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Sad, Chewy Steaks...

What makes a steak tough and chewy, as opposed to soft and almost melt-in-your-mouth? Is it the cut of beef? Have I just not mastered the cooking method (the standard pan sear and finish in oven if thick, to medium rare)? How come I can order a $40 ribeye at a restaurant and get the same chewy toughness?

What is the secret to those perfect steaks?

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    1. I'm not saying anything that ChristinaMason's link doesn't say, but...

      Practice! Buy good meat. At least choice grade NY Strips or Rib Steaks. At least 1.25" thick... preferably 1.5"-2". Salt at least 15 minutes prior. Use kosher salt, not table salt, and plenty of it. Dry off your meat really well before cooking... otherwise your steak will steam. High heat! Use a meat thermometer. I pull from the heat at 125 degrees.

      Do you have a gas grill or charcoal grill? Many (most?) gas grills don't get hot enough to properly cook a steak. If you're cooking it inside, it's even more important to get a thick steak and use high heat.

      1 Reply
      1. re: jeremyn

        Kosher meat is soaked/salted for 24 hours prior to sale; I wonder if, given that, the salting method would still tenderize the meat, or if the original salting for reasons of kashering would have already done all the tenderizing.

      2. "How come I can order a $40 ribeye at a restaurant and get the same chewy toughness?"

        such a business will not survive, food critics will have the place shutdown within a month if the owner charging that much doesn't fire the incompetent cook who prepared such an atrocious piece of meat. and unless that ribeye was soaked in a weird concoction or cooked beyond 60 degrees centigrade (sorry but i'm not familiar with empirical) of internal temperature, it shouldn't be chewy. proper ribeye can even be eaten raw.

        2 Replies
        1. re: epabella

          It's actually considered one of the "better" restaurants. Maybe they were just having a (really) off day. The thing about kosher restaurants is that because it is a captive clientele, they can serve mediocre (or downright bad) food and people will come back, either because they don't know better, or because of a lack of options.

          1. re: KosherHound

            "captive clientele, they can serve mediocre (or downright bad) food and people will come back"

            and they know it and are exploiting the situation and taking advantage of their clientle.
            don't part with your forty dollars so easily, keep sending back bad ribeye til the cook get's it right. i am so glad to be atheist and not having any dietary restriction.

        2. Based on some of the responses I think clarification of the problem is in order. Are you experiencing the same chewiness at restaurants AND at home?

          There is no real secret, you will just have to experiment with different cuts of meat to determine exactly what you like. Tenderloin is obviously more tender than other cuts. What are you cooking at home? There are absolutely cuts of beef that aren't supposed to be grilled and seared quickly for eating.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Fuller

            Yes, I've had tough steaks out, which is an extreme disappointment as steak at a nice restaurant is never a cheap item. At home, it's hard to know what the heck I'm cooking as meats are typically just labeled "steak" or some variation thereof, rather than the actual cut of meat. How do I know which piece of beef I'm supposed to be buying?

            1. re: KosherHound

              Where do you live? I've never seen a piece of beef simply labeled "steak."

              1. re: jeremyn

                Agreed - that is rather odd and if it's true that a cut of beef is simply labeled "steak" well, I would start doing my grocery shopping elsewhere. Can you take a picture next time you're out and post it here?

                All steak isn't going to be super soft and melt in your mouth tender. A ribeye will have some chewy parts to it sometimes and a new york strip is far from what I would call tender, though it's not exactly tough either. If there is a butcher at your grocery store, explain that you're new to buying beef and you're looking for a good grilling cut. If there is no butcher at the store you're visiting, go elsewhere.

          2. Somewhere in one of the Cooks Illustrated articles on beef, they recommended soy sauce as a marinade which not only tenderizes but improves the flavor of plain steak. Because salt intake is a health concern for me, I've never had the nerve to try the massive pre-salt approach. And since my palate is used to very low salt levels I am afraid that the "little bit" of salt that actually remains in the rinsed then dried steak would be too much for my taste. So I put a couple of tbsps of soy or teriyaki sauce into a baggie, add the steak, press out the air, massage the bag so the sauce gets all over the surface of the meat, then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. I dry the meat with paper toweling before searing in a lightly-oiled preheated cast iron pan.

            It is really easy to overcook a steak, because there is more carry-over cooking once the meat is removed from the heat than you'd expect. I am usually cooking ones that are about 3/4" thick, and I like the meat rare, so I don't even need to use the oven. A good sear on both sides, then take the meat out and let it rest under a foil blanket while deglazing the pan and making a pan sauce. This results in an even redness throughout, with no gray border between the rare meat and the seared exterior.

            4 Replies
            1. re: greygarious

              Frankly, I don't always buy the "marinades make meat tender" idea. The marinade would have to penetrate ALL the way through the meat and even then be given time to do it's work. 4 hours in a bath of something or other wouldn't be enough time. Of course, I'm leaving out true commercial meat tenderizer (like papain) which I don't bother even having in my pantry.

              The reason I'm saying this is if a new cook reads this (like KosherHound might be) and they hear that a 30 minute marination in soy sauce is enough to tenderize meat, well then they might take a hunk of marinated chuck roast, toss it on the grill (or in a pan!!!) and then wonder what they did wrong when it's too tough to even swallow. FYI KosherHound: don't grill chuck steak (or sear it in a pan!!!) like you would a t-bone.

              greygarious, I think your information is good and well intended, I just think we need to ask more questions based on the specific problem asked above before we hand out information that might be confusing. For instance, what exactly is "plain steak"? I've been cooking for many years and if someone told me we were having plain steak for dinner then I think I'd have to laugh at them.

              Also, there is low sodium soy sauce though it is still fairly high in sodium for those on restricted diets.

              1. re: Fuller

                The OP refers to pan-sear/oven finish rather than grilling, and never mentions attempting something big like a "hunK" of chuck roast. The CI point about soy was that it does for beef what brining does for poultry, since beef is ill-suited to brining.
                Plain steak means no rub, marinade, or basting sauce.

                1. re: greygarious

                  Actually the OP asks the question "Is it the cut of beef?" when asking why are some steaks more tender than others. This question (to me) means they aren't very familiar with specific cuts of beef. If you had no idea what you were doing, you might in fact pick up a chuck roast or another tough cut meant for slow cooking and attempt to grill it or pan sear it.

                  And on that note you're right, the OP didn't mention grilling. My fault. In the most basic terms of cooking, any hot and fast cooking method achieves close to the same result whether grilling, broiling, or pan searing then finishing in the oven.

                  Please replace the part where I said "toss it on the grill" with "toss it in a pan."

                  1. re: Fuller

                    Yes, that was essentially my question, Fuller. I was veg for many years and it's rare that I have steak as my budget often doesn't allow. I'm completely unfamiliar with what parts of the cow I'm 'eating at any given time, or how to choose those parts. :)

            2. What doneness are you ordering your steaks in a restaurant that they are chewy?

              1 Reply
              1. The problem may be the cut you are using. I am no expert on Kosher cuts but I seem to recall that the softer cuts(strip, filet) tend to be prohibitively expensive from Kosher butchers due to the lengthy process of removing the sciatic nerve. Again, I could be completely wrong about this but am interested in clarification if anyone has it.

                9 Replies
                1. re: MVNYC

                  This is true. "Filet mignon" in kosher restaurants pretty much never really is, because that area is almost always discarded (actually, sold to non-kosher establishments) because of the reason you mentioned. The problem with buying kosher meat (at least at the exclusively kosher groceries in BP and Flatbush) is that they're labeled for use (ie, "steak" "chulent meat") rather than telling you what part of the cow you're getting.

                    1. re: ChristinaMason

                      They're butchered and packaged off-site. :(

                      1. re: KosherHound

                        My best advice would be to look up different cuts of beef on google image, familiarize yourself with them, and then see if you recognize anything in the store. A T-bone or porterhouse looks pretty distinctive.

                        As a general rule, look for steaks that have some fat marbling; they're usually more tender. You can also try slicing against the grain, which makes even chewy steaks seem more tender. I know it's not "gourmet," but maybe some powdered tenderizer would be a good idea here.

                        1. re: ChristinaMason

                          That's a good idea - look for pictures online. Then at least we know what the OP actually ate and was disappointed with.

                          1. re: Fuller

                            Or better yet - go into a butcher shop or high-end supermarket with a good non-kosher meat selection and familiarize yourself with the appearance of different cuts, and especially with the amount of marbling (fatty streaks) in prime rib-eye and sirloin - if you can find them. More marbling = more flavor and tenderness.

                            I don't keep kosher myself but live in an area with a lot of observant Jews, so I'm familiar with kosher meat departments and it always astonishes me how little marbling there is on even the most expensive kosher steaks.

                            There's nothing inherent to kashrut about that - I think it's as you say, kosher meat buyers are a captive market and unless/until you push back at the vendors enough for the word to reach the producers, they're not going to change their habits.

                            You might also ask for tips on the Kosher board, you can't be the only one frustrated by this phenomenon. Mayeb you can foment a revolution...

                            1. re: BobB

                              If you live in Brooklyn, I think the steaks in the kosher section at Fairway are labeled with the cuts.

                              Since you don't eat steak that often anyway, maybe you could try looking for them there. Then you would know what cut they were.

                              1. re: missmasala

                                Here in my neighborhood they're labeled with the cuts also, but even the rib eyes never seem to have any good marbling.

                    2. re: KosherHound

                      I think this is your issue, you are getting cuts of meat that are most likely not suited for the cooking methods you use. Are there Kosher butchers who butcher on site or does that make it not Kosher? You really need to know what part of the cow you are getting to figure out the best cooking method.

                  1. look for strip, ribeye, filet mignon, t-bone or porterhouse. graded choice or better yet prime. flank, top round, sirloin are better sliced than served whole.

                    bring to room temperature.

                    marinate or use a rub if you like or season with kosher or sea salt and pepper.

                    pat dry before cooking.

                    cook over high heat. grill, griddle or pan sear. don't fry or saute.

                    don't move it until you're ready to turn it.

                    finish in a medium oven if the cut is thick.

                    learn how to tell doneness by pressing meat for firmness or use a thermometer. somewhat undercook your steak. it will finish cooking by carryover heat. and rest it 7-10 minutes before cutting (don't cut to check doneness).

                    1. KH, as some of the posters have suggested, you need to familiarize yourself with the structure of the cow and figure out for yourself what pieces will be most likely able to be broiled or grilled for steak.

                      Suggestions for tenderloin, porterhouse, sirloin, etc. will not help the OP, as these are not kosher cuts and will NEVER be available in a kosher market. You can google kosher or kashrut and look up the restrictions yourself, but basically anything beyond the rib section is NOT kosher. That leave rib eye and rib steak as the most tender.

                      An addiitonal complication is soaking and salting, requirements for kosher meat, but anathema to the production of truly tasty beef. While "brining" works really well for poultry, it does not for beef.

                      A trick I have found, as I enjoy med rare as well, is to special order steaks cut 2 in thick. By first searing them under a broiler or BBQ grill, then finishing them in a hot oven (see Cook's Illustrated - they do the same), and letting them rest for 5-10 min, you have a wonderfully charred exterior and a flavorful, melt in your mouth interior.

                      If, OTOH, all you can access in inferior beef, you are never going to have a tasty steak. Friends here in Ohio order their kosher meat via Internet and are very satisfied.

                      KH, you make reference to ordering a $40 steak in a restaurant - you don't have to share, but if you are eating at non-kosher restaurants, you can't make a fair comparison, based on soaking & salting, etc. Non kosher steak has many more tender optons available, and the quality of the meat is probably prime vs choice or select at the local market.

                      So, if you want the secret - eat the $40 steak when you can and make brisket or goulash or cholent with the kosher meat.

                      2 Replies
                        1. re: HungryinBmore

                          Thanks! Of those featured, only rib, skirt and brisket are kosher cuts. Thanks for reminding me skirt steak is kosher, because it's a very flavorful cut if you marinate it, grill it quickly, let it rest and slice properly.