Why is My Steak Tough and Chewy: The 6 Most Common Reasons

tough and chewy steak

Chewy steak is a nightmare to eat. Well at least for me. If you can’t properly cook steak it’s best to learn the pros and cons of different steak cuts. First and foremost, you need to understand that there are tough steak cuts (flank steak, rump steak) and incredibly tender steak cuts (filet mignon). Usually, tough cuts come from the front of the cow, where there’s more muscle (like the shoulder), while tender steak cuts come from the back, where there’s less muscle (like the loin). That said, even tender steak cuts can be tough and chewy if not properly cooked.

Now you may ask, so why is my steak tough and chewy even though I cooked it properly? Well, there are the six most common reasons, and I’m going to show you them in this article. Make sure to read it carefully since the smallest details matter when preparing a tender and juicy steak cut.

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Why is My Steak Tough and Chewy?

chewy steak

If you want to know what makes your steak tough and chewy and how to make steak less chewy, read the detailed guide below:

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 exercises. 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 way you prepare your steak and the cooking process you use also plays an essential role in the final texture of the meat.

If you don’t prepare your steak correctly, it will be tough no matter what cooking method you use. For instance, a New York strip steak grilled to medium is an extremely juicy and tender piece of meat. However, if it’s cooked well-done, it doesn’t matter that it’s a premium cut; it’ll be dry, tough, and chewy.

On the other hand, a properly prepared chuck steak will be tender no matter how you cook it. That’s because the muscle fibers in a chuck steak are already broken down through proper preparation, making it more tender.

So here is what you can do to avoid your steak becoming chewy. Two key factors play a huge part – steak preparation and cooking method. First, if the steak is frozen – thaw the steak overnight. Second, before cooking steak, bring it to room temperature. Remove connective tissue if the steak has a lot of it. Tenderize tough steak cuts before cooking (more about that later in the article). Please do not overcook the steak because it’ll dry out the meat making it tough and chewy. At the same time, do not undercook the steak. If you expect the blue steak to be as tender as medium steak, you’ll be disappointed.

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 from happening, it’s essential to buy steak (or any meat) from a reputable butcher or grocery store where you know the meat is fresh and of the highest quality. By the way, check the USDA grading system, so next time you’re shopping for the steak, you’ll have an understanding of what you are getting.

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 the 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 meats 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 a getting a steak from a young animal.

How to Make Steak Not Chewy

I’m guessing you are fed up when your partner cooks a tough and chewy steak or perhaps you are the one who needs some guidance? We’ve all been there. The first thing you can do to prevent the steak from becoming chewy is to tenderize the steak before cooking it. And if you want to make it even more tender, remove connective tissue from the surface of the meat. Connective tissue is white stringy tissue that’s attached to the meat.

And last but not least, depending on the cooking method, if you grill, pan-frying, or use a similar cooking method with high temperatures, cook steak no more than medium-rare or medium (a meat thermometer is an excellent kitchen gadget to have). That’s because the longer you cook steak, the tougher it gets. So the next time you’re cooking a prime beef or a tough and chewy steak do not let it cook for hours on end on a scorching hot cast iron skillet. It will only make your perfect steak chewy and dry. Internal temperature is very important.

However, braising or cooking steak in liquid on low heat for a longer time will make even the toughest steak cut into a tender, mouthwatering piece of meat.

Here are some tips from one and only Anthony Bourdain on how to make steak juicy and tender:


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.

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