Photo: Jennifer Causey; Styling: Thom Driver

There’s not much that can compare to a bite of flavorful, melt-in-your-mouth filet or brisket. You can splurge on high quality beef and get that texture easily, but what about the day-to-day beef dinners that don’t entail a $20 steak? Here are 5 simple tricks to making tougher, more budget-friendly cuts delightfully tender.

Hannah Burkhalter
January 26, 2017

There are several factors that contribute to the natural tenderness of a cut of beef, like the animal’s age, breed, diet, marbling, and the section from which the cut was taken. And, of course, whether or not you chose the right cut for the recipe you’re following. 

If you're looking to make dinner with a cut that's not inherently tender, rest assured, you're in the right place. There are a handful of techniques for tenderization that can give your chewy hunk of meat the succulent texture of a high-quality cut. Here’s what you need to know to make an cut of beef the best you’ve ever had. 

5 Techniques for Tenderizing Beef:

1. Physically break tough muscle fibers. 

This is called mechanical tenderizing and there are a few ways to do it. Use a meat tenderizer or small mallet to break tough muscle fibers, by literally pounding the beef (you can wrap the cut in pieces of plastic wrap to keep this from getting messy). If you don’t own a mallet or tenderizer, use a fork to pierce holes into the surface of the beef to help a marinade absorb more quickly. You can also score the surface of the meat with a sharp knife. Simply make shallow slices across the surface of the steak in a crosshatch pattern on both sides. Your cuts will cut tough fibers and also aid in marinade absorption.

2. Marinate the meat. 

A marinade is the best way to utilize acids and enzymes for your benefit in tenderizing. Acids assist in breaking down proteins, while enzymes relax and break down proteins. Acidic ingredients like vinegar, lemon juice, and even yogurt have a low pH that can assist in tenderizing your beef. And naturally-occuring enzymes like papain in papayas and bromelain in pineapples can likewise help soften your steak. In fact, the powdered form of these enzymes are commonly used in commercial meat tenderizers. Salt is also frequently used in marinades to aid in moisture retention and help break down muscle components (and for flavor, of course). Get your marinade game on with this  Do-It-All Marinade or a bright Citrus Marinade.

 

 

3. Let meat rest and account for carryover cooking.

Always let your beef rest after cooking and before slicing. We’ve all noticed that when we cook a piece of meat, it shrinks in size. That’s because the muscle fibers have tightened and water has moved within the meat. If you cut into the meat too soon, you will lose juicy goodness. Resting time allows the fibers to relax and allows the water to be reabsorbed back into the meat fibers, therefore retaining moisture and tenderness. Meat cooked at higher temps needs a longer resting period. 

When you remove the meat from hight heat, it will continue to cook as it rests and cools down. This final stage in the cooking process is known as carryover cooking. Generally speaking, if you’re preparing a large roast or using high heat, you should remove the meat from the heat source 10 degrees before the goal temperature. For thinner cuts or moderate heat, remove the meat 5 degrees ahead of time. Just make sure you check the temperature before slicing and eating in order to make sure your in the safe zone.  

4. Cut against the grain.

This is the simplest, smartest trick. Always make sure you cut against the grain (grain meaning the direction of the muscle fibers). This causes muscle and tissue fibers to be shortened and makes the meat easier more tender to chew. 

5. Invest in high-quality steak knives.

Do yourself, and your company, a favor and purchase sharp, serrated knives. This makes beef easier to slice, which makes it seem more tender, if nothing else. Steak that cannot be cut into reasonable-sized bites is going to be more difficult to chew no matter how tender it is. And hey, you’ve made it to the table with your tenderized steak—don’t sell yourself short on the cutlery. 

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