Why Is My Steak Tough and Chewy?

Do you love a good steak but have experienced the frustration of a tough and chewy one that ruins your meal? You are not alone. Unfortunately, many people have had the unpleasant experience of consuming a steak that requires significant effort to chew and swallow, making it unenjoyable. In this article, we will explore why your steak may be tough and chewy and offer some tips on how to fix it.

Why is My Steak Tough and Chewy?

There are many reasons why a steak can become tough and chewy. It’s impossible to answer this question briefly, so we have prepared a list of the most common causes.

How Fresh Is the Steak

Naturally, when eating out, you expect the restaurant or steakhouse to have fresh steaks ready for customers. However, this is not always the case because some restaurants purchase steaks in bulk and store them in a freezer. To ensure that you receive a fresh steak, always ask the waiter if the steak is fresh. A general rule is that the fresher the steak is, the more tender and juicy the meat will be. The same rule applies when cooking steak at home.

Regarding frozen steaks, paying attention to how you thaw them is crucial. Improper thawing can lead to a tough and chewy steak texture, a common issue when using the microwave method. For this reason, we don’t recommend using this method. Instead, take the time to learn the best ways to thaw a steak without ruining it, such as slow thawing and using water.

Preparation and Cooking

Preparation and cooking processes are essential in achieving a juicy and tender steak. When cooking steak, finding the sweet spot and maintaining balance is crucial. While steaks are versatile and can be grilled, roasted, or pan-seared, 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 become tough, dry, and chewy.

Those are reasons it is vital to find that sweet spot when cooking a steak. Your best option is to buy a digital meat thermometer and use it to confidently monitor your steak’s internal temperature, ensuring the desired degree of doneness.

Steak Seasoning

It is important to season raw steak before cooking properly, and it’s crucial not to skip the salt. Salt helps dry out the steak’s surface and makes the meat more juicy and tender.

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 heat up and start melting, tenderizing the beef and making the meat more juicy and flavorful. 

marbled meat
steak marbling

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, such as marinating.

Additionally, even the fattiest cuts of steak might lose tenderness if overcooked. The fat will quickly evaporate, and the steak will not benefit from melting fat tenderizing the meat.

lean cuts
Lean beef cuts

The Steak Cut

The cut of a steak plays an important role in determining its characteristics. For example, a ribeye steak typically has a high level of marbling, which results in tender and juicy meat. This is also true for other tender cuts such as filet mignon or New York strip. However, some cuts may have dense muscle fibers, which require extensive preparation, such as marinating, to achieve optimal tenderness.

Make sure to learn which cuts of beef offer a tender and juicy texture to minimize the chances of ending up with a tough cut. Alternatively, learn how to make the steak tender for lean and tough cuts.

The Way Animal Is Fed and Raised

To ensure that the meat you buy is tender and juicy, you must pay attention to cattle raising and feeding practices. The ideal scenario is when beef producers offer grass-fed beef to consumers. However, grass-fed meat comes with its own challenges, the primary issue being the premium price point. Additionally, animals that experience excessive physical activity tend to develop a tougher texture that is more difficult to break down.

It’s best to purchase beef from trusted retailers. If there are no reliable options in your area, consider online butcher shops that deliver meat to your doorstep. With so many companies available today, it’s important to carefully vet the store you’re interested in before placing an order. Nevertheless, ordering top-quality beef, including wagyu, has never been easier than with this option.

The Age of the Animal

This one is a no-brainer. The meat from the younger animal is more tender and less chewy. The animal’s age 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.

How to Make Steak Not Chewy?

If you’re struggling with tough and chewy steak, try these two simple methods to make it more tender.

  1. Marinating is a great option if you have a tough cut of steak. Marinades contain acids and enzymes that enhance the meat’s flavor and tenderize it. For best results, marinate your steak for an extended period, ideally overnight, in the refrigerator rather than just for an hour. This technique works incredibly well for cuts such as skirt steak and flank steak.
  2. Slicing the steak against the grain is one of the easiest and most effective methods for enhancing the tenderness of the meat. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize the importance of proper steak-cutting techniques. Learning how to cut a steak properly is essential to enjoy its delicate flavor in every bite fully. The best part is that it’s incredibly easy to do.

Chewy Steak FAQs

Is steak supposed to be chewy?

Steak is not supposed to be overly chewy, but it should have a certain level of chewiness depending on the cut and the cooking method used. Some cuts of steak, such as flank or skirt steak, can have a slightly chewier texture than other cuts, such as tenderloin or flat iron steak. However, even these cuts should not be excessively chewy.

Is well-done steak chewy?

Unfortunately, a well-done steak is completely gray inside and lacks any juices, which results in a tough and chewy texture. This is why many people scoff at those who choose to cook their steak to well-done instead of a medium-rare degree of doneness.

Photo of author

Written by: Adam Wojtow

Adam is the founder of Steak Revolution. He loves sharing his knowledge of steaks with everyone, ensuring you get the perfect steak every time.