How to Cook a Thin Steak so That it Is Still Tender

Thin steaks, regardless of the cut, will make your meat budget go further and give your arteries a fighting chance. The challenge is getting a nice finish on the outside without making the steak into the proverbial shoe leather. Even a porterhouse can be tough if it stays on the grill too long, while a notoriously fibrous skirt steak can be coaxed into tenderness with some inventive seasonings or a marinade.

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'Tis the Seasoning

To salt or not to salt, that is the question. If you're going to use salt, mix it with your other seasonings and apply the mix to the meat at least an hour before cooking. Do not add the salt just before cooking, as this tends to draw out the juices. Try a rub that contains papaya or pineapple; both contain enzymes that break down proteins in the steak. If you're unsure of what to use, go ahead and use a commercial tenderizer, preferably a salt-free version.

Mix a Marinade

The trick about marinating a thin steak is not to leave it in the mix too long. Acidic ingredients, such as vinegar, lemon juice, pineapple core, wine and yogurt, will soften the meat, but can make the meat tough and eventually turn it into mush if left too long. Throw caution to the wind when it comes to adding garlic, sliced onion, peppers and anything else that strikes your fancy. These will add external flavor, but won't penetrate the meat. Consider saving a bit of the marinade to make into a sauce, especially if you're pan-grilling your steaks.

Cool and Dry

While chefs generally prefer to bring a steak to room temperature before cooking, a thin steak will benefit from being chilled. This way, the browning -- known as the Maillard effect -- will take place before the meat has a chance to dry out and become tough.

Additionally, if the meat is wet on the outside, it will take longer for the browning to occur. Even if you've marinated the steak in hopes of tenderizing it further, pat it dry with a clean dish towel or paper towel before throwing it on the grill or in the pan.


  • Brushing the meat with clarified butter just before cooking will accelerate the browning process and seal in the juices.

On the Grill

The degree of doneness will depend on your taste and your guests' tastes. For thin steaks, make sure your grill is very hot. Brush both sides of the steak with clarified butter or olive oil to speed up the grill marks. For medium rare -- an internal temperature of 145 Fahrenheit -- you'll only need a minute on each side for a 1/2-inch thick steak. It's easy to use an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature, but you must take the steak off the grill 10 degrees before the desired temperature is reached and then allow the meat to rest for 2 minutes.

In the Pan

A cast-iron skillet is ideal for searing a thin steak, but a stove top grill pan will give you those appealing barbecue stripes. In either case, crank up the heat in the pan before you toss in the steak. Start with some olive oil, crushed garlic and onions as an added bonus of using a pan. While your steaks are resting, add mushrooms and wine to the pan to create a delicious sauce.

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