How to tenderize steak: Mastering the art

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There’s nothing quite like sinking your teeth into a perfectly tender, juicy steak. Whether you prefer your steak rare, medium-rare, or well-done, achieving that melt-in-your-mouth, tender texture is the key to a memorable dining experience.

Grilled steak with tomatoes and herbs on a wooden table.
Photo credit: Depositphotos.

Not all steaks are naturally tender, and that’s where the magic of tenderization comes into play. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore various techniques on how to tenderize steak and transform even the toughest cuts into culinary delights. Therefore, regardless of the cut, you will have tender, juicy steak to enjoy.

Why tenderize steak?

Tenderizing steak breaks apart the connective tissue that makes steak tough after you cook it. Typically, tough cuts of beef are less expensive than their more tender counterparts. 

“I frequently buy less expensive cuts of steak that I want to make more tender. While I could use a meat mallet to break down the fibers, my preferred method is to marinate the steak in an acidic mixture. My favorites use lemon juice or yogurt, where the acid softens the protein to provide me with a more tender steak.” 

—Michelle Price, Honest and Truly

How to tenderize steak

Tenderizing steak is an essential skill for anyone who loves indulging in a good piece of beef. While some cuts are naturally tender, others require a little extra care.

What are the techniques for tenderizing steak?

  • Meat tenderizers
  • Mechanical tenderization
  • Salting
  • Aging
  • Cooking techniques

Tenderize steak using meat tenderizers

Marinating steak with acidic ingredients like vinegar, citrus juice, or yogurt can help break down tough muscle fibers and infuse flavor. Enzyme tenderization is basically the same as marinating, however, instead of acid it uses enzymes from fruits like papaya, kiwi and pineapple. These fruit enzymes naturally tenderize meat by breaking down proteins. 

Tenderize steak using mechanical methods

Mechanical tenderization simply means softening meat using physical force. You can use a meat mallet, grinder or other physical tenderizing tool. These methods physically break down the muscle fibers to achieve a more tender texture.

To use a meat mallet to tenderize steak, use the flat side to gently pound the steak. Start at the center and work your way out, applying even pressure.

Turn the steak over and repeat the tenderizing process on the other side. Continue until the steak reaches your desired level of tenderness. Be careful not to flatten the steak too much.

Using salt to tenderize

The process of salting steak, also known as dry brining, helps draw out moisture and break down proteins, resulting in more concentrated flavors and a tender texture. Add salt and/or seasonings containing salt to your beef an hour in advance of cooking.

Using salt to tenderize meat is a good option when you’re short on time and you don’t want to pound the meat with a mallet and make it thin. The best salt for tenderizing is kosher, Himalayan, or flake salt. Table salt will make the meat taste metallic.

Tenderize steak with aging

Dry or wet aging steak allows natural enzymatic processes to occur, resulting in improved tenderness and flavor. The process of dry aging enhances the flavor and tenderness of the beef by allowing enzymes to break down muscle fibers and connective tissue while concentrating the flavors.

Dry aging should only be performed by professionals or with proper equipment, as it requires precise control over temperature, humidity, and sanitation to ensure food safety and the best results.

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Tenderize with cooking techniques

Choosing the right cooking method and monitoring the steak’s temperature can also affect its tenderness. Braising, smoking, using a slow cooker or pressure cooker, stewing and sous vide are all methods of cooking proteins. Most cooking techniques for making steaks tender are low-and-slow methods. 

  1. Braising: Braising involves searing the beef in a hot pan to develop flavor and then cooking it slowly in a flavorful liquid. 
  2. Stewing: Similar to braising, stewing involves cooking beef in a liquid for an extended period. The beef is cut into smaller pieces and simmered in a flavorful broth or sauce until it becomes tender.
  3. Crockpot/slow cooker: Using a slow cooker is a convenient way to tenderize beef. You can cook beef with a variety of seasonings, vegetables and liquids for several hours on low heat. 
  4. Sous vide: While not traditionally “slow cooking,” sous vide involves cooking vacuum-sealed beef in a water bath at a precise temperature for an extended period.
  5. Roasting: Slow roasting beef in the oven at a low temperature, such as 275 F to 325 F (135 C to 163 C), is often used for larger cuts like roasts.
  6. Smoking: If you have access to a smoker, slow smoking beef can add flavor and tenderness. 
  7. Pressure cooking: High pressure and steam help break down the meat fibers in a fraction of the time it takes with traditional cooking methods.

Tips for success

Follow these tips to get the most tender steaks.

  • The most tender steak cuts include filet mignon, ribeye, and New York strip. These cuts come from less exercised muscles, making them naturally tender.
  • Marinate steak for 30 minutes to 24 hours for maximum flavor and tenderness.
  • Be careful not to over tenderize your steak, especially when using with enzymatic methods. Over-marinating can result in a mushy texture, so it’s essential to follow recommended marinating times.
  • Dry aging improves both tenderness and flavor. The duration of dry aging can vary, but it generally ranges from a few weeks to several months.
  • Allowing your steak to rest for a few minutes after cooking is essential for tender steaks as the juices are redistributed.


Tenderizing steak is an art that can turn any cut into a culinary masterpiece. With the right techniques and a little practice, you can enjoy the satisfaction of cooking a perfectly tender and delicious steak every time. 

Paula Jones the owner of Call Me PMc. She provides simple recipes and time-saving strategies for delicious meals for your family. As a busy mom of two boys, Paula strives to give you no-fuss recipes so you can enjoy stress-free time with your family and friends.

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