Steak is one of life’s rare pleasures. But if it’s not cooked right, it can be tough and chewy. So, for the home cook, it can be a hard skill to master, so what is the least chewy steak?
Here’s what I’ve learned from selling and cooking hundreds:
Tenderloin, which is where the filet mignon steak comes from, is the least chewy steak. It is delicate, lean, tender, and has a butter-like texture. It does very little work, so it never has a chance to get tough and fibrous.
Technically, it is the psoas major muscle. It is next to the backbone and sits beneath the ribs, between the sirloin and the top sirloin.
It’s relatively small and is expensive (supply and demand dynamics).
In this article, we’ll explore whether all steaks are chewy, whether lean steaks are tougher than fatter steaks, and if it’s possible to cook any steak tender.
And we’ll also look at whether you can make a cooked tough meat tender. We’ll wrap things up by finding out why steak can be tough and chewy.
Let’s dive right in…
My new year’s eve dinner menu, chewy beef steak with mashed potato that was cooked by me & my father. Happy New Year 2020 💥💥💥 pic.twitter.com/9jxawCpoRf
— Fadhli Erlanda Arlan (@fadhlierlanda) December 31, 2019
Are all steaks chewy?
Not all steaks are chewy. But the more the connective tissues in the cut, the chewier it will be. The chewiest steaks include flank, sirloin, and round. The more tender parts are usually more expensive. But some cooking techniques can render chewy steaks more tender.
Even tender parts of the steer may have some connective tissues, which translate into making those parts chewy!
What are these connective tissues?
They’re the ligaments, tendons, and collagen that hold the steak together. As I said earlier, the more these tissues, the chewier your steak. It stands to reason those parts of the cow that are not close to these muscles are not as chewy.
Muscles, as you know, naturally have a tougher consistency. So, the parts of the steer that are not chewy are found in areas that are not too close to the muscles.
To know how to make steak more tender, check out a recent article of mine where I shared 11 simple tips.
Get started by buying USDA Prime or Choice beef. Dry-age or grass-fed are also excellent options. Beat with a mallet and add salt before cooking.
Just click the link to read it on my site.
— M&K Quality Butchers (@mandkbutchers) August 2, 2016
Are leaner steaks tougher than fatty steaks?
Leaner steaks are usually tougher than fatty steaks. Fat contributes to marbling and to making steak succulent, flavorful, and tender. Lean meat has lower levels of fat and is consequently not as tender or delicious. However, tenderloin is a lean cut that is very tender as the muscle gets very little use.
The lean parts of the steer are those that are being worked out a lot.
In a sense, the muscles get a lot of exercise and are naturally tougher. In contrast, those that are not are naturally more tender.
But with the right cooking technique, even the leaner steaks can be made more appealing, as we’ll see in a bit. This leads to a question that’s probably on your mind: Is Prime Steak Worth It?
In a recent article, I explained why it’s not! USDA Prime tastes great, but USDA Choice-Grass-Fed tastes better.
I also explained that despite the minor difference between Certified Angus USDA, regular USDA Choice, and USDA Prime, there wasn’t a big difference to warrant the large price increase.
Among other interesting themes, I explored if Choice or Prime beef is better and included a taste challenge conducted by yours truly.
Just click the link to read it on my site.
— Anna (@fcitbs) April 20, 2017
Can any steak be cooked tender?
Any steak can be cooked to be somewhat tender. But a tri-tip will never be as tender as a filet mignon.
There are naturally tender parts of the animal.
So, with the right cooking, one doesn’t need to be a soothsayer to know how they would turn out. But even parts that are not tender can be made a lot more tender depending on how they are cooked. We’ll explore a few of the methods in a bit (in another part of the article).
Some of the most effective methods for ensuring a tougher steak is tender include:
- Pounding it
- Cooking it long and slow (do this for brisket, round, flank, London broil, etc. and not naturally tender cuts like ribeye)
- Applying fruit enzymes
- Dry-aging it (buy it dry-aged if you are not familiar with the aging process)
- Use a knife to macerate or cut it into smaller pieces
- Applying salt to it before you cook
What if the meat’s already been cooked?
— The Food TV Channel (@FoodTVChannel) June 13, 2018
Can you make cooked tough meat tender?
You can make cooked tough meat slightly more tender by pounding it or cutting up the meat, and you can also braise it. And always slice it against the grain for maximum tenderness.
Let’s look at those in more detail:
Pounding or cutting it up
You can use a mallet to beat the meat.
The effect is softer meat seeing as the pounding helps break down the muscle fibers resulting in softer steak. You can also cut it up into smaller pieces or cubes.
The smaller sizes make it easier for marinating, and they’re easier to eat.
Braising’s main effect is to break down collagen — the connective tissue that connects meat fiber.
This requires taking your cooked steak and cooking it again in a liquid.
Ale, wine, or broth are ideal. Then simmer. You want to use a pot or, better, a pan that will hold the steak snugly and use medium or medium-high heat.
You’ll also need to be patient. But it’s worth it. Trust me. As for how long to let it braise, it depends on how tough it is to start with, so begin to check after about 10 minutes and again every 10 minutes.
You don’t want to braise it any longer than necessary.
The steak 💔💔💔💔 was very tough and chewy and i was looking forward to having this as well
How dope is my phone’s camera though?! 😍 pic.twitter.com/DSXh90SRYK
— Kaluhi’s_Kitchen (@KaluhisKitchen) January 24, 2018
Why is my steak tough and chewy?
Lean steaks get chewy when overcooked. Steaks with high collagen levels will be tough if not cooked long enough. And cutting any steak with the grain will result in a chewier steak. Lastly, some steaks, such as tri-tip, flank, and round are tougher and chewier than others.
The cooking method is also vital because even if you bought a tender part, it could be spoiled by overcooking or cooking at too high a temperature. And, to enjoy your steak, it has to be cut against the grain.
Let’s unpack these three factors a bit.
The parts of an animal are not created equal. Certain cuts are naturally tender, while others are tough. It’s not strange. Consider that an old animal would most probably have meat that has matured a lot, while a younger animal’s meat would still be a bit more tender.
The parts of an animal that receives a lot of workout, such as near the legs, are also tougher than the rest.
This is why different parts of meat are sold separately. The more tender facets are usually more expensive because they’re more succulent and flavorful.
The Method of Cooking
The heat helps the conversion of fat in your steak into the flavorful part you love. It has to be carefully employed. Too little heat is not good enough. Too much heat could make the steak too tough and chewy or even get it burnt!
So, beware of overcooking the meat.
In most cases, you also want to cook the steak slowly so that the heat’s effect can be evenly spread. To be honest, it’s a bit more complicated. How long it takes muscles to be soft is different than how long it takes connective tissues.
Cut Against the Grain
If, after cooking the meat, you do not cut against the grain that is perpendicular to the muscle fibers, the steak would be tough and chewy. But, by cutting against the grain, the length of the muscle fibers is reduced, and it’s a lot easier to eat.
Want to know which grocery store has the best steak? Check out a recent article where I revealed that prime beef is available in small quantities at grocers such as Wegmans and Whole Foods. You’ll get the best steak at the latter.
I also included a guide on the parts of the cow different steaks are cut from. And what makes one steak better than another.
Just click the link to read it on my site.
In this article, we checked out whether all steaks are chewy, whether lean steaks are tougher than fatter steaks, and if it’s possible to cook any steak tender.
But we also looked at whether you can make cooked tough meat tender. And, we wrapped things up by finding out why steak can be tough and chewy.