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Any hope for tough rib eye steaks that I bought?

I feel like this is a stupid question from someone who has been cooking and baking (but not grilling) a long time, but here goes....

I guess I had just gotten lucky buying steaks before, because it turned out I didn't really know what I was doing. I recently got some rib eye steaks that were not very marbled and, yup, they were tough. My husband and I soldiered through one of them on the grill, but I have three good sized ones left in the freezer.

Any suggestions for cooking these tough steaks so that they turn out tender? Some sort of slow cooking process perhaps, like for pot roast?

And, yes, I have since learned how to pick out great steaks EVERY time and we are much happier grillers now! :)

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  1. slice thinly and make it into a stir fry? marinate in soy sauce, sugar, wine, spices for 24 hrs or something that would break down the meat a little. i'm not sure how it would turn out as a pot roast b/c you say there's not a lot of fat on the meat which results in tender meat. also cooking for a long time cause the break down of meat but i think the fat reall y helps.

    1 Reply
    1. re: trolley

      Hmm, you're right. I forgot about the fact that a pot roast (or similar) would have a lot more fat in it. There is fat around the edges, but not much in the middle.

      I suspect it will have to be sliced thinly as you said. I like the marinade too.

      1. re: The_Whistler

        Wow! Really enjoyed reading that (ok, I'm a science geek - I love Alton Brown and CI too). Thanks so much for posting it.

        I think what I'm going to try (so far) is one of each suggestion and maybe a third if another good idea comes along (since I have three steaks left), and see what works best.

        I like experimenting! :)

        1. re: The_Whistler

          That's a terrifically interesting method. It's actually pretty similar to the way you "kosher" meat - by salting and draining. Koshering is meant to draw out any remaining blood from meat, so the meat would be heavily salted and placed on a slanted board to drain. My mother used to do this when I was a kid. I'm sure she did it as much with beef as with poultry, so the method described is very close. It does leave some residual salt in the meat, which is part of what people say they taste in kosher chicken, for example. But kosher steak doesn't have such a great reputation (well, maybe it's because there's a very strong inclination toward well-done among old style kosher eaters which could turn a tenderloin into shoe leather). I'm interested in this - I'll try it.

          1. re: The_Whistler

            I tried this method with some sirloins the other day. Did it as scientifically precisely as possible: two identical pieces (from the same package, and I think they were cut from the same piece, in adjacent slices, based on appearance). Salted the heck out of one of them, minimally salted the other one, as I normally do. Rinsed off the salt after 40 minutes, added pepper, and grilled them both side by side on the same grill.

            There were some interesting differences. The salted one had a different look - less brown, more gray, less apparent juice on the surface. It seemed like there was less flareup under the salted one; I even switched sides, in case one side of the grill was hotter than the other, but it still seemed that the unsalted one flared up more. Took them both off on the rare side of medium-rare, and let them rest 10 minutes.

            But as to tenderness, which was the point of all this? I couldn't tell any difference. But the salted one was much saltier; maybe I let it stay on too long? I don't know, but it was really salty, really on the verge of being too salty to eat. And still not noticeably more tender than the other one.

            Maybe it doesn't work on sirloins? I don't know, but I doubt I'll be trying it again.

            1. re: Bat Guano

              Did you use kosher salt (about half the saltiness of regular salt)? The article specified kosher salt, but that tidbit was hidden near the bottom of the description. I used kosher and the steak did not taste too salty to me. Wonder if that was the difference? But, I agree that the tenderness change was minimal (see my comments regarding the outcome of my experiment with the salt method below - about another 1/3 down the page).

              1. re: Scirocco

                I found the salinity difference between mass market and Kosher salt this week making pickles from Bittman's book. cut regular by at LEAST about half (ok maybe use 2/3) you can always add more later.

                1. re: hill food

                  Diamond Crystal (which what is usually assumed unless otherwise stated) kosher salt is half as saline per volume as table salt.

                  Morton's is 2/3 as saline per volume as table salt.

                  Thus, if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of table salt, use 2T of Diamond Crystal kosher or 1.5T of Morton's kosher.

                2. re: Scirocco

                  No, I used sea salt. That may be a factor.

            2. I've had the same thing happen. I bought some ribeyes that were irresistibly cheap. Turned out to be unchewably tough. Lesson learned. But in the meantime, I think a stir-fry is your best bet. Another possibility would be to cube the meat, marinate Greekishly and do skewers - cooked rare. An acidic marinade could help tenderize. If you have enough, you could cube and use for Beef Bourgiuignon - long and slow with red wine. The flavour should be there because ribeye is a flavourful cut.

              1. Filet, pound and tenderize, dredge in flour and batter, and make chicken fried steak?

                1. I say ~24 hours in a marinade that involves both citrus juice and vinegar...that'll soften up anything!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: joshlane4

                    Acids really don't soften things up other than making an outer layer a bit soggy. Alkali soften things up (that's how the Chinese "velvetize" tought cuts of meat). But acids do help flavor things.

                  2. Philly cheesesteak sammies?

                    1. I haven't tried it myself, but I have an acquaintence that swears by soaking her steaks in buttermilk overnight, removing excess buttermilk before grilling, and she said that they become impossibly tender. Maybe you could try that....the acid would probably break down the meat.

                      1. Wow, some great ideas - gotta love Chowhound! I'm going to try (over the next few days) the salting method and the buttermilk method because the science of them intrigues me. Then, I think for the third one (down the road), I'll try one of the marinades. My husband is lobbying for the chicken fried steak - one of his favorites! I've never made that though, so not sure how it would come out with me at the wheel.

                        Will report back in a few days! :)

                        1. Weather permitting, how about a beef stew in slow cooker?

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: OCAnn

                            I don't think this would work so great. There isn't enough fat or collagen in the sirlon to make a good beef stew.

                            1. re: KTinNYC

                              MrOCAnn often uses cheap, tougher cuts of meats for stew...and those almost always come out nice and tender. Maybe he's doing something else that I don't know about?

                              1. re: OCAnn

                                The cheap tougher cuts, like brisket, are the ones with all the collagen/connective tissue that melts when cooked slowly to make a delicious stew! What the OP has is just a lean piece of meat without fat or collagen that will probably get tougher when cooked in a stew.

                                1. re: KTinNYC

                                  Ahhh...thank you! I learned something new. =)

                                  1. re: KTinNYC

                                    Exactly. That's why I realized that the slow cooking method I thought might help probably wouldn't work when Trolley pointed out that pot roast (et al) has the fats, connective tissues, etc that melt down. I'm thawing two as we speak to try out the salting and buttermilk methods. :)

                                    1. re: Scirocco

                                      I would also suggest treating the rib eye as a london broil. Marinate, cook to a medium rare and slice thin.

                                    2. re: KTinNYC

                                      Quite true, a lean cut won't make a good stew. If you do braise or stew it long enough however, you will eventually get to the point where it's falling-apart tender. It will have the wrong mouth feel for a stew, but you could do that and then shred it and use it in something like beef enchiladas, where the surrounding sauce and cheese would add the missing moistness and fat.

                              2. Cook's Illustrated had a great method a couple of months ago, which produced beautiful results for me with a lean eye of round.

                                Defrost the meat and rub it with a modest amount of salt (one teaspoon or a bit more). Refrigerate overnight in a plastic bag. Brown and then roast on a rack in a roasting pan at 250 until bloody rare. Then turn off the oven and let it finish for an hour or so. Don't go beyond the darker side of medium rare or it will toughen.

                                This produces great flavor and very tender meat.

                                  1. I have found that the best way to cooks steaks and the will be very tender is to cook them frozen and they will melt in your mouth!!!!!!!

                                    1. Ok, experiment #1 complete. The salting method. Our steak was about 1 1/4" thick, so per instructions, salted both sides liberally with kosher salt and let stand for 45 minutes. Rinsed thoroughly and patted dry. Grilled to medium rare/medium, let rest for 5+ minutes. Sliced thinly over a salad.

                                      Results: flavorful, and definitely improved tenderness, but only marginally so. I can see how this method would make a pretty good steak really nice. Unfortunately, I didn't start with "pretty good".

                                      Next experiment slated for later in the weekend: buttermilk soak. Might take a tenderizing mallet to it and some tenderizer along with the buttermilk soak. Haven't decided yet....stay tuned...!

                                      16 Replies
                                      1. re: Scirocco

                                        sorry - this conflicts with other advice. but I say never salt beef before cooking unless there's a religious restriction, well unless you like shoe leather - that's your decision. with chicken it draws out the blood and that's good, but you want the blood in the beef.

                                        pound the heck out of it and marinade for a few hours in olive oil and favorite herbs maybe a little astringent like lemon juice or balsamic, but not too much cause that's a chemical cook (like salt).

                                        I do liberally salt my serving. but only after it's been seared and sealed with high heat, whether on the grill or under the broiler and only long enough to still be rare (blue) on the inside.

                                        I grew up in a family of cheap beef eaters. If there's a low gristle factor, I'm confident of all possibilities.

                                        1. re: hill food

                                          I must disagree...this myth about salting beef is thrown around occasionally but I've found it to be patently false, and this observation has been backed by numerous chefs, on TV and in real life. I've even done side-by-side comparisons of salted vs non-salted

                                          and FYI - when I say salted, I mean a generous pinch or two of kosher salt applied right before grilling, not the liberal salting discussed above

                                          1. re: joshlane4

                                            I wouldn't say it's patently false (but that's fodder for a perceived parental food-abuse thread). ok, maybe a little salt, but it's so much easier to add at the very end than remediate after - that's my take and taste. and as you say - right before, not letting sit in it.

                                            personally I don't do the astringent bit either until after unless it's lime on skirt.

                                            1. re: hill food

                                              fair enough :)

                                              my favorite way to enjoy a quality cut is to give it a little kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, sear it at the highest temperature my grill can achieve, and serve it drizzled with a tiny bit of high quality extra virgin olive oil

                                              1. re: hill food

                                                Alright, I'm jumping in. As changing the nature of the proteins in meat results in the flavor we desire, then increasing the proteins on the surface of meat that is to be under direct heat results in better flavor. The only way to increase surface protein is to salt prior to cooking. 5 minutes is ideal.

                                                As for the OP, make burgers.

                                                1. re: hill food

                                                  ok I salted right before grill on Sunday - and yeah that was good. I still added more later and I maintain (stubbornly - no sitting in salt!)

                                                  but some before is ok as long as the time is considered.

                                                  Where I really take offense is at those who smear steak sauce before it's cooked.

                                                  1. re: hill food

                                                    hehe...I agree about the steak sauce comment...I cooked 2 pork tenderloins last night: olive oil, lemon juice, S&P, and herbs de Provence...delicious

                                                    1. re: joshlane4

                                                      Josh, long delay, but that sounds good on just about anything.


                                                      if I could capitalize a period, well.

                                                2. re: joshlane4

                                                  Just to clarify, this was not your typical "salting" or seasoning as most people might do before grilliing, this was a particular preparation method discussed above by The Whistler as seen in the "steamy kitchen" blog. I suppose it is a bit similar to brining.

                                                  1. re: Scirocco

                                                    i always thought salting removes moisture from meats. i often read instructions to salt after grilling or frying a piece of meat. i also think of salmon gravlax when i think of this salting method. bury the meat in salt does remove moisture while cooking it as well.

                                                    1. re: trolley

                                                      again, I too have heard this anecdotally, but never from a reliable source

                                                      whenever I read cookbooks, look at recipes online, or watch cooking on television - I repeatedly see salting before grilling

                                                      the most recent example was on a rerun of Good Eats the other day when Alton Brown explained the science behind salting before cooking steak, and why it was the right way to do it

                                                      1. re: joshlane4

                                                        Okay. I have purchased millions of pounds of beef in my lifetime, and cooked many thousands of steaks. Salt first!!! If we were really concerned about a timy amount of blood caramelizing on the surface (which we actually prefer) then why is considered such a luxury to dry-age beef, thereby draining if by 25% of its moisture? Salt first.

                                                        1. re: almansa

                                                          Absolutely, salt first. Liberally, with kosher salt. It's a totally different end result than salting after grilling - less "meat with salt on top" flavor, more "great tasting meat" flavor!

                                                    2. re: Scirocco

                                                      Always remember to let your steak rest away from heat, before you slice it. My rule of thumb is at least 6 minutes off the grill. It might seem like forever, and as much as you fear your steak is getting cold, relax, let the juices flow. Slicing into it any sooner will result in that puddle of precious tenderness that was meant to remain in your steak.

                                                3. re: Scirocco

                                                  You could try marinating the meat in an Asian style with lots of chopped fresh ginger and lemon/lme juice among other seasonings. Ginger is supposed to break down the protiens in meat and act as a tenderizer, which I believe is why if you see a marinade with ginger in it, the instructions typically say not to let it sit more than an hour or the meat will break down too much. With your steak, I'd let it sit quite a while!

                                                  1. re: ExercisetoEat

                                                    Ha ha!! I agree - let it sit for about a week. :) My third, and last, tough steak (the second is currently engaged in the "buttermilk soak" experiment) is going to be a marinade of some sort. Acids and, as you suggested, ginger among other ingredients.

                                                    My husband is wondering why I'm bothering to waste the calories on so-so steak, but the science geek in me must know if any of these techniques work! He has hot dogs on backup...

                                                4. Ok, experiment #2 in the books. For the second steak, I did the buttermilk soak method. Soaked the steak in buttermilk for 24 hours, then rinsed and patted dry. As an added twist, I cut the steak in half and left one half alone (1 1/4" thick, buttermilk soak only). The other half, I beat both sides into submission with the coarser side of a tenderizer mallet to maybe 1/2" thick and then sprinkled with a little "meat tenderizer" (didn't even know I had that 'til I was poking around in the spice rack).

                                                  Results - both grilled to medium - both sliced thinly across grain:
                                                  Original thickness w/buttermilk soak: only slightly less tough, barely edible.
                                                  Beaten half w/buttermilk soak and tenderizer added: remarkably better. Actually pretty good!

                                                  So, I have decided that the acids and the salt prep both DO help, but alone, do not help enough if the steak is too lean. Pounding it out made a big difference and seemed to be necessary to break down the toughness of the steak (or at least the ones I had). We are going to skip the marinade test (although obviously may do that with a BETTER steak - ha!) and just soak and pound out the last steak.

                                                  Kudos to my DH for putting up with all this nonsense and letting me experiment at his dining expense! :)

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Scirocco

                                                    Myth Busters recently had the "Exploding Steak" episode...where they tried different methods to determine the best way to tenderize steak. Pounding (or putting steak in a dryer with steel balls), really did the trick.

                                                  2. I had bought a few packets of lamb, I think they were the shoulder cut. The last time I made them I thought never again. When I made them before, we just put a dry rub on them and grilled them. Absolutely the wrong way for us, anway, they steaks were so full of sinew and gristle, we were chewing and chewing. Great flavor, but really a disapppointment. Well I came across to more packs in the freezer-total of 4, and I thought heck, I have to get rid of this stuff.
                                                    I marinated the chops in red wine (Pompeii) vinegar, olive oil, flowering Mexican oregano, fresh lemon juice, sweet paprika, fresh garlic, sliced white onions, and cracked pepper. I marinated them in the morning they were in that juice about 5 hours, on the counter (they had thawed and were very cold). I have to tell you they were the best! The marinade is similar to the Portugese one I use for pork Vinho D'hos, that has bay and red peper flakes?? I just know how to say it not spell it! Excellent Excellent, and no longer shoe leather!

                                                    1. Here it is a little over a year later than the original post and we just ate part of a perfectly grilled rib eye steak which we also soldiered through. I eyed this steak suspiciously when I cut it out of the vacuum sealed pouch...steak from a local farm coop...clean meat, no hormones, etc, etc. Suspiciously because there was no marbling to be seen in the main body of the steak. I'm very happy that the cows get to run around and stay fit but doesn't work when you want a tender piece of meat.
                                                      So my solution for the remaining slices of pink, tough rib eye steak is to make a classic
                                                      italian tomato sauce and put in the slices to cook along...not minced up...whole slices. After a couple of hours cooking, if the meat is tender and tastes like anything, I'll dice and throw in the sauce otherwise, I'll just dump the meat and enjoy the sauce.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: garlic17

                                                        Thanks! That is a great suggestion. I'm all about a good tomato sauce too.

                                                        I have made it through all of the original ones I posted about and have learned much about picking steaks because of the experience. I recently had some touch burnt ends from a local restaurant and I did something very similar to your suggestion to try to save the leftovers. although did not have the patience to wait for two hours. It was probably close to an hour. It greatly improved them, but was still sad that they had not been what I expected of the restaurant. They comped my meal which was very generous of them (they agreed they were super dry), but I had really been looking forward to great burnt ends like I'd had in Kansas City. :-/