How to Make Beef Steak Tender: A Complete Guide

Beef steak is a delicious and hearty meal. However, not all cuts of beef steak are created equal when it comes to tenderness. While premium cuts like filet mignon are naturally tender, other affordable cuts like chuck steak and round steak can be quite tough.

The good news is that you can transform even the chewiest cut of beef into a tender, melt-in-your-mouth steak using various simple techniques. This article will provide a complete guide on how to make beef steak tender using methods like pounding, marinating, salting and more.

Why Tenderizing Beef Steak Matters

Tenderness is one of the most important factors affecting the enjoyment of beef steak. Tough, chewy steak is difficult to cut and unpleasant to eat.

On the other hand, tender steak practically melts in your mouth, releasing its full flavor with each bite. When beef steak is tenderized properly, it becomes more palatable and easier to digest.

So if you want your inexpensive cuts of beef to taste just as delicious as premium steaks, tenderizing is a must.

Cuts of Beef Steak That Benefit from Tenderizing

Not all steaks require tenderizing. Naturally tender cuts like tenderloin and ribeye have sufficient marbling and little connective tissue. But other affordable cuts with more collagen and muscle fibers benefit immensely from tenderization techniques:

  • Chuck steak
  • Round steak
  • Flank steak
  • Skirt steak
  • Hanger steak
  • Tri-tip steak
  • Top sirloin steak
  • Bottom sirloin steak
  • Brisket

These cuts come from active muscles in the cow that get more use, resulting in meat that is tougher but more flavorful. With the right tenderizing techniques, you can enjoy the full flavor of these steaks without the chewiness.

7 Methods for Tenderizing Beef Steak

There are several ways to break down the tough connective tissues in cheaper steak cuts to yield tender, succulent results. Here are 7 simple, effective techniques:

1. Pound the Steak

This traditional tenderizing technique uses a meat mallet or tenderizer hammer to literally pound the steak and break down tough muscle fibers.

  • Place the steak between two sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper.
  • Using a meat mallet, pound the steak evenly until it is about 1/4-inch thick.
  • Be firm but don’t overdo it to the point of mashing the meat.
  • You can also use a heavy pan or rolling pin if you don’t have a meat mallet.

Pounding helps tenderize steak while also flattening it for even cooking. It’s great for steak recipes like chicken fried steak.

2. Pierce the Steak

Using a fork or knife, pierce the steak all over on both sides. This mechanical tenderizing method breaks down muscle fibers by creating small holes throughout the meat.

  • Use a sharp knife or meat tenderizing tool with narrow blades.
  • Pierce the steak every 1/4 inch.
  • Take care not to cut all the way through or mangle the steak.
  • Turn and repeat on the other side.

Needle tenderizing helps any marinade penetrate deeper into the meat as well.

3. Salt the Steak

Believe it or not, salting meat before cooking helps tenderize it. The salt breaks down muscle proteins, makes the steak moister, and boosts flavor.

  • Sprinkle generous amounts of kosher or sea salt.
  • Rub the salt evenly over the steak on both sides.
  • Let sit for up to an hour before cooking.
  • Rinse off the salt and pat the steak dry before cooking.

Salting is simple but highly effective, especially when time is limited. Even a short 30 minutes makes a noticeable difference.

4. Marinate the Steak

Marinades don’t just infuse flavor; acidic ingredients help tenderize beef by partially breaking down collagen.

  • Use acids like vinegar, wine, yogurt, tomatoes, pineapple juice or citrus juice.
  • You can also use enzymatic fruit purees like kiwi, papaya and mango.
  • Let the steak marinate for 30 minutes up to 2 hours.
  • Rinse and pat dry before cooking.

Pair your acid with oil, herbs and spices to make a full-flavored marinade.

5. Cook with Moist Heat

Low, moist-heat cooking methods effectively tenderize steak by slowly breaking down connective tissue.

  • Braise: Brown the steak then cook in a flavorful liquid like broth or wine until fork-tender.
  • Stew: Similarly, simmer chunks of beef steak in flavorful liquid until tender.
  • Sous vide: Vacuum seal seasoned steak and cook for 1-4 hours in a water bath set to your desired doneness temperature.

While these techniques take more time, they deliver incredibly tender results perfect for stews, curries and pot roasts.

6. Apply a Meat Tenderizer

Special enzymatic meat tenderizers are applied to the surface of steak before cooking or marinating. They contain protein-digesting enzymes from fruits like papain and bromelain that help break down collagen.

  • Use tenderizer powder or liquid as directed on the package.
  • Apply evenly and allow it to work for 15-30 minutes before further prep.
  • Rinse before cooking.
  • Take care not to over-tenderize to the point of mushiness.

When used properly, commercial meat tenderizers can yield impressive results.

7. Velvet the Steak

Velveting is a Chinese technique where meat is coated in a marinade containing cornstarch before cooking. This thin slurry seals in moisture and further tenderizes the meat.

  • Mix equal parts cornstarch and water to make the slurry along with seasoning.
  • Coat the steak and marinate for 15-30 minutes.
  • Remove excess cornstarch before cooking.

Velveting helps steak sear beautifully while keeping it tender on the inside. It’s ideal for stir fries and quick-cooking methods.

Tips for Cooking Tenderized Beef Steak

Once your steak is tenderized, use these tips to cook it to perfection:

  • Pat the steak dry before cooking. Marinades and tenderizers can make the surface wet and hinder browning.

  • Use high heat. A hot pan, grill or broiler develops a flavorful sear that locks in juices.

  • Don’t overcook it. Cook to medium rare or medium to prevent toughening.

  • Let the steak rest before slicing. This allows juices to redistribute for a tender, juicy interior.

  • Slice against the grain. This yields shorter muscle fibers for more tenderness.

With the right prep and cooking, even the cheapest cuts can become forktender feasts. Now that you know how to make beef steak tender, you can enjoy budget-friendly steaks anytime without sacrificing texture and flavor.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to tenderize steak?

It depends on the method, but tenderizing can take as little as 15 minutes up to several hours. Quick-acting techniques include salting, scoring, pounding and commercial enzymes applied right before cooking. Marinades work best after 30 minutes up to 2 hours. Slow cooking via braising, stewing or sous vide can tenderize steak in 1-4 hours.

What is the best cut of steak for tenderness?

Tenderloin, ribeye and strip steaks offer the most naturally tender meat. Cuts like flank steak, skirt steak, tri-tip and sirloin require special handling to maximize tenderness due to their high collagen content.

Is it OK to freeze tenderized steak?

Yes, you can freeze tenderized steak as long as it is tightly wrapped to prevent freezer burn. Allow the steak to fully thaw in the fridge before cooking.

Can you over-tenderize steak?

It’s definitely possible to overdo it. Extended marinating, excessive pounding, and overusing enzymes can lead to mushy steak. Use moderate tenderizing times and techniques to avoid over-tenderizing steak into an unappealing, mushy mess.

What is the healthiest way to tenderize steak?

The healthiest tenderizing methods are salting, marinating and cooking with moist heat. Avoid excessive use of commercial meat tenderizers which can alter flavors. Pound lightly versus heavily to prevent mushiness. Simple salt and acid marinades work wonders without added chemicals or prep work.

What Ingredients Make a Steak Tender? : Cooking Meat


What is the secret ingredient to tenderize meat?

Less than a teaspoon of baking soda ensures that your steak remains juicy and tender—even after a speedy marinade. While other recipes demand hours of marinating, this baking soda hack makes a flank steak or any other fibrous cut of beef ready to sear after just an hour.

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