How to Tenderize Steak? (8 Cooking Preparation Techniques)

Gabriel Woods
Published by Gabriel Woods
Last Updated On: December 4, 2023

I've been a carnivore fanatic for 8+ years, and steak is a star item in my diet twice every week. Because of that, I had to learn how to tenderize it and get the most mouthwatering results.

I’ve tried all sorts of techniques over the years until I finally boiled it down to the following eight tried and trusted methods.

Let’s get into it.

Quick Summary

  • Tenderizing steak can be achieved through eight methods: pounding, marinating, salting, velveting, rubbing with baking soda, scouring both sides, sous vide, and resting after cooking.
  • Each method has its unique process and benefits, such as breaking down muscle fibers, enhancing flavor, promoting even browning, and retaining juices.
  • The best tenderizing method depends on the cut of steak, with some methods more suitable for tougher cuts and others for well-marbled, naturally tender meat.

8 Ways To Tenderize Steak

Tenderizing is a process that tears down the connective tissue, making the meat slightly soft and shreddable [1].

You can tenderize steaks by pounding, marinating, and velveting in several different ways.

1. Pounding Your Steak

A person pounding and tenderizing the steak

Pounding your steak is the most popular way to properly tenderize a tough cut of meat like a chuck roast.

The pounding process breaks down the muscular fibers that shrink when exposed to heat. These muscles won't tighten up if broken down and kept loose. The result will be a more tender product.

Although a meat mallet is an excellent meat tenderizer and helpful kitchen equipment, you could improvise using cooking tools like a rolling pin, an empty wine bottle, or a large pan.

Keep in mind that pounding steaks doesn't require intense force. Instead, more minor yet steady thumps will do just fine.

Always wrap your steak in plastic wrap before pounding; otherwise, you could also go in and clean your tool right after.

2. Use A Proper Marinade

You can make a good marinade using buttermilk, yogurt, vinegar, soda, or wine to help break down the thick connective tissue and muscle fibers [2].

As for enzymes, using fruits such as pineapples, kiwis, and mangoes works well. Just use a bit of puréed or chopped fruits in the marinade, and the process will begin.

However, with thinner cuts like hanger steak, flank steak, skirt steak, or ribeye steak, add only one of these acidic ingredients to your marinade.

Additionally, different acidic ingredients are applied depending on the cuisine. Citrus flavors are usually used in Chinese-inspired dishes like tangerine beef, which uses tangerine juice to tenderize tri-tip steak.

And lime juice is used in Mexican cuisine in delicious steak fajitas alongside onions and peppers.

3. Salt It

Putting salt on a steak to tenderize it

You can also tenderize your steak by salting it up with table salt. This process will take up to an hour of your cooking time, especially if it's a tougher cut of meat.

While salting adds flavor to your steak, it helps break down the proteins and make the steak tender.

Salt also helps create a Maillard reaction [3]. This typically happens when you introduce food in high heat, turning it into a brown crust. This reaction not only makes steak aesthetically pleasing, but it also locks in flavor and seasonings.

Kosher salt has been my go-to meat tenderizer whenever I use this method for delicious steak dinner recipes.

4. Velveting Your Steak

Velveting is a Chinese method of marinating in a cornstarch mix before cooking. The cornstarch mix is primarily made with an equal measure of cornstarch, sesame oil, and soy sauce.

Alternatively, peanut or vegetable oil may be used with flavors like apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, or Shaoxing wine.

Other than tenderizing steak, velveting helps coat steak, promotes even browning, and ensures the sauce sticks to the meat. That's why it's often used for stir-fried beef dishes.

5. Rub With Baking Soda

A close up shot of baking soda and lemons

Baking soda works well for tenderizing beef since it alkalizes its surface. Therefore, it prevents the proteins from sticking together, leaving the steak more relaxed.

I recommend letting your steak sit for at least three hours after rubbing it with baking soda. Be mindful of the amount of baking soda used if your steak is more petite in size.

Besides that, you should rinse it dry to get rid of excess baking soda, pat dry with a paper towel, season it to your liking, and go on to cook it.

6. Scouring Both Sides

Scouring is an effective method for tenderizing tougher, fibrous steaks like flank and skirt. You'll need to make shallow cuts a few inches apart on both sides.

The cuts will slice through meat fibers and muscle tissue, further speeding up the absorption of the marinade and making your steak flavorful. 

7. Sous Vide Your Steak

Doing Sous Vide to tenderize a steak

Sous Vide is part of a slow cooking method, but its process is unique. It works well for tougher cheap steak and well-marbled, naturally tender meat like filet mignon or chicken cutlets.

It involves cooking your steak in a vacuum-sealed bag immersed in warm water. This method will not cook the inner parts of your meat but create a brown crust.

This method is one of the best ways to tenderize steak. All you have to do is set your water bath at 130°F. This temperature is ideal for tenderizing since it doesn't cook it.

"This method is consistent in tenderizing steak evenly. With this method, you won't have to worry about overcooking your meat."
- Grant Crilly, American Chef 

8. Rest Your Steak After Cooking

It's essential to let your steak rest after cooking to retain its flavorful juices. Cutting without letting it rest will pour out its juices.

Allowing it to rest will let the steak reabsorb these juices and stay as tasty and tender as possible.

Resting is a part of the cooking process that should never be skipped. I recommend letting your thin-quality cuts of steak rest for a minimum of 5 minutes and 10 minutes for tougher cuts.

Related Articles:


Is Coke A Good Steak Tenderizer?

Yes, coke is a good steak tenderizer. Its acidity and caramel flavors break down the proteins without dissolving the meat.

Should I Leave The Steak To Tenderize Overnight?

Yes, you should leave the steak to tenderize overnight. Tenderizing steak overnight is ideal for tougher cuts of meat. Otherwise, overnight marinating leaves thinner cuts, such as hanger or skirt steak mushy.

Can I Use Vinegar To Tenderize Steak?

Yes, you can use vinegar to tenderize steak. Acidic ingredients like vinegar weaken collagen and protein in steak.


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About the author

Gabriel Woods
Chef/Food Editor
Gabrielle Woods holds a BSc degree in Hospitality Management with a summa cum laude distinction from the University of Santo Tomas, majoring in Culinary Entrepreneurship. She helps clients achieve specific fitness goals through protein-based meal prepping. She believes cooking is both an art and a science best done with a balance of tradition and innovation.
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