How to Cook Tough Steak

Most of us can’t afford ribeyes every time we want steak. The alternative is to get an affordable steak. The problem is that budget steaks tend to be tough. While you won’t be able to make tough steaks taste like ribeyes or filets, you can certainly make them tender and enjoyable if you know a few tricks. Below are some of the best methods for cooking tough steaks.

Don’t overcook it

This is the simplest advice for cooking tough steaks. Even tender steaks can become tough and stringy or dense if you cook them for too long. Very few steaks can be served well done without taking on the texture of jerky or cardboard. If you are inexperienced with steaks, keep a meat thermometer handy whether you are grilling your steaks or pan-searing.

Sous vide

Low and slow cooking isn’t just for brisket, you can use it for steak as well. With sous vide, you seal the steak into a vacuum-sealed bag and cook it in water that is kept at a relatively low and stable temperature for an extended period. A T-bone will take about 2.5 hours to get to medium-rare. The sous vide machine circulates water around the steak so that the entire steak is cooked at the same temperature. Once you take the steak out of the bag, you can do a quick pan sear or throw it under your broiler to make the exterior appetizing.

Low and slow cooking

If you don’t have a sous vide machine, you can still cook your steak low and slow. Braise it or put it on the grill at a low temperature. The point of this is to break down the connective tissues that make the steak tough, which low heat will do if you give it enough time.

Use a marinade

Marinades not only add flavor, but they can also tenderize. A marinade with acidic ingredients will start to cook your steak chemically. It is the same process as using citrus juice to cook seafood in a ceviche. The acids begin breaking down the connective tissues that make the steak tough, the heat of your grill or skillet will finish the job and make your steak tender enough to chew easily. You will want to use acids in moderation since too much can make the meat tougher instead of softer.

Marinade ingredients that can break down a steak include sour citrus fruit like lemons and limes, pineapple and other fruit with enzymes known to break down proteins. Wine and tea are effective as well. Wine and tea both have tannins that can tenderize your steak.

Salt it

You need salt for flavor, but you also need it to break down the proteins in your steak. If you are dealing with a tough steak, apply a heavy layer of salt an hour or so before you cook it. When your steak is ready for the grill, wash the salt off then re-season right before you start cooking.

Pound it out

Use a mallet with little points to break apart the muscle fibers. Essentially, you are pre-chewing the fibers to weaken and soften them. Avoid overdoing it, which you can do by pounding your steak too hard or too many times. A mallet tenderizer can easily turn a steak into mushy hamburger, especially if the steak is on the thin side.