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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. :)