balance of fat marbling, which adds flavor and helps to keep the meat moist during cooking.
However, as I mentioned above, other cuts can be quite tender when prepared properly. It includes sirloin, skirt steak, and flank steak. These cuts benefit from marinating or pounding to help break down the muscle fibers and increase tenderness.
What is the best way to tenderize steak?
The best way to tenderize steak is with salt. Alternatively, you can use marinades; however, it’ll take a bit longer for the steak to become tender, and the steak’s flavor profile can change slightly, losing that unique meaty flavor that most steak lovers love.
Does marinating steak make it more tender?
Yes, marinating steak will make steak more tender; however, make sure to use acidic ingredients such as vinegar, lemon juice, or buttermilk for tenderizing. Alternetaviley, some fruits like pineapples, papayas, etc., contain enzymes that can act as a tenderizer as well.