How to Tenderize Steak

There are many ways to tenderize a steak, from pounding and slicing to using salt, enzymes, or even letting age or bacteria do the work. Which methods make a difference, and which ones can you skip? I’ve tested the most popular techniques to find out. Below, you’ll find my findings, complete with a rundown of each method. So, let’s dive in.

Summary at glance:

Tenderizing methodOverall rating* (0-10)Tenderizing time
Salt overnight in the fridge612-24 hours
Cut the steak against the grain8Immediate
Pounding with a meat mallet7Immediate
Baking soda830 mintues
Pineapple945 minutes
Papaya845 minutes
Pineapple and salt1012-24 hours
*The overall rating is based on the reference to “control steak,” which was not tenderized.

How I Tested the Steak Tenderizing Methods

I tested various methods to determine the most effective way to tenderize steak. I wanted to make sure my experiments were spot-on and trustworthy, so here’s what I did:

  • I decided to test out steak tenderizing methods, mainly using the eye of round steak, which I cut myself from a whole eye of round roast. For consistency, I ensured each steak was 1 inch thick. Although I sometimes chose different cuts that were better suited to the method I was testing,
  • Whenever I tested a new method, I typically cooked two steaks cut from the same part of the cow. I applied the tenderizing technique to one steak while the other was cooked just as it was, serving as a control to see the difference the tenderizing made.
  • I kept it simple for seasoning and went with finely ground black pepper on both steaks.
  • I cooked both steaks simultaneously in a cast iron skillet on the stove, aiming for a medium-rare finish around 130-135°F. After cooking, I let them rest before comparing how they turned out.

Let me describe below all the different ways I’ve tried tenderizing steak and tell you how I feel about each method’s effectiveness. I’ll also show you how long it takes to tenderize a 1-inch eye of round steak using each method I tested.

Method 1: Tenderizing the Steak With Salt Overnight in the Fridge

Follow the steps below to tenderize the steak with salt using the overnight in the refrigerator method:

  1. Liberally salt both sides of the steak with kosher salt, then place it on a rack to allow air to flow around it.
  2. Put the rack over a tray or plate to catch any drips, and keep the fridge clean. Let the steak rest uncovered in the refrigerator overnight (for at least 12 hours).
  3. When it’s finally time to cook, remove the steak from the fridge about 20 to 30 minutes ahead. 

Tenderizing time: 12-24 hours

Overall rating compared to the control steak: 6/10

Tenderizing the Steak With Salt

Salting steak and leaving it in the fridge overnight is an easy way to tenderize it, although it requires some time. Salt works wonders on a steak, making it tender by breaking down its structure. However, the salt needs time to work its magic. Usually, a whole night in the fridge is best. This waiting game results in a steak that’s not just more tender but also more flavorful. It adds a nice salty taste that goes great with the meat. Also, salt dries out the steak’s surface, helping you get a better crust when cooking it in a pan.

Tenderizing steak with salt requires patience, but trust me, it’s worth the wait. You might wonder why you must leave the salt on for so long. It’s all about giving the salt enough time to do its job. For a steak about 1 inch thick, letting it sit with salt for at least 12 hours makes a big difference. You’ll notice the steak becomes more tender and flavorful.

Pros:

  • Flavor: Salt gives an amazing flavor to meat.
  • Simplicity: You don’t need any fancy tools or ingredients.
  • Great crust: A steak tenderized with salt and left in the fridge overnight will have a very dry surface by the next day, resulting in a better crust on the steak.

Cons:

  • Time: Unfortunately, salt requires a significant amount of time (ideally one day) to clearly impact tenderness.
  • Low-impact to tough cuts: It works well for less tender cuts but doesn’t do much for the toughest ones.
  • Gray band: The larger gray band is caused by using too much salt for at least a day (dry brining). However, don’t worry; the gray band is cured, not overcooked.
Eye of round steak cooked to medium-rare doneness

Method 2: Tenderizing the Steak by Cutting it Against the Grain

Follow the steps below to tenderize the steak with a knife by cutting it against the grain:

  1. First, determine how the muscle fibers run in the steak. If it’s hard to tell, do a quick internet search for your specific cut.
  2. After cooking the steak, slice it against the grain. This means cutting across the fibers, which makes the steak tender and easier to chew.

Tenderizing time: Immediate

Overall rating compared to the control steak: 8/10

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

Cutting steak against the grain after it’s cooked is one of the easiest ways to make it tender. Unlike using salt or enzymes from pineapple or papaya, which change the meat’s structure, slicing against the grain simply shortens the muscle fibers, making the steak much easier to chew without changing its natural flavor.

For some cuts, this method is crucial; otherwise, the steak could turn out very tough and chewy. However, this method doesn’t work for every type of steak, only those with a long, pronounced grain, like flank, skirt, hanger, flap, and picanha steaks. To learn more, see my full guide on How To Cut Steak.

Pros:

  • Simplicity: All you need is a knife and an eye for the direction of the grains; then, just cut against them.
  • Works After Cooking: If your steak turns out too tough, slicing it against the grain remains the best way to make it tender.

Cons:

  • Limited: Unfortunately, this method isn’t suitable for all types of steak.
Slice of a cooked flank steak against the grain in my hands
The result of cutting flank steak against the grain

Method 3: Tenderizing the Steak by Pounding it With a Meat Mallet

Follow the steps below to tenderize the steak by pounding it with a meat mallet:

  1. Place the steak on a stable surface, like a wooden cutting board, and cover it with plastic wrap. The wrap helps protect the meat and prevents juices from splashing out.
  2. Grab the mallet and pound the steak using the coarse side. Hit it hard, but be careful not to smash it completely flat.

Tenderizing time: Immediate

Overall rating compared to the control steak: 7/10

Tenderizing steak with a pounding mallet

Using a meat mallet to pound a steak is a quick and effective way to make it more tender. Pounding the steak with a mallet changes only the texture, not the flavor. Pounding the steak breaks down the tough connective tissues. This method works best for tough, thin, and lean cuts, like those from the round part of the cow. It’s a key technique for tenderizing meat in many dishes, such as chicken fried steak and swiss steak.

Pros:

  • Simplicity: All you need is a pounding mallet.

Cons:

  • Limited: This method is best suited for recipes such as chicken fried steak or swiss steak, where the steak is heavily seasoned or breaded. It’s not a good choice for traditional steak preparations.
Pan-seared eye of round steak, tenderized with a mallet and cooked to medium-rare perfection.

Method 4: Tenderizing the Steak Using Baking Soda

Follow the steps below to tenderize the steak using baking soda:

  1. Evenly sprinkle up to 1 teaspoon of baking soda per pound of meat over both sides of the steak. Place the steak on a rack to ensure good air circulation and set it over a tray. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  2. After 30 minutes, remove the steak from the refrigerator. Rinse off the baking soda under cold running water and gently pat the steak dry with paper towels. The steak is now ready to be seasoned and cooked.

Tenderizing time: 30 minutes

Overall rating compared to the control steak: 8/10

Tenderizing steak using baking soda

Baking soda is a fast and effective way to tenderize steak, but getting the amount and timing right is important. It can make the steak noticeably tender in as little as 30 minutes. Just remember to use no more than one teaspoon per pound of meat. Be careful not to overdo it with the amount of baking soda or leave it on too long, as this can spoil the steak’s flavor. 

I’m not a fan of how the steak tastes after using baking soda, but I must admit, it makes the steak much more tender. In my opinion, this method works well if you plan to have steak with sauce since the sauce can hide the flavor change from the baking soda. 

Pros:

  • Simplicity: Just sprinkle baking soda on both sides of the steak. After 30 minutes, rinse it thoroughly to remove the baking soda, then pat it dry with a paper towel, and you’re done.
  • Very quick: This method is one of the fastest for tenderizing steak.

Cons:

  • Changing the taste: Adding too much soda or marinating the steak in soda for too long can negatively affect the flavor.
Pan-seared eye of round steak, tenderized with baking soda, cooked to a perfect medium-rare

Method 5: Tenderizing the Steak with Pineapple

Follow the steps below to tenderize the steak using pineapple:

  1. Blend a few pineapple chunks, using the skins mostly to avoid waste and keep the juicier parts for snacking.
  2. Next, coat the steak well with the pineapple puree. An easy way to do this is to place the steak in a bowl and cover it with the puree. Let it marinate in the fridge for 45 minutes.
  3. Once marinated, wash off the pineapple under cold water and dry the steak with paper towels. Now it’s ready to season and cook.

Tenderizing time: 45 minutes

Overall rating compared to the control steak: 9/10

Tenderizing the Steak With pineapple
Tenderizing the Steak With Pineapple

Pineapple is amazing for making steak super tender, but it does add a slight sweetness to the meat. Not everyone likes this change in flavor, but for me, it’s good. The secret to its effectiveness? Pineapple contains a powerful enzyme called bromelain, which breaks down the proteins in the steak and makes it tender.

Remember to use only fresh pineapple if you want to try this method. The enzymes that tenderize the steak are destroyed when the pineapple is canned or cooked. Also, do not let the steak sit in the marinade for more than an hour; otherwise, it will make the steak’s texture mushy. I find that forty-five minutes is just right.

Pros:

  • Incredible results: This method is a very effective way to tenderize steak (one of my favorites).
  • Tenderizing time: This method is one of the quickest ways to tenderize steak.

Cons:

  • Time and effort: It involves slicing the pineapple and then grinding it. It’s not just about the time; you need the right tools to do the job.
  • Poor crust: The steak is so juicy inside and out that achieving a crispy crust with this tenderizing method is impossible.
A pineapple-tenderized eye of round steak, cooked to medium-rare perfection in a pan

Method 6: Tenderizing the Steak with Papaya

Follow the steps below to tenderize the steak using papaya:

  1. First, blend a few chunks of papaya until smooth.
  2. Place the steak in a bowl and generously cover it with the papaya puree. Let it marinate in the fridge for 30-45 minutes.
  3. After marinating, rinse off the papaya under cold water and dry the steak with paper towels. The steak is now ready to season and cook as you like.

Tenderizing time: 45 minutes

Overall rating compared to the control steak: 8/10

Tenderizing steak with papaya

Papaya is a great choice for tenderizing meat because it has an enzyme called papain that breaks down proteins, similar to pineapple. However, papaya’s big advantage is that it doesn’t change the steak’s flavor. Just ensure not to marinate the steak in papaya for over an hour; otherwise, the texture will get mushy. Like with pineapple, marinating for 30-45 minutes is just perfect.

Use only fresh papaya, and choose the green, unripe ones. They have more enzymes and barely affect the meat’s flavor since they’re almost tasteless. Just a heads up: be careful with the papaya latex, as it can irritate your skin.

Pros:

  • Tenderizing time: This method tenderizes steak faster than most.
  • Taste: Unripe green papaya doesn’t change the taste of steak.

Cons:

  • Tools and effort: You’ll need a blender to blend the papaya.
  • Crust: It is impossible to achieve a nice crust using this tenderizing method.
A papaya-tenderized eye of round steak, cooked to a medium-rare perfection in a pan

Method 7: Tenderizing the Steak with Pineapple and Salt

Follow the steps below to tenderize the steak with pineapple and salt using the overnight in the refrigerator method:

  1. Blend some pineapple chunks and cover the steak with the puree in a bowl. Let it sit in the fridge for 45 minutes, then rinse off the pineapple under cold water and dry the steak with paper towels.
  2. Generously season both sides of the steak with kosher salt and set it on a rack to ensure air circulation.
  3. Keep your refrigerator clean, and place the rack over a tray or plate to catch any drips. Let the steak rest in the refrigerator overnight (at least 12 hours).
  4. Remove the steak from the fridge 30 minutes before cooking to allow it to come to room temperature.

Tenderizing time: 12-24 hours

Overall rating compared to the control steak: 10/10

Tenderizing steak using ingredients like pineapple, papaya, or baking soda has a common downside: achieving a beautiful steak crust becomes impossible. That’s why I tried something new: I combined the pineapple method with salting. First, I used pineapple to tenderize the steak, then rinsed all the pineapple from the steak, patted it dry, salted the steak, and left it in the fridge overnight.

Results? Unfortunately, getting a good crust with this tenderizing method is still impossible. However, I’m glad I tried it because the salt brings a great taste to the steak and, more importantly, makes it much more tender. Both the pineapple and salt methods helped me get amazing tenderness.

This method is the best of all the tenderizing methods I’ve tried. The only downsides are the time it takes and the extra effort needed to blend the pineapple. Salting the steak for an hour will still add flavor if you’re in a hurry. However, for a significant change in texture, the best approach is to salt it overnight.

Eye of round steak tenderized with pineapple then salted overnight and cooked to medium-rare perfection in a pan.

Overall Summary and Conclusion

The best way to tenderize a steak is to marinate it in a pineapple blend for 45 minutes. After that, rinse the steak under cold water, pat it dry, season with salt, and let it rest in the fridge overnight. Remember to take it out at least 30 minutes before you plan to cook it the next day. If you’re not in a rush and want to experience a steak as tender and flavorful as possible, try using both the pineapple marinade and the overnight salting method.

If you’re short on time, you can marinate the steak in a pineapple or papaya blend, refrigerate it for 45 minutes, then rinse the steak under cold water from pineapple or papaya, season with salt, and let it sit at room temperature for another 45 minutes before cooking.

If you’re in a rush, marinate the steak in pineapple at room temperature for 45 minutes, then season it with salt and cook immediately without letting it rest.

Salting the steak and leaving it in the fridge overnight is the least effective and most time-consuming method, especially for tougher cuts. It works well for less tender cuts but doesn’t do much to the toughest ones. If you’re aiming for a big texture change and still want to use salt, try combining it with another tenderizing method.

Tenderizing Steak FAQs

What is tenderizing?

Tenderizing is a cooking process that makes tough meat tender and tastier. There are many ways to do this, and each has its upsides and downsides. Knowing these can help you pick the best method for the kind of beef you’re working with.

Is it worth to tenderize the steak?

Definitely! Chewing on a tough steak can ruin a meal. Tenderizing the steak is a good idea to make it easier to eat. Some cuts are naturally tougher than others, and those are the ones that benefit most from a bit of tenderizing to make them tastier.

What are the cuts of steak that benefit from tenderizing?

The steaks that benefit from tenderizing are the tougher cuts. These come from the parts of the cow that get a lot of exercise, which makes the meat lean and tough. Here is a list of steak cuts that benefit from tenderizing:

  • Bottom round steak
  • Top round steak
  • Eye of round steak
  • Top sirloin steak
  • Flank steak
  • Skirt steak
  • Coulotte steak (picanha)
  • Hanger steak
  • Chuck steak
  • Shoulder Steak
  • Blade steak
  • Tri-tip steak
  • Bavette steak

What is a method to tenderize a steak after cooking?

Most methods to tenderize steak work best when done before cooking. However, if you’ve already cooked the steak, you can still make it more tender by cutting it against the grain. This method involves slicing the steak across its long, visible fibers, which shortens the fibers and makes each bite easier to chew. This technique works great for cuts like a skirt, flank, coulotte (picanha), hanger, and flap (bavette) steak.

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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 five years and knows a lot about them, including the different types of steak cuts, how long to cook them, and the best ways to cook any steak.

Comments

  1. I’ve tried almost all these methods in my kitchen, and I must agree that pineapple works wonders. But, I always advise people to watch the clock; overdoing it can turn your steak into mush. Moderation is key with tenderizers like pineapple and papaya.

    Reply
  2. Really enjoyed the breakdown of each method! I’ve used the pineapple trick before and it really does make a difference. Might try the pineapple and salt next time.

    Reply

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