Does cooking steak longer make it less chewy?

8 Simple Ways to Make Tough Meat Tender

Lindsay D. MattisonLindsay D. MattisonUpdated: Sep. 29, 2020

Not every cut is melt-in-your mouth tender. We have the scoop on how to make tough meat tender with just a few simple steps.

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I think weve all been there: a new recipe or an unfamiliar cut of meat leaves us with a tough, chewy meal. It feels wasteful and it can be pretty embarrassing if it happens during a dinner party. So whats the cause, and how do you make tough meat tender?

Well, tenderizing meat isnt as difficult as you might think! With a few tricks, like the ones weve got below, you can have even budget-friendly and unfamiliar cuts super tender with just a little extra effort. Find out how below, and dont forget to ask your butcher about these cuts.

1. Physically tenderize the meat

For tough cuts like chuck steak, a meat mallet can be a surprisingly effective way to break down those tough muscle fibers. You dont want to pound it into oblivion and turn the meat into mush, but a light pounding with the rough edge of a meat mallet will do the trick. If you dont have one, you can lightly score the surface in a crosshatch pattern with a knife or use a fork to poke tiny holes into the meat.

2. Use a marinade

Cuts like flank or skirt steak make excellent grilling steaks, but theyre so tough you wont want to eat them without a little marinade action. Using acidic ingredients like lemon juice, vinegar or buttermilk not only add flavor but also break down tough proteins, giving the meat a pre-cook before it hits the grill. Just make sure you dont let it sit on the marinade for too long (30 minutes to two hours should be sufficient), or itll become soft and mushy.

Get started with our best marinade recipes.

3. Dont forget the salt

Whether youre marinating or not, at least make sure to salt the meat before cooking. Salt draws out moisture from inside the meat, concentrating the flavors and creating a natural brine. You know its working because the meat will take on a deeper, red color. Unlike marinades, you can salt your meat for up to 24 hours in advance.

4. Let it come up to room temperature

This is especially important with grass-fed beef and other lean cuts of meat. Since theres not a lot of fat on these cuts, theyre less forgiving if slightly overcooked. Letting the meat sit on a room temperature counter for 30 minutes before cooking will help it cook more evenly.

5. Cook it low-and-slow

More expensive cuts of meat can be flash seared over high temperatures, but many budget cuts, like pork shoulder or chuck roast, require low-and-slow cooking techniques (like these slow cooker sandwiches). When braising tough cuts of meat, the collagen breaks down in the cooking liquid and really lets those tough muscle fibers separate. Make sure you give yourself enough time to let those cuts break down, which could take four or more hours in a Dutch oven or slow cooker.

6. Hit the right internal temperature

Overcooking can make your meat dry but undercooked meat can be quite chewy. Dont be afraid of an instant-read meat thermometer and pull your meat when its ready. For naturally tender cuts like beef tenderloin, that can be as rare as 125ºF, whereas tougher cuts like brisket should be cooked to 195ºF.

7. Rest your meat

No matter how well you prepare and cook your meat, it will turn out dry and tough if you dont let it rest. A general rule of thumb is five minutes per inch of thickness for steaks, or ten minutes per pound for roasts. This allows the juices to redistribute within the meat instead of spilling out onto the cutting boardthat means your meat will be dry and tough.

8. Slice against the grain

All cuts of meat have long muscle fibers that run throughout them. If you make cuts parallel to the muscle fibers, youll end up using your teeth to break through them as you chew. That sounds like a workout! Instead, cut crosswise against the muscle fibers so they come apart easily and effortlessly.

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Lindsay D. MattisonLindsay D. Mattison
Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.

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