Why Is My Steak Tough and Chewy?

Ever bite into a steak and wonder why it’s so tough and chewy? Well, there’s a bunch of reasons for that. Maybe it’s undercooked or overcooked, or you didn’t cook it right. Perhaps it’s how you sliced it, or maybe it’s just not the best cut of steak to begin with. I know it’s a lot to think about. So, let’s break down some of the top reasons and how you can avoid them next time.

The 7 Reasons Why Your Steak is Chewy and Tough

Reason 1: The Steak Cut

The cut of the steak plays an important role in determining its tenderness and juiciness. For instance, a ribeye steak is known for its rich marbling, leading to a tender and juicy bite. The same goes for other tender cuts like filet mignon and new york strip. But then there are those cuts with thick muscle fibers, like flank or skirt steak. They need a little more love, like a good marinade, to get them just right.

Pro tip: Get to know your steak cuts. It’ll save you from that unexpected tough and chewy bite.

Ribeye, Porterhouse, T-Bone, Filet Mignon, and New York Strip
Ribeye, Porterhouse, T-Bone, Filet Mignon, and New York Strip

Reason 2: Freshness of the Steak

Everyone knows a fresh steak tastes the best. It’s usually juicier and more tender. So, if you’re cooking at home or ordering out, remember the age of the steak matters. As for frozen steaks, how you thaw them matters. Have you ever had that tough, chewy, and uneven texture after microwaving them? Yeah, that’s because microwaves can mess them up.

I don’t recommend using a microwave to thaw steaks. Instead, opt for more patient methods like slowly thawing the steak in the refrigerator or using the cold water method. To learn more, see my guide on How to Thaw Steak.

Fresh new york strip
Fresh new york strip

Reason 3: Steak Marbling

Steak cuts with a lot of marbling tend to be more tender and juicy when cooked. As the steak cooks, the intramuscular fats slowly melt, tenderizing the beef and making the meat juicier and more flavorful. Lean steak cuts from dense muscles with little to no marbling tend to be tougher and chewier upon cooking. Such cuts may require additional preparation, like marinating, before cooking.

Differences in Marbling Among Steaks
Differences in Marbling Among Steaks

Furthermore, even the fattiest cuts of steak can become tough if overcooked. As the fat evaporates when overdone, the steak loses its natural tenderness that melting fat provides.

Reason 4: Steak Seasoning

Don’t forget to season the steak, especially with salt. Trust me, salt does more than just add flavor. When applied to the steak’s surface and left overnight in the refrigerator, it helps to dry it out. It makes your steak juicier and more tender.

Strip steak seasoned with salt on a black cutting board
Salt-seasoned steak

Reason 5: Cooking the Steak to the Right Doneness

Cooking a steak the right way is your ticket to a melt-in-the-mouth experience. No matter how you prefer to cook it – grilled, roasted, or pan-seared – there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • If you pull it off too soon, your steak might be chewy because the fat hasn’t melted.
  • Overcook it, and you’ll be dealing with a steak that’s lost all its juiciness. It becomes dry and, yep, chewy.

So, how do you find that middle ground? A digital meat thermometer can be a game-changer. It’s like having a little guide telling you when your steak is just perfect. It lets you monitor the steak’s internal temperature to know exactly when to take it off the heat.

pan-seared ribeye steak; medium-rare doneness
Steak cooked to medium-rare doneness

Reason 6: How the Animal Was Fed and Raised

When you’re looking for tender and juicy steak, take a minute to think about how the cow was raised and what it was fed. Grass-fed beef is what a lot of folks recommend, but it can be a bit pricey. Plus, if the animal was super active, its meat might turn out tougher.

If you’re buying beef, go with retailers you trust. Online butchers might be your next best bet if local choices are slim. Just do some homework on them before hitting that ‘order’ button. And the good news? Getting your hands on top-notch beef, even the fancy Wagyu kind, has never been more straightforward with online shopping.

Porterhouse, T-bone, Filet Mignon, Ribeye, and Strip
Porterhouse, T-bone, Filet Mignon, Ribeye, and Strip

Reason 7: The Age of the Animal

It’s pretty simple. Younger animals give meat that’s tender and easy to bite into. Their muscle fibers get denser as they age, making the steak tougher and chewier.

How to Make Steak Not Chewy?

Making your chewy steak tender isn’t as hard as you might think. I’ve got two simple tricks for you. The first one you’ll use before cooking steak, and the second one, well, that’s for after you’ve cooked it.

  • First on the list is marinating. It’s especially great with those steaks that aren’t naturally tender. It’s not just about soaking up flavors; the acids and enzymes in marinades do the magic. They break muscle fibers down and make the meat more tender. Patience is key here. This little trick does wonders for just about any steak.
  • Now, let’s talk about slicing. You’ve probably seen the ‘grain’ or those lines on the meat. Cutting against them is the secret sauce for a slightly more tender bite. Many folks don’t pay attention to this, but it’s a game changer. And the best part? It’s not even hard once you know what you’re doing.
steak cut against the grain vs with the grain
Steak cut against the grain vs. with the grain

Is Steak Supposed to Be Chewy?

The steak shouldn’t be overly chewy. But it can vary a bit depending on the cut and how you cook it. Take flank or skirt steak, for example; they are a bit chewier than a strip steak. But even so, none of these steaks should be super tough to chew through.

Is Well-Done Steak Chewy?

Sadly, when you cook a steak well-done, it gets all gray inside and loses its juicy goodness, making it tougher and chewy. That’s one of the reasons some folks give side-eyes to those who like their steak well-done rather than a juicy medium-rare.

Discover Other Guides

Photo of author

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.

Leave a Comment