Many people consider steak to be one of the grandest foods there is. A steak can be a meal fit for a king, but a poorly prepared steak can be as tough as shoe leather. There are a number of strategies to make sure that your steak is tender enough for the most discriminating diner.
Cut of Meat
The more a cow's muscle moves, the more it burns tenderizing fat and builds lean, tough muscle. When choosing a cut of meat, the closer to the center of a cow's body, the more tender it will be.
Common names for steaks from this most tender area include T-bone, New York strip, fillet mignon, porterhouse, and tenderloin. Less tender parts such as the bottom round, rump, and shanks are so tough that they are rarely cut into steaks. They are often turned into ground beef or used as roasts.
The amount of fat in the steak, often referred to as marbling, is also important. This fat is what adds juiciness and flavor to the steak. A prime cut of meat with poor marbling can still turn out dry and tough.
Don't grill a steak without tenderizing it. One method to do that is to pound the steak with a meat mallet. The pounding action of the mallet breaks down the muscle fibers of the meat, making the meat more tender.
Another method is scoring the meat with a sharp knife. Cut about half way through the meat with a diagonal slice. Continue making these incisions an inch apart from each other on the steak. These cuts break down muscle tissues, making the steak more tender.
Marinating the steak is not only a great way to impart flavor, but also an easy way to help tenderize a steak. There are two types of marinades to tenderize steak: acidic marinades, and enzymatic marinades.
Acidic marinades rely on acids to release proteins into the meat that tenderize the beef. Some common acidic marinade ingredients include, wine, vinegar, and lemon or lime juice. However, if these marinades are used too long, the proteins released will eventually make the meat even tougher. If using an acidic marinade, only soak the meat for two hours before using.
Enzymatic marinades have special enzymes that are released into the meat that tenderize them. These enzymes are most often found in fruits like pineapple or papaya. The calcium in dairy products can also use enzymes to break down meat.
Regardless of what you do prior to cooking a steak, the way the steak is cooked is absolutely critical in the tenderizing process. The juiciness of a piece of meat is directly related to how thoroughly it is cooked. So if you like steaks that are well done, the meat is probably going to be dry and tough regardless of which tenderizing methods you use before cooking.
The ideal steak is medium to medium-well. If you cut into the steak, it should be cooked around the edges with a pink center. If you are concerned about health safety, the USDA recommends the steak reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees F. The easiest way to measure this is by using a probe thermometer that measures the meat's internal temperature.