How to Tenderize Steak

If you want to know how to tenderize steak like a Master Chef, you must understand how to honor the beautiful cuts of meat that grace your table. There are a few methods you can use to tenderize steak, each appropriate for different cooking styles.

Tenderizing steak is a delicate process. You do not want to destroy the fat and connective tissue that gives your steak its characteristic flavor, and it needs a certain finesse to draw out its full potential.

Start with the simplest procedures and get progressively more daring as you learn to handle interesting or exotic dishes.

How to Tenderize Steak: Five Tips

One of the best things about learning how to tenderize a tough steak is that you can turn a cheap steak into an exquisite meal. It is true that you get what you pay for with certain meat cuts, but those eating on a budget also deserve to perfect their steaks without breaking the bank.

1. Pound Your Favorite Cut

Learning how to tenderize meat often starts as children in the kitchen with parents who cook. The toughest cuts of steak are often so unyielding that they need to be physically tenderized, like round, skirt, flank, bottom sirloin, chuck, and strip.

You may have thought this pounding was nothing more than breaking down the meat for a classic carpaccio, but the process spreads the fibers to make the steak easier to chew.

Don’t be afraid to seek out these tough cuts at the butcher’s counter. You can pound to your heart’s delight and create unique, tasty dishes as a reward. All you need to do is purchase a metal tenderizer from your local store.

These meat hammers have a flat side and a studded side. Use the studded side to break down the meat while pounding it flat. The flat side is an excellent tool to spread it out, cut new filets, and cook these quickly over high heat.

The pounding procedure is helpful when making tacos or fajitas. You can also tenderize steaks in this manner if you are making something like a “black and blue” salad, sliced strips for fondue trays, buffets, or sandwiches.

Even though you are tenderizing the steak, you should cut off excess fat. It is also best to avoid pounding the steak so much that you destroy all the connective tissue.

Another tip is to pound the steak on a wooden cutting board with plastic wrap on both sides. You damage the meat much less when there is plastic wrap between the hammer and the steak. It also collects any juices that might otherwise flow onto the counter (your spouse can thank us later).

2. Yes, Salt to Tenderize Steak

Salt pulls moisture from the steak, and the resulting concoction creates a simple brine. Place the steak on the counter and rub salt across the top, creating a thick layer. Turn the steak over on a piece of plastic wrap and repeat.

Wrap the steak completely and drop it into a sealed storage bag, leaving it in the fridge for at least an hour, up to 24 hours. The salt layer will remove so much moisture that a natural brine forms. You can add herbs and spices to the brine at this point, further tenderizing the steak until it is time for cooking.

salt and pepper the steak

Salting steak works well with all cuts because it ekes out the natural flavors of the meat. Some connoisseurs believe it is taboo to tinker with an expensive cut like a Delmonico, but a salt rub might change your mind.

3. Create a Phenomenal Marinade and Steak Sauce

Learning how to make steak tender does not require anything fancy when you know how to create a basic marinade. Marinades are not salt-based like brines—a marinade is a sauce that is not yet cooked.

When you complete the cooking process, you can then pour some or all the marinade into a pan with the leftover steak bits. Allow the mixture to simmer, add heavy cream, and you will have a lovely sauce to serve on the side.

Your marinade should start with something acidic, like vinegar. Popular choices include balsamic or apple cider vinegar. Drop the steak into a sealable bag, pour in the vinegar to cover about half of the steak, and add as many flavors as you like (including lemon or lime juice, herbs, and spices).

marinade steak

After setting the steak into the marinade, wait two hours before cooking it. Move the steaks to the fridge so that these will remain sealed for a better chance of absorbing these flavors. However, if you use a marinade overnight, your steak could soften too much and fall apart in the pan.

You may also want to marinate your steak, take it to the grill, and baste it with more of your marinade liquid. It is an excellent way to add more flavor to your steaks during the cooking process, infusing flavors into the charred outer sections.

4. Rest Your Steaks and Try to Relax

Grilled T-Bone Steak resting on cutting board

Not resting those steaks after cooking is a mistake. It is a concept that you hear on cheesy cooking shows, but it is true.

Why does resting the steak matter? It’s about the flavor.

Many people think that resting a steak is unnecessary when using a brine, marinade, or other seasonings that will sink into the meat. The idea is almost right, but there’s more to it.

If you do not rest your steaks, the juices inside the meat escape as you cut into it—all that tasty goodness you’ve worked so hard to achieve will disappear.

It is common to hear that you should rest a steak for at least five to ten minutes before cutting it. If you want more specific guidelines, we’ve always found the five-minute-per-inch rule helpful. Rest a one-inch-thick steak for five minutes, a two-inch steak for ten minutes, and so on.

5. Cook Low and Slow

Figuring out way to tenderize a steak does not need to be an arduous process. The top tip for barbecue is to cook “low and slow.” The process gives you the most tender meat possible, and it is easier because you don’t have to babysit the meat while cooking.

Here’s a simple method for low and slow steak:

  • cut and season your steak,
  • place it in a baking dish with a marinade liquid,
  • cover the dish with foil,
  • preheat the oven to 275 degrees

You can also substitute the marinade liquid for a dry rub.

Bake it at that temperature for four to five hours. When you open the foil, you will see the condensation on the underside, and the steak will be swimming in a hearty sauce.

You can also cook this way on the grill with burners on the lowest setting. Alternatively, lay the steak in a saucepan with butter and seasoning at a very low temperature, cover with a lid, and return in an hour or two.

Low and slow cooking creates a crispy outer layer with plenty of flavor that caramelizes during the process.

Conclusion

Learning how to properly tenderize a steak is easier than you think, and none of it has to do with the cut or cost of the meat. You can use one or all of these tips to make the best steak dishes. Anyone can cook delicious steak without working too hard or needing a culinary education.

We also recommend watching this video for more interesting methods:

That’s all you need to know about tenderizing a tough steak. Choose a tenderizing process, rest your steaks well before cutting and serving, and concoct a sauce while you wait.

Then, enjoy.

About the author

Adam can tell you the difference between a flank steak and skirt steak and any other cut of meat. He loves sharing his knowledge of steaks with everyone, ensuring you get the perfect steak every time.