How to Tenderize Steak Before Cooking in a Pan

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You don't have to spend all your money on pricey steaks like rib-eye. Use a few basic techniques before cooking to transform affordable but potentially chewy, tough steaks into melt-in-your mouth perfection. The goal of tenderizing is to break apart the muscle fibers. Thermal tenderizing is often the choice cooking method for cheaper steaks, where low and slow heat breaks down the connective tissues. However, if you modify a tougher cut before cooking by pounding, salting or marinating, you can sear your steaks in a pan with confidence. Impress your family by serving juicy, tender and delicious steak.

Things You'll Need

  • Kosher or sea salt
  • Paper towels
  • Meat tenderizer mallet
  • Shallow dish
  • Juice from kiwi fruit, pineapple or papaya OR powdered meat tenderizer
  • Non-acidic marinade ingredients such as salt, pepper, herbs, olive oil, sugar, Worcestershire sauce and garlic
  • Foil or plastic wrap

Soften That Protein

  • Place your steak on a dinner plate. Arrange them in a single layer if you have more than one steak. Sprinkle a little kosher or sea salt on both sides of the steak.

  • Let the salted steaks rest, uncovered, at room temperature. Allow the meat to sit for about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the thickness of the steak.

  • Drain off the liquid that has formed around the steak. Rinse the steak thoroughly under cold, running water. Dry the meat dry with paper towels, pressing down and patting to ensure that the steak is very dry. Season the meat before cooking.

Pound Out the Muscle Fibers

  • Place steak on a sturdy surface. Focus on one piece at a time if you are preparing multiple steaks.

  • Pound the entire surface of the steak repeatedly with the pointed teeth of a meat mallet. Flip the steak over and pound out the other side, until the steak is slightly flat.

  • Use the flat side of the meat mallet to pound the meat to a uniform flatness. Turn the steak over and flatten the other side. Season the meat before cooking.

Harness the Enzymes

  • Place your steaks in a shallow dish. Sprinkle both sides of the meat with some kiwi fruit, pineapple or papaya juice, all of which contain enzymes that tenderize meat by breaking down connective tissues. Alternatively, sprinkle on a bit of purchased powdered meat tenderizer product. Look for powders containing papain, made from papaya, or bromelain, derived from pineapple.

  • Add additional marinade ingredients such as salt, pepper, herbs, olive oil, sugar, Worcestershire sauce and garlic to the dish. Avoid vinegar or anything acidic, as these ingredients can soften meat, and you are already employing the juice or powder as a tenderizer. Flip the steak over a few times to evenly distribute the ingredients.

  • Cover the dish with foil or plastic wrap. Marinate your steaks in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes, depending on the thickness of the meat. Do not marinate for much longer than 30 minutes to avoid your steaks turning overly soft and mushy.

  • Drain off the marinade before cooking. Pat the steak dry with paper towels before cooking.

Tips & Warnings

  • Use only one of these methods at a time to avoid overly soft steak.
  • Cook your tenderized steaks in a pan with a bit of hot oil. Sear the steaks for a few minutes on each side until browned, then transfer them to a hot oven if they need additional cooking.
  • Try these techniques on affordable cuts like round steak, skirt steak or chuck eye steak. Although you could technically use these methods on pricier cuts like tenderloin or rib-eye, it is not necessary and could actually make them too soft.
  • When resting your steaks with salt, remember that, as in brining, not much of the salt is going into the meat for actual consumption. Most of the salt will be washed off.
  • If you don't own a meat mallet, try using the dull side of the blade of a heavy knife and a small, heavy saucepan or rolling pin.

References

  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images
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