How To Cut Steak

After all the effort of finding and cooking the perfect steak, the last thing you want is to mess it up when it’s time to cut. Do it incorrectly, and not only will you lose those flavor-carrying juices, but some cuts may also lose their tenderness. That’s right, how you cut the steak is just as key as how you cook. But don’t worry, I’ve got your back. Here’s a quick guide to help you cut your steak right, keeping it as tender and juicy as possible.

Here’s a key tip: let your steak rest for 5 to 10 minutes before you even think about cutting into it. Resting allows the juices to redistribute, so they don’t all run out on the cutting board.

Now, let’s talk about the best way to cut your steak.

How to Cut Steak the Right Way?

When it comes to slicing steak, there’s a golden rule: cut the steak always against the grain. This isn’t just steak snobbery – it ensures your steak is as tender as it can be when it hits your palate. This technique is a game-changer for tougher steaks like skirt, hanger, and flank.

Tender steak cuts such as ribeye, filet mignon, or strip steak present a different case. Their grain is much finer, sometimes hardly noticeable, because their muscle fibers are thinner and don’t create a noticeable grain. So, while you can slice tender steaks against the grain, it’s unnecessary. It’s really up to your texture preference. I like to slice low-graded strip steak against the grain and suggest you try both ways to see what you like best.

And just to drive the point home, let’s take flank steak as our test subject. Watch what happens when you cut it with the grain and then against it – the difference might surprise you.

Cut flank steak against the grain. The yellow line indicates the grain direction, while the red line shows the cutting direction with the knife
Cut flank steak against the grain. The yellow line indicates the grain direction, while the red line shows the cutting direction with the knife
steak cut against the grain vs with the grain
Steak cut against the grain vs. with the grain

What Is the Grain in Meat?

Grain in meat is all about how the muscle fibers line up. These fibers are pretty tough — just try stretching one out, and you’ll see what I mean. When we talk about the grain in a steak, we talk about the direction in which these fibers run.

Take a look at the pictures below to see how the grain varies across raw and cooked steak cut:

Raw flank steak with yellow lines indicating the grain direction in flank
The grain direction in a raw flank steak
Cooked flank steak with yellow lines indicating the grain direction in flank
The grain direction in a cooked flank steak

How do you identify the Direction of the Grain?

Lean and tough steaks like flank or hanger come from the more active muscle areas. The grain, or the direction the muscle fibers run, is pretty easy to spot in these cuts. But when you’re dealing with tender cuts like ribeye or filet mignon, the task gets trickier. Since these come from less worked muscles, their fibers are finer, and the grain isn’t as pronounced.

Below, I’ve got some photos that will help you see the grain in various raw steak cuts.

Raw skirt steak with yellow lines indicating the grain direction in skirt
The grain direction in a raw skirt steak
Raw untrimmed hanger steak with yellow lines indicating the grain direction in meat
The grain direction in a raw untrimmed hanger steak
Raw flank steak with yellow lines indicating the grain direction in meat
The grain direction in a raw flank steak
The grain direction in a raw flap steak
The grain direction in a raw flap steak

Looking at a raw or cooked steak, you’ll notice the lines where the muscle fibers align; this is the grain. When you slice against it, the muscle fibers are cut short, visible on the steak’s cross-section – that’s your ticket to tenderness. If you slice along these grains, your knife will follow the muscle fibers, making the steak tougher to chew.

Remember, though, that the direction of the grain can change from one steak to another, depending on how it was butchered. You’ll have to play detective and figure out the grain direction for each piece.

Pro tip: To get it right every time, take a quick snapshot of your steak before you get to cooking, or look for a guide on your particular cut.

Why Should You Cut Steak Against the Grain?

When you cut the steak against the grain, you make the muscle fibers shorter, ensuring each bite is tender. It’s easier for your teeth to break apart the steak as you chew because you’re slicing through the fibers, not alongside them. On the other hand, if you cut a steak along the grain, you’ll end up with long, tough fibers that are harder to chew. That’s why, especially with tougher steaks, it’s essential to slice against the grain.

Let’s compare below the two steaks: one is cut along the grain, while the other is cut against the grain. The difference in tenderness is clear.

On the left steak cut against the grain
On the right steak cut with grain

Let’s now do a test together. Take a flank steak and slice it up—first along the grain, then against, like you see in the photo. Now, take the piece cut along the grain and hold it between your hands, with the grain running from hand to hand. Try pulling it apart. Nothing much happens, right? Now, turn that slice 90 degrees and pull again.

A slice of cooked flank steak in my hands, cut along the grain.
A slice of cooked flank steak in my hands cut against the grain.

See the difference? This quick experiment underscores a key point: cutting along the grain leaves the muscle fibers long and intact, making the meat tough to pull apart. But when you cut against the grain, those long fibers are shortened, making the meat much easier to tear.

Keeping this technique in mind when slicing your steak can dramatically enhance its tenderness and overall enjoyment.

Cooked flank steak cut against the grain

FAQs

Do grill marks show where the grain of the meat is?

Nope, grill marks aren’t a reliable way to figure out the meat’s grain. Sometimes, they might line up, but that’s just a happy accident.

How long to let the steak rest before slicing it?

It depends on the steak’s thickness and how you like it cooked, but a good rule of thumb for a 1.5-inch steak is to let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes. If you cut in too soon, you’ll lose many tasty juices.

What’s the best knife for cutting steak?

A sharp, comfy, well-balanced knife is best for cutting steak. There are serrated and non-serrated options. Serrated ones are great for tough cuts but can be a pain to sharpen and might shred your steak a bit. Non-serrated knives are great for a clean slice, and you can sharpen them up anytime. Daily steak-eating doesn’t need fancy knives, but for those special dinners, a top-notch knife can make a difference.

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Written by: Adam Wojtow

Adam Wojtow is a Polish entrepreneur and writer who founded Steak Revolution in 2020 because of his passion for steaks. Adam has been cooking steaks for over 5 years, so he understands well all aspects of steak, from the types of steaks and their cooking times to choosing the best cooking technique for any steak.