There is a fragile line between a delicious, tender, and juicy steak that will excite your taste buds and one that will make you regret ordering a steak in the first place. If you know what we are talking about, chances are you experienced eating a tough and chewy steak.
A tough and chewy steak is a frustrating experience. Most of the flavors are gone, and the amount of effort you need to consume that steak is enormous. Many people simply give up on a tough and chewy steak.
If you would like to know what causes a steak to be tough or chewy, this short guide is for you. Educate yourself so you can avoid running into one in the future.
How Fresh Is the Steak
Naturally, when eating out, you expect the restaurant or steakhouse to have fresh steaks ready for customers. This is not always true, though, because some restaurants buy steaks in bulk and have quite a few in a freezer. If defrosted improperly, a steak might lose the taste and the texture that it originally had ( learn how to defrost steak properly ).
A general rule is that the fresher the steak is, the more tender and juicy the meat will be. Always ask whether the steak the restaurant is serving is fresh.
Steak cuts that are rich in fat and have a lot of marbling tend to be more tender and juicy when cooked. As the steak cooks, the fats slowly heat up and start melting, tenderizing the beef and making the meat more succulent and flavorful.
A properly cooked steak with high fat content is always tender and easy to chew.
On the other hand, lean steak cuts that come from dense muscles and have little to no fat tend to be much tougher and chewier when cooked. These steak cuts might require additional preparation before cooking.
Additionally, even high-fat-content cuts might lose tenderness if overcooked or put on too much heat when cooking. The fat will quickly evaporate, and the steak will not get the benefit of melting fat tenderizing the meat.
Preparation and Cooking
The preparation and the cooking process are essential to getting a juicy and tender piece of steak. The first part of the preparation is often defrosting. Ideally, when defrosting a steak, you need to preserve the flavors and texture of the meat while making sure it does not go bad from bacterial contamination.
Another great tip is to allow the steak to reach room temperature immediately before cooking it.
When it comes to cooking a steak, it is essential to maintain a balance and find the sweet spot. Although steaks are versatile and tolerate grilling, roasting, or pan-searing, two things always hold true:
- Undercooked steaks fail to melt the fat in the beef and are quite chewy. Additionally, undercooked beef might cause an upset stomach or even food poisoning.
- Overcooked steaks burn through all the fat and end up being hard, dry, and chewy.
Those are reasons it is vital to find that sweet spot when cooking a steak.
The Way Animal Is Fed and Raised
To make sure that the meat you are buying is tender and juicy, you must pay attention to the raising and feeding practices of the cattle. The absolute best scenario is that beef producers offer grass-fed beef to consumers. Still, grass-fed meat comes with its own problems, the main problem being the premium price.
Animals that experience too much physical activity tend to end up with a more tough texture that is not easy to break down.
The Age of the Animal
This one is a no-brainer. The meat from the younger animal is more tender and less chewy. The age of the animal has a profound impact on the characteristics of meat. As animals grow older, they build more and more muscle fiber. Dense muscle fibers make the meat less tender and difficult to chew.
This is why premium cuts of beef, such as Wagyu or Kobe beef, often come from a steer or a virgin cow, ensuring that the meat is always of high quality and has plenty of marbling that preserves tenderness and juiciness.
The Steak Cut
The steak cut plays an important role in the characteristics of the meat. For example, a nice ribeye steak is rich in fats and full of marbling, meaning that the meat will most likely be tender and juicy. The same goes for most tender cuts such as ribeye or sirloin.
Some cuts might include dense muscle fiber. Such cuts need extensive preparation in terms of marinating and tenderizing.
Make sure to learn which cuts offer a more tender and juicy texture, minimizing the chances you’ll end up with a tough cut of meat.
How to Tenderize the Steak
By far, the most popular way to tenderize steak is to marinate it in a refrigerator overnight. The marinade will help break down a tough piece of meat and make it easier to chew.
Alternative methods exist, including poking holes in the meat or tenderizing it with a meat hammer. These methods produce results in terms of tenderization, but the texture and the flavor of the steak might suffer.