Nothing quite hits the senses like the sight, smell, taste, and even the sound of cooking a delicious, juicy steak. For hardcore red meat lovers, it can evoke a sense of mouthwatering nostalgia that takes you back to a time or place where you were likely celebrating some special occasion while chowing down on steak so tender, it cuts smooth like butter. Perhaps when time and your budget allows, you may even want to replicate this past perfect meal, recreating your favorite steak dinner in the kitchen at home. But after selecting the perfect cut of steak and gathering your other ingredients and accoutrements, there’s nothing worse than realizing your at-home steak dinner falls short because the meat is tough like an old rubber shoe.
When it comes to preparing a top-notch steak, texture—how it feels as you bite into it and chew it—is crucial. Whether you picked up a high-quality steak tenderloin or a budget-friendly flank, everyone wants a tenderized steak, but it’s still all too easy to wind up with chewy, fibrous, fatty bites that are a brutal workout for your jaw. So, are there ways that home chefs can effectively pull off tenderizing a steak with little muss or fuss?
To learn more about the best ways to tenderize steak, we spoke to professional chefs and culinary experts from all walks of life. Read on to find out more about some of the best techniques to help you tenderize your steak—and for more tips to help you recreate the steak dinner of your dreams, be sure to check out The Best & Worst Cuts of Steak—Ranked!
Prep Techniques To Tenderize Your Steak
“Use an acidic ingredient like vinegar, citrus juice, or wine to soften the connective tissue in the meat,” says Lori Walker, RD, recipe developer, and owner of Easy Kitchen Guide.
“When marinating steak, there needs to be an acid component to tenderize the steak and break down the muscle fibers of the meat,” says Tony Sudak, an experienced chef de cuisine who currently serves as an apprentice butcher for Walden Local Meat Co. “Now, different cuts take longer to marinate and break down than others. For example, marinate a London broil to tenderize it; ideally, it should marinate overnight to work those tough muscle fibers and make them more tender. On the other hand, if you want to marinate a ribeye, that cut already being on the tender side shouldn’t take nearly as long. “
Executive Chef Bin Lu of The Restaurant at Blue Rock in Washington, VA, echoes that advice: “Marinating the meat can be effective before grilling, especially if you have something acidic in the marinade. Those can be done overnight—but if you’re using something like papaya or mango, be sure to only marinate it the day of.”
Tips for Tenderizing While Cooking
No matter what ingredients are used, it’s important that you allow enough time for the marinade to evenly coat and absorb into your meat without setting too long, as this could result in overly tender, mushy meat.
“For best results, you should marinate for at least four hours but no longer than 24 hours,” says Walker.
When Your Steak Is Done
“An acidic rub is another great way to tenderize steak at home without marinating time,” says Walker. “Mix together equal parts oil, vinegar, lemon juice, and seasonings (like garlic powder or chili powder). Rub the mixture all over the steak and leave to stand for at least 15 minutes before cooking.”
“Salting the steak before cooking draws out moisture and breaks down the proteins, tenderizing the meat,” says Chef Dennis. “Sprinkle kosher salt or sea salt over both sides of the steak and let it sit at room temperature for about an hour before cooking.”
“I always salt my steak really well and let it sit overnight—this is my favorite way of tenderizing it,” explains Diana Manalang, chef and owner of Little Chef Little Café in New York City. “It pulls the moisture out of the steak, and once the salt dissolves, it acts as a dry brine for the steak, just like a dry brine for the turkey.”
Another steak tenderizing technique Walker suggests is making a salt crust, which involves “covering your steak with salt and baking it, [as this] can also help to break down tough fibers in the meat while adding flavor at the same time.”