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How To Tenderize Steak

how to tenderize meat

Steak is one of those foods that can be enjoyed in different, delicious ways. When it comes out on your dinner plate, though, what you get is a result of how it was prepared and cooked.

It can be cooked to almost melt off your fork or, in most cases, it can be tough and chewy. Because most steaks can be tough, it’s common for chefs to find ways to soften the meat. 

More often than not, this is achieved through tenderizing.

When you tenderize steak, you damage and break the connective tissues within the meat. This makes the meat softer before being cooked.

Depending on the kitchen utensil you use, such as a meat mallet, or even certain marinades, tenderizing can be very easy to do. Some methods are almost instant, while others need a little more time to get the job done.

However, before you go about thumping your steak with a mallet like a caveman, you should learn about different cuts of meat.

The cut of meat typically determines how you go about the process of tenderizing it. In the case of high quality Wagyu steaks, you probably don’t even have to. For most other steaks, however, tenderization is necessary.

For each method, however, the process is delicate. You need to be careful so that you don’t damage the connective tissue and fat inside too much. Being overzealous will result in a perfectly good steak being ruined.

Go too far with tenderizing, and your steak can lose its characteristic flavor and its overall potential!

To help you learn how to tenderize steak, I have created a guide below with different steps and methods on how to do so.

Learn how to tenderize meat with me today to enjoy the most mouth watering, flavorful steaks you’ve ever had. Ready to dive in?

Let’s get into it.

Types Of Steak You Can Tenderize

Not all steaks require tenderizing. Some are very lean, such as the filet Mignon. As such, they are soft enough without the need to be tenderized.

On the other hand, many cuts of beef are much tougher and thicker and tend to benefit from this technique.

Here are some steaks that require tenderizing:

  • Skirt steak – These are long strips of steak that are often used in foods such as beef teriyaki or fajitas. Although very flavorful, skirt steak is full of interconnecting fibers. This means this cut tends to be pretty tough and requires tenderizing with a mallet and/or with a marinade before being cooked.
  • Flank steak – This cut comes from the abdominal of a cow, resulting in little fat. This, of course, means it is a touch cut of beef. By tenderizing it in marinade, you can soften and enhance its overall flavor. I suggest using cider vinegar or lemon juice to get the job done.
  • Sirloin steak – Taken from a cow’s back, this meat is often best when cooked slowly or marinated. When you tenderize sirloin steaks on a low heat for a long period of time, it typically becomes juicier.
  • Tri-tip steak – Distinguishable because of its triangular shape, this is another tough cut of beef, but if you marinate it, the cut becomes wonderfully tenderized and softer. I recommend adding some salt to a tri-tip steak to break down some protein cells and achieve a nice sear.

If you want to try any of these, I can highly recommend checking out CrowdCow, one of the best places to buy high quality meat online.

Otherwise, go to your local butcher and find some quality meat there. Grocery stores rarely have the type of quality meat that you are looking for if you have a special occasion coming up.

How To Tenderize Steak

Before you start, you will need tenderizing tools. The tools you need will depend on the method you want to use, and what cut of steak you have. Some tools you may need are:

  • A meat tenderizer (mallet, pounder) – This simply looks like a hammer with spikes that are blunted on its end. Simply pound the steak to break down its muscle fibers.
  • Tenderizer powder – Meat tenderizer powder sometimes contains enzymes that help break down the muscle fiber in a cut of beef. This is ideal if you’re unable to use a mechanical tool.
  • A meat cuber – This is a meat processing tool with a built-in crank. This is best used for tenderizing large chunks of meat. You just need to place the steak into the device and turn the handle. The spikes inside the machine will then tenderize the meat. 

4 Methods For Tenderizing Steak

4 Methods For Tenderizing Steak

No matter which method you want to use, one thing remains. The meat must be at “fridge” temperature before you start the tenderizing process.

Try to do this with frozen or partially frozen steak, and you won’t get very far. Although you can cook steak from frozen, I don’t recommend it. Here are also some tips on how to quickly defrost steak.

Here are the methods of tenderizing steak:

  • Pound the steak – This is a simple way of breaking down muscle fibers and softening the meat. Start by placing the steak on a cutting board and then put a piece of plastic wrap over its top. Grab your mallet and hit the meat with the spiky side, starting from its center and moving outwards to its sides. A rolling pin, cast-iron skillet, or hammer can also do this job well. 
  • Marinating – Marinating a steak in enzymes or acids can help break down its interior fibers. To marinate using an acidic solution, such as lemon juice, lime juice, buttermilk, or apple cider vinegar, place steak in your preferred solution and leave it to soak for about 30 minutes to one hour. Keep an eye on the steak to make sure it doesn’t get broken down too much. Finally, remove the steak from the marinade if its edges start to cook. As for enzymes, fruits such as kiwi, pineapple, and mangoes work well. Just use a little amount of chopped or puréed fruit in the marinade and the process will begin. 
  • Slow cooking – If you cook your steak in a slow cooker, the collagen will break down, helping it become softer. If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can cook your meat slowly and on a low temperature using your grill.
  • Add salt – This method is so simple but effective. Salt helps to break down protein cells within the steak. All you need to do is rub salt into the meat (sea salt or kosher salt are ideal). Then, the protein cells will begin to break down, helping enhance your steak’s texture and flavor.

In Summary

Tenderizing steak is pretty simple but very rewarding.

To do this properly, you just need to have an understanding of the different cuts of meat, and which method works best for it. From there, you can select the appropriate method for tenderization and do it!

Tenderizing is just the beginning, though. After that, the fun begins, and you can season and cook. Looking for some ideas on how to season your steak? Check out this list of spices, ranked by popularity!



Richard is the founder of SteakBuff. He manages the team of expert writers on the site and is a foodie who loves eating steaks

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