10 Ways To Tenderize Steak

There are few things more disappointing than going to the store, picking out a great-looking cut of steak, returning home, and botching it. While there are certainly many affordable steak options, beef is generally a more expensive meat protein, but one that should be a part of a well-rounded diet. So, getting your money's worth is key.

Many of the more affordable cuts of steak are naturally the tougher ones. Cuts like the ribeye or filet mignon are inherently more tender, but not everyone can afford to purchase those with every trip to the butcher shop or supermarket. Plus, if you do splurge on a high-quality cut of beef for a special occasion, you will want it to be as tasty as possible, and the tenderness of a steak is maybe the most important aspect of a good one.

Luckily, there are many preventative measures you can take to avoid turning what could be a flavor-packed, juicy steak into a dry and tough one. The following will help you get the most out of your steaks and get steakhouse-quality results right in your very own kitchen.

1. Pounding your steak

The most common method for tenderizing your steak is pounding it, and for a very simple reason. Pounding out cuts of steak, or any meat for that matter, breaks down the muscle fibers that constrict when introduced to heat. If these muscles have been broken down beforehand, they will stay relaxed and not tighten up. Therefore, the final product will be more tender.

Pounding steaks is also one of the more convenient options for tenderizing them. While a dimpled mallet is a common and valuable kitchen tool, you really do not need anything special to pound out a cut of beef. You can use other kitchen tools such as a rolling pin, an empty wine bottle, a heavy skillet, or even just your fists.

Another important thing to remember is that pounding out steaks does not require an intense amount of force. Instead, smaller, yet steady, thumps will do the trick just fine. Also, always remember to cover your steaks with plastic wrap before pounding, as your tenderizing tool will be a pain to clean otherwise.

2. Be generous with the salt

You probably season your steak with salt every single time anyway, as well as you should, but doing so goes even further than enhancing its flavor. Just as salt has always been used as a preservative, it also acts as a natural tenderizer the same way, according to Lean and Tender Beef. Salt extracts the moisture from beef before dissolving in that moisture, which the beef then absorbs again. Through this process, the steak's muscle fibers are broken down and made more tender and tasty.

Salt also helps the Maillard reaction when cooking. This phenomenon occurs when food is introduced to high levels of heat that create the browning crust. This reaction not only makes for a more aesthetically pleasing steak, but the crust also locks in the steak's flavor and seasonings. The practice of salting your steak thoroughly will help dry out the exterior so the Maillard reaction can occur more swiftly and the inside can remain tender and juicy.

3. Making a proper marinade

Just as salt helps your steak on multiple levels, marinating it accomplishes the same. Not only does a good marinade break down the muscle fibers, but it can also add a rich flavor tailored to your own liking. There are certain components in a marinade that makes for a more tender steak, however. For example, a marinade should include vinegar, soy sauce, or citrus juice such as lemon or lime. The acidic qualities in these liquids help break down the proteins inside the beef and make it more juicy and delicate.

Another reason why marinating your steak is a great option is because of its convenience. The longer your steak sits in the marinade, the better, and you can marinate your steak for up to a full day before you plan on eating. You can simply mix the marinade, add the steak to it, and all that remains in cooking it. If the timing does not quite work out to your schedule, you should allow it to marinate for one hour, but, again, the longer the acids and seasonings can interact with the beef, the more tender it will turn out.

4. Velveting your beef

This process is very similar to marinating, the main difference being what the steak sits in over time. Velveting beef involves slicing it into very thin pieces and adding them to a mixture made up of cornstarch or baking soda. As opposed to regular marinades, velveting allows you to tenderize beef without changing its flavor profile. Instead, the only change that occurs is the texture of the beef, which will become softer and more supple.

If you do try the velveting steak, there are some tips to keep in mind. First, do not worry about the change in color. Through velveting, the beef will likely turn an intense red color, but this is completely fine. Also, be sure to rinse the cornstarch or baking soda off of the beef after removing it. Velveting should only take about half an hour to get the right result, which is considerably less than a typical marinade. If you do use baking soda, that is the only ingredient you need. If you use cornstarch, you can make a slurry that includes cornstarch, oil, some water, and whatever seasonings or sauces you like.

5. Cover it in baking soda

If you want to keep your cuts of steak whole and not slice them into tiny pieces, you can also just rub the steak all over with baking soda. This is essentially the same thing as velveting, but velveting includes the slicing of the beef into pieces. Regardless, they both accomplish a heightened level of tenderness with minimal effort. Baking soda works so well for tenderizing beef because it alkalizes its surface. Therefore, the proteins that bind the steak together are prevented from doing so, leaving the structure of the steak more relaxed.

One thing to consider if you want to use baking soda on a whole steak is that it will take longer than velveting since the baking soda has more surface area to penetrate. Ideally, let your steak sit for at least three hours covered in baking soda depending on its size. Then, be sure to rinse off all the baking soda from the steak, pat it dry, season it however you like, and proceed with cooking it.

6. Score the surface

Scoring the surface of your steak is another step you can take in the preparation of cooking that will yield a juicier, more tender steak. This method works particularly well with cuts like flank steak or skirt steak, and other thinner cuts with thick muscle fibers. The muscle fibers' thickness is what prevents these cuts from cooking the same as other steaks. So, scoring them on a diagonal and breaking them up will help the rest of the cut to relax and not be restrained so tensely.

Plus, there are other benefits to scoring your steak before cooking. For one, scoring a steak will allow it to accumulate a deeper, more flavorful crust because its surface area will be increased and made more even. Also, opening up the muscle fibers will allow seasonings or marinades to penetrate the steak more deeply, yielding a more flavorful product. Scoring is another quick and easy measure to take that makes a big difference down the line and does not require any fancy kitchen tools or equipment — just a sharp knife.

7. Slow-cooking your meat

Tenderizing your cuts of steak is not limited to preparation. In fact, how you actually cook them makes a far greater difference than what you do to them beforehand. One way you can enjoy your steak in its most tender form is by slow cooking it. Slow cookers have become a common household appliance and do very well to remove a lot of the variables from cooking a tough cut of beef.

With a slow cooker, you can simply add your steak and whatever braising mixture that goes with it, turn it on, and wait for it to be done. The lower temperatures and extended cooking time help keep the muscle fibers of tougher cuts of steak in check. As opposed to blasting a steak with heat and constricting the muscle fibers, slow cooking keeps them relaxed, slowly bringing the beef up to the desired temperature. This low-maintenance cooking method is not only convenient, but it is also very effective and consistent.

8. Reverse searing to perfection

Reverse searing is another low and slow cooking method for steak that is an excellent and straightforward option for any kind of steak you like. While methods like slow cooking work better for inherently tough cuts of steak, reverse searing is one you can utilize for even the most well-marbled, naturally tender ones.

Reverse searing includes seasoning your steak and placing it in the oven at a low temperature. Slowly bring the steak up to your desired internal temperature, remove it from the oven, pat it dry, and blast it with heat in a pan on the stovetop. This quick sear will not cook the inside of the steak any further — it is only done to get that deep brown crust that belongs on every steak. The inside will remain at the temperature you like, with all of its flavor and juiciness left intact.

This method for cooking a steak not only yields a super tender cut cooked directly to your personal preference, but it is also easily monitored with a meat thermometer. One with an insert that is oven safe and can be read from the device outside the oven is best, so you can keep an eye on how the steak is doing. If you are worried that you will mess up cooking a steak you've spent a lot of money on, reverse searing is your reliable, accessible savior.

9. Sous vide to exact temperature

In recent years, sous vide has become more and more relevant in home kitchens. Up until then, this phenomenal cooking method had been reserved for professional cooks and chefs, but its popularity on the internet has made it more accessible to amateurs. Sous vide, which translates to "under vacuum," is the cooking method of sealing food air-tight inside a plastic bag and submerging it in a water bath set to a certain temperature. The temperature of the water is regulated by immersion circulators so the food is brought to that exact temperature without ever surpassing it.

Steak is probably the most fundamental food for cooking sous vide because this method removes all uncertainty. If you set the water bath to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, your steak will come out at 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Sous vide is consistent, low maintenance, and the most foolproof way to cook a tender steak.

It is understood that such a device comes with more of a monetary investment than other cooking methods on this list, but, frankly, you will most likely find that the money is worth it. Plus, there are several ways you can cook a steak sous vide without dropping lots of money on any expensive equipment.

10. Rest it after cooking

Even after you have prepared and cooked your steak, there are still measures you can take to ensure it is tender. Luckily, this last step requires you to do nothing at all. Instead, simply removing your steak from the heat and letting it rest undisturbed for several minutes will allow it to relax again before you dig in.

It's important to let your steak (or any meat) rest after cooking because if you cut into it right away, all of the flavorful juices will pour out of it. Allowing a resting period for slight cooling will let the muscle fibers reabsorb these juices and stay as flavorful and tender as possible. The cooking process does not end when the steak is removed from the heat source. Resting is actually part of the cooking process and one that should never be skipped.

It is understood that a delicious, piping-hot steak fresh off the grill or pan will conger up anyone's urge to take a bite, but simply waiting a few extra minutes will yield an even better steak-eating experience.