With the price of beef continually on the rise, many consumers are reaching for more affordable options. Marbled cuts of beef like rib eye and tenderloin can cost nearly three times as much as cheaper ones like sirloin, flank or skirt. Though less expensive cuts of beef can be tough when cooked, they’re also easy to tenderize.
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Pounding and Piercing
The most effective way to tenderize tough cuts of beef is to physically break down their structure. If you’re cooking with a piece of beef that is less than 1 inch thick, pound it gently using the flat side of a meat hammer or a heavy pan, being careful not to tear through the surface of the meat.
For tough cuts of beef that are 1 inch thick or thicker, gentle pounding may not be effective. Instead, use a jaccard, a multi-blade tool that works like an ink stamp to make tiny cuts through the meat’s connective tissue, to tenderize thicker pieces of meat. Simply place the raw beef on a cutting board and then press the jaccard onto the surface of the meat, allowing the blades to cut into it. Repeat this process until you have covered the surface of the meat with small holes.
If you don't have a jaccard, pound thicker cuts of beef with the spiked side of a meat hammer.
There are also natural, protein-digesting, plant-based enzymes that can help tenderize meat. These enzymes are found in nature in fresh pineapple, papaya, kiwi fruit, figs and ginger, but they can also be purchased in a convenient, powdered form.
- To use powdered meat tenderizer, sprinkle it onto the meat according to the package instructions, right before cooking the beef.
- To tenderize the beef with fruit or ginger, add those ingredients to a marinade, being careful not to marinate the beef for too long a period of time. Thirty minutes is plenty of time for lean cuts of meat to marinate; if you marinate them for longer than four hours the meat will have a slightly mushy texture when cooked.
Cut Against the Grain
Meat is made up of long, rope-like muscle fibers. Slicing the meat in the same direction as the fibers allows them to remain intact. Cutting through the fibers, or "against the grain," however, shortens them, tenderizing the meat.
To slice either raw or cooked beef against the grain, simply look at the meat to determine the direction of the fibers. Then, turn the meat so that the lines run in a horizontal direction and slice the beef into thin pieces, with the blade of your knife perpendicular to the grain.
If you are having difficulty determining the direction of the grain, try cutting a test slice from the side of the meat; if you notice long, parallel lines along the surface of the test slice, then you are slicing with the grain and should rotate the piece of beef so that the grain is perpendicular to the blade of your knife.
Another easy way to break down the muscle fibers and connective tissue in cheaper cuts of beef is to grind the meat and then use it to form patties or sausages. Simply cut the beef into 2-inch chunks and then place both the meat and the meat grinder into the freezer to chill for 15 minutes. Grinding room-temperature beef blends the fat into the meat, causing it to lose too much moisture as it cooks. When both the beef and the grinder are chilled, feed the pieces of beef into the grinder a few at a time.
If you don’t have a meat grinder, chop the chilled beef in a food processor by slowly pulsing the machine until the meat is evenly ground.
Don’t Overcook It
One of the easiest ways to keep cheap cuts of beef tender is to cook them to a moderate temperature. Sirloin steak, for example, will naturally be more tender and juicy when cooked to a medium level of doneness than it will when it is cooked well done. Cook tough cuts of beef just until they reach the FDA-approved 145 degrees Fahrenheit, unless you ground the beef, in which case it should be cooked to a 160 degrees F instead.