Beef aficionados around the world hunt for the perfect bite of steak. When a steak isn’t cooked to perfection, it can turn out chewy, tough and difficult to enjoy. But why is that? If you bite into your steak and find it tough or chewy, it’s time to examine why. Here’s an investigation to better understand why your steak may be chewier than you’d hoped.
1 – The Cause of Chewy Steak
When it comes to undesirable texture in steak, the question of why it’s chewy often crops up. Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to understand the cause of the toughness.
To begin with, understand that what makes steak tender or tough is the amount of connective tissue in the muscle. If there is too much tissue, then no matter how it’s cooked, it will be unpleasantly chewy.
- The toughness of a steak is determined by the type of cut – for example, cuts such as the sirloin, ribeye and flank steak are tougher than other cuts due to an abundance of connective tissue.
- Excessively long cooking times can result in tough steak.
- Beef that comes from older animals or that is mishandled before cooking can also yield a chewy texture.
However, there’s no need to worry if your steak is tough; simply select the right cut, cook it correctly and keep an eye on the freshness of the beef. With a little bit of knowledge, you’ll be able to make sure your steaks are tender and beautiful every time.
2 – Inadequate Tenderization
Tenderizing meat can be an art that takes time and practice. Not all cuts of meat need to be tenderized, however—tough pieces of meat usually do. Unfortunately, there are times when meat isn’t tenderized properly or even at all, leading to a less-than-pleasurable dining experience. Here are a few common issues with inadequate tenderization.
- Chewy Meat – Chewy meat happens when too little meat has been tenderized, or when the wrong type of tenderizing technique has been used. This often occurs when acid-based marinades—vinegar, citrus juices, etc.—have been used.
- Tough Meat – Tough meat is usually caused when the meat has been pounded, hacked or improperly tenderized, resulting in a mashy texture.
- Over Tenderized Meat – While it might be tempting to hammer and pound the meat until it’s tender, this can actually lead to the opposite effect – over-tenderized meat. This occurs when the meat fibers are essentially mashed together too much and become too tough or stringy.
- Undercooked Meat – If the meat hasn’t been properly tenderized, it can make it difficult to cook it correctly. If the meat isn’t cooked long enough, the result will be tough and undercooked.
3 – Poor Cooking Technique
Having poor cooking technique can lead to less than desirable results. Even though it’s easy to get discouraged, especially if you’re a beginner in the kitchen, with a few simple tips you can greatly increase your cooking skills.
Practice Makes Perfect
The old-but-true adage is particularly applicable to cooking. The more you cook, the better you’ll get. Take it slow as you become acquainted with the different ingredients and equipment at your disposal. Fair warning: you will have a few mess-ups along the way, but those make us into better cooks!
One of the biggest benefits (and pleasures!) of cooking is that it allows you to be creative. Be adventurous and experiment with different ingredients, recipes, and techniques. Use different flavors and seasonings. If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Playing with food is fun!
Master Kitchen Basics
Having an understanding of the basics will take you a long way in the kitchen. A few pointers to get you started include:
- Understand the effects of heat on food
- Learn the science of seasoning.
- Discover the fundamental knife skills.
- Develop an understanding of the interactions between various ingredients when combined.
By mastering these basic techniques, you will have a solid foundation from which to build upon.
4 – Tough Meat Cuts
Cooking tougher cuts of meat always takes a bit more skill and effort. But the reward of a succulent and flavourful dish is worth it after you learn the right techniques! Here are some popular, harder-to-cook cuts of meat, and how best to prepare them:
A cut of beef from the flank area, this tender, flavourful cut needs to be cooked quickly over a high heat for a short amount of time. Bavette steak is best marinated and served with a sharp, acidic sauce, such as a lemon-caper butter sauce.
This large, tough cut of beef gives a deep, beefy flavour to dishes, as well as an extra long cook time. When slow cooked, the brisket can be made tender and deliciously juicy. Wrap it in foil and cook it low and slow, then add BBQ sauce or other flavourful ingredients to the wrap. This makes for a juicy, wonderful brisket.
A tough cut of lamb, shoulder should be cooked low and slow to make sure the fibres soften and break down. Lamb shoulder is popular for stews, casseroles, curry and slow-cooked roasting. Be sure to keep your lamb shoulder covered with liquid while simmering, and use a trusty meat thermometer to reach the desired cooking temperature.
The deliciously rich flavour of duck comes with a tougher texture than chicken, so some care needs to be taken with duck dishes. To keep the lean meat moist and delicious, score the skin, season liberally, and roast or panfry at a high heat. For the best, crispy skin, finish by searing the duck before serving.
5 – Overcooking by Time or Temperature
We’ve all been there: we take a dish out of the oven a few minutes too late, or maybe the baking temperature was set too high or too low, and we find ourselves with an overcooked product. Although it’s not always easy to identify these two common types of overcooking, there are a few factors to help you determine if your food is done or not.
- Time: in some recipes, like baking bread or roasting vegetables, timing is based on the internal temperature of the food. If the dish has been in the oven long enough for the temperature to become too high, it is likely overcooked.
- Temperature: when baking a cake or other sweets, it is important to keep track of the temperature of the food. If the heat is too high, the food might become dry and crumbly on the inside, or have an unintended crunchy or roasted texture.
In any case, overcooking can be a bummer since it changes the flavor of the dish, and takes away from the desired appearance. To avoid this, make sure that you check the temperature and set the timer before putting your food in the oven.
In the case of roasts or meats, some recipes require a longer cooking time, but use lower temperatures. This combination prevents the food from drying out or becoming too tough. When you’re following these recipes, stick to the cooking time and temperature closely—they are the key to ensuring your food is cooked but not overdone.
6 – Reheating Steak
Reheating steak properly is a much-needed skill, to maintain the succulent flavor and juicy texture of the meat. Here are some crucial tips to help you reheat steak like a pro!
- Steak should always be stored and reheated at a constant low to medium temperature.
- It is essential to use the right equipment – choose from an oven, skillet, or stovetop.
- Do not heat steak up in an oven preheated to above 325°F, to prevent overcooking.
- To ensure reheating is done evenly, wrap the steak in aluminium foil, or place it in an airtight container.
Stovetop – Start by melting some oil in your skillet over medium-high heat. Add the steak and cook until heated throughout. Be sure not to reheat grilled steaks for too long, as the meat won’t stay juicy.
Oven – Arrange the steak on a heat-resistant dish and place it into a preheated oven not exceeding 250°F. Reheat for around 3 minutes per side, or until steak is heated throughout. Allow the steak to stand a couple of minutes before serving.
7 – Solutions for Chewy Steak
If you think that your steak is more chewy than it should be, don’t worry – it can be saved! Here are seven solutions for chewy steak:
- Grind it: Your steak can go from tough to tender if you put it into a grinder. Adding ground steak to a pleasant sauce or dressing can be a great way to get a delicious new meal.
- Add acidic ingredients: The acidity of ingredients such as vinegar and citrus juices can help to break down the tough fibers in your steak, making it more tender. Try adding a bit of your chosen acidic ingredient during the cooking process, or baste it onto the steak.
- Soak it in milk: Soaking the steak in milk for up to an hour can help to break down the tough proteins, giving you a more tender result when you cook. Just be sure to dry off the steak before cooking.
- Cook it in a sauce/stew: If all else fails, you can cook your steak in a stew or sauce. The slow-cooking process and the additional moisture from the liquid will help to break down the tough fibers, leaving you with a more tender steak.
- Brine the steak: Before cooking, brining the steak in a combination of salt and water can help to break down the tougher proteins. This method is slower than some of the others but can work for tougher cuts of meat.
- Marinate it: Marinating your steak before cooking it can help to tenderize the meat as well as add new flavor. Consider using an acidic marinade or one that contains tenderizing ingredients such as yogurt or beer.
- Pound it: Use a meat mallet, the back of a pan, or a rolling pin to gently break down the tough fibers of the steak. This will make it much easier to cook and much more tender to eat.
By employing one or more of these methods to tackle your chewy steak, you can easily turn a potentially tough cut of meat into a delicious new dish. So don’t worry, and get cooking!
Thank you for reading this article! Grasping the importance of allowing your steak to rest, as well as understanding the ingredients that can impact the texture, are pivotal steps to ensuring a juicy and tender steak. So, the next time the question arises, “why is my steak chewy?”, you’ll have the tools to know exactly how to fix it.