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How to get a tender, medium-well steak?

I love the rich, robust taste of a grilled, fully-cooked steak (I find the bloody taste of medium or less to be unpleasantly similar to the smell of picking a scab on a hot day.) My "perfect" steak is rich brown outside with just a bit of charring, and lighter brown/gray inside except for a thin pinkish-gray line in the center.

I understand that the more done a steak gets, the less tender it will be. However, I've grilled some steaks to my perfect doneness that turned out deliciously tender. Unfortunately, it is more often a bit on the tough side - not usually *too* bad, but more chewy than I prefer.

Obviously the cut, the cooking temperature, searing time, and the cooking times are all factors, as well as the starting temperature of the meat, dryness, resting time, etc. My problem is that I can't afford steak often enough to figure out the combination of factors that accidentally come together sometimes to make the steak turn out so tender and good.

So with the understanding that a medium-well steak will never be quite as tender as medium or rare, what is my best bet for making that medium-well steak turn out as tender as possible, while still getting those delicious grill marks from proper searing?

I have a gas grill but have been tossing around getting a charcoal one too.

Thanks for any ideas,

Matthew

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  1. Hey Matthew,
    I would get the grill as hot as possible, salt the steak well and maybe drizzle some olive oil on top. Sear the steak just until the grill marks appear and then get it over a low heat. You could kill the heat all together on the gas grill or move the steak indoors to a very low oven (200 maybe). Watch it carefully and as soon as the meat thermometer nears the temperature you want (what is that by the way?), take it out and let it rest for a good 10-15 minutes before you cut it. That should give the juices more time to reincorporate and will keep it from getting dry.

    This will be much easier with a thicker cut. Good luck and please report back!
    JeremyEG
    HomeCookLocavore.com

    1. Buy steaks that are more tender by nature. I find that skirt steak, due to its well-marbled nature and distinct grain, is generally still tender if cooked to medium or beyond as long as you cut it against the grain as you eat. Filet is still tender at just about any temperature, but because it has so little fat it does get dry if you go past medium rare. What cut of meat do you generally use?

      2 Replies
      1. re: biondanonima

        Thanks for the idea, I'll take a look at skirt steaks sometime soon.

        I generally buy top sirloin, which I can often find for $3.49 to $3.99 a pound at Kroger or Walmart. Once in awhile I'll get ribeye, which we like better but can rarely find for a price we're willing to pay. I tried t-bone once but definitely overcooked it due to a small emergency in the house just when the grill needed careful tending, so I'd like to try those again.

        Some of the best beef I've ever turned out was a chuck roast. It took nearly two hours to grill, but I kept basting it throughout that time and it came out delicious and quite tender and juicy, even though I'd done it to well all the way through.

      2. If you're interested in experimenting, you could season the steak with butter, salt, pepper and whatever aromatics you want, vacuum bag it and then drop it into a water bath set at 150-155ºF for a few minutes to a few hours depending on how thick the steak is.

        Then unzip the bag, dry off the meat with some towel, and throw it onto your screaming-hot IR grill to burn in the grill marks.

        4 Replies
        1. re: wattacetti

          Hmm, the OP sounds like my husband's preference, too. So is 150-155 F also the internal temp for the medium well not vacuumed/hot water bathed?

          1. re: pine time

            150-155 is the range I've always used for medium/medium well cow irrespective of cooking method.

            I'm proposing sous-vide primarily to allow for temperature control and a way for the butter to help work on the meat.

            1. re: wattacetti

              Thanks -- will give the 150-155 a try for his steak next time. I like mine less well done, so usually overcook his.

              1. re: pine time

                Rest his piece of cow irrespective. If you're doing the grilling or oven thing, I suggest pulling at 145-150 and tenting for 10-15 minutes.

        2. Using a Jaccard will help with tenderness and will also prevent some of the moisture loss caused by muscle fibers contracting. All of this will make your med well steak more enjoyable.

          1. Salt in advance and cook it as slow as possible.

            Salt the steak a day in advance (or as far in advance as you can afford). Sear in a pan and put it in your oven at ~200 degrees and let it hang out for 30-40 minutes. Let it rest and dig in.

            You really ought to learn to enjoy medium steaks though.

            16 Replies
            1. re: joonjoon

              Doneness of meat is a personal preference.

              I like mine blue (the cow should moo if at all possible) but I'm not going to impose that on someone else. The Argentines for instance eat a whole lot of cow and almost all of it is well-done.

              1. re: wattacetti

                >Doneness of meat is a personal preference.

                Of course it is. I like my meat blue, well done, raw, medium, whatever, it all depends on what I'm having and what level of cooking best highlights the meat.

                Having said that the OP is looking to enjoy a tender steak, and tenderness in most steak cuts gets ruined after medium, which is why I made the suggestion.

                1. re: joonjoon

                  Same here -- blue is my instinct, but (am I crazy?) some cuts are better when they're more "done." Short ribs, skirt, and hangar, for example. Also, I can never get the flank right unless they're medium. So the salting and even cooking throughout is good advice!

                  1. re: link_930

                    Absolutely link, I think each cut has a "best doneness" level!

              2. re: joonjoon

                Thanks for the idea - I'll give that a try.

                I've tried many times to enjoy medium steak to no avail - I simply can't taste anything but the blood, and I personally find fully-cooked steak to be vastly more flavorful and robust, which is more important to me overall than the texture. I just want to get the tenderest results I can get for the flavor I prefer. :)

                1. re: MatthewHSE

                  If you want your meat fully cooked I would suggest ditching the steak and going for korean style grilling, where meat is cut into bite size slices or cubes, quickly cooked and consumed immediately at the table. When you have a piping hot small piece of meat coming right off the pan it's succulent and tender even if it's fully cooked. One of my favorite things is to have dinner with one of these http://www.amazon.com/Deluxe-Butane-B... and cooking meat right at the dinner table.

                  1. re: MatthewHSE

                    It's not blood , it's myogloben, and learn to like it, or keep experimenting at least the mistakes are still good

                    1. re: Dave5440

                      Regardless of what that red stuff is, I'm done wasting four dollars a pound trying to "learn to like it." I've given medium-done steak a fair trial and haven't enjoyed it once.

                      Fully-cooked steak has a richness and robustness to it that partially-cooked steak just doesn't have, and if I'm going to spend that much on meat, I want a flavor I'll enjoy. Otherwise I'd just eat loose-fried hamburger for $1.49 a pound. But when I pay for steak, I want a meal I'll really like - not something I have to pretend to like until somehow I believe the lie.

                      1. re: MatthewHSE

                        I'm telling you Matt, try Korean style tabletop grilling. You'll love it.

                        1. re: MatthewHSE

                          "I'm done wasting four dollars a pound"

                          This could be a big part of the problem. What grade and cut of steak are you buying for $4 a pound? My thought is that it is probably graded select, which is less likely to be tender. My suggestion is that you seek out a better quality of beef and you will get more consistently tender results. Look for steaks with lots of small streaks of marbling.

                          You don't have to spend $15 or more per pound, but $4 a pound will generally not get you choice grade. As with all things in life, you get what you pay for.

                          1. re: lisavf

                            Choice Grade beef regularly goes on sale throughout the year.....especially during the holidays at my local markets.

                            1. re: lisavf

                              A few stores in our area run top sirloin on sale for $3.49 to $3.99 a pound a few times per year, but I never paid any attention to the grade. So, "Choice" is what I'm looking for?

                              1. re: MatthewHSE

                                Choice is good.

                                Prime is even better, but you probably won't find it, and certainly not cheaply.

                                1. re: MatthewHSE

                                  Cowboyardee is exactly right. When choosing a steak, look for lots of small flecks of fat streaked throughout the meat.

                                  You may want to try a different cut as well, such as boneless ribeye or strip steaks. (They may be called by different names at your store)

                                  1. re: lisavf

                                    yeah, I would never try to grill a piece of sirloin and expect decent "steak". (although I might marinate it and cut in cubes for kebobs). I know it's expensive, but if you don't get ribeye, strip, tbone, porterhouse, or filet...I think getting what you want is gonna be tough. sorry about the pun.

                                2. re: lisavf

                                  I agree that Select grade is generally to be avoided. But I shop at a relatively upscale supermarket in Indiana, which only sells Choice or better, and top sirloin is frequently on sale for 3.99 per lb. The few times I've been in Walmart, I've noticed that they do sell Select grade, among others. Gotta read them labels!

                        2. You actually can make a medium well steak every bit as tender as a rare one. Buy yourself a thick cut of chuck steak or equally tough cut of braising meat. Use a jaccard on it. Seal it in a vacuum bag or a ziploc submerged underwater to get the air out. Cook in a water bath at 150 deg F for about 20 hours. Remove from bath and cool to room temp or lower.

                          Get a charcoal grill as hot as you can possibly get it - lots of charcoal, lots of air. Remove the steaks from the bag, dry them, and salt them before putting them on the grill long just enough to char. Alternately, grill them on top of a chimney starter right at its hottest.

                          It will be medium well and as tender as medium rare filet mignon. Enjoy.

                          Probably that's not exactly what you're asking for. What will help you is buying steaks with little connective tissue and lots of marbling (fat makes steak seem more tender at medium rare and above), making absolutely certain you don't cook above medium well (use an instant read thermometer - also the 200 deg oven trick someone mentioned above gives you a much easier target to hit), using a jaccard (minimizes loss of juice due to contraction of fibers - just don't cook it below medium well or food poisoning is a possibility due to surface pathogens being pushed into the meat), and buying a thickish cut and resting it well (remove the steak a few degrees below medium well on the insta read thermometer). Taking care to cut against the grain once it's cooked helps as well.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: cowboyardee

                            I wouldn't recommend cooking a steak for 20 hours as you will get a mushy steak at this point. If you look at the temp/time charts for sous vide cooking and average steak sholdn't be cooked be more than 4 hours and depending on the thickness of your steak one hour might often be enough to reach medium well.

                            1. re: honkman

                              That's why I said chuck, not rib eye. A braising cut. Completely different process from cooking a tender cut. Heck, cooking beef short ribs for 48-72 hours is common (though that's typically sub 140 F, to be fair). Give it a try if you cook sous vide. Just for S&G. Interesting results can be had anywhere from about 6-24 hours. Since the OP wants tender, I gave him the tender end of the scale. But it won't be mush.

                              BTW I prefer pork shoulder done this way though (and 140-145 F is best IMO) - that's some amazing stuff.

                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                I didn't see that you wrote chuck steak. Thought you were discussing "regular" steak

                                1. re: honkman

                                  No prob. We agree - I wouldn't advise cooking a tender cut more than 4 hours sous vide either. Usually a lot less than that.

                          2. I'm in the camp that believes the better the steak (better cut and better grade) will give you better results. It's added insurance.

                            There's really nothing you can really do with marinades or buttering that will make a big difference with tenderness, but really adds flavor.

                            Cooking temps can influence the juices retained. Starting high to achieve the grill marks finishing up at a lowered temp will help.

                            I guess I'm saying, "Tenderness is dependent upon your price point and what you consider tender to be."

                            5 Replies
                              1. re: tommy

                                I agree that cut is most important. You can grill a striploin or ribeye on high heat to medium well and still have a tender steak. Sometimes people who don't purchase steak often are not familiar with the different cuts, and end up buying whatever is on sale - but there are a lot of cuts out there that are not intended for grilling or take much more skill to achieve good results.

                                1. re: analysisparalysis

                                  Sometimes people who don't purchase steak often are not familiar with the different cuts, and end up buying whatever is on sale - but there are a lot of cuts out there that are not intended for grilling or take much more skill to achieve good results.

                                  ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                  This describes my family. "Steaks" on the grill were hyped as a treat but my dad had no idea about different cuts of meat. He would walk into the store and buy the cheapest steak-looking cut of meat in the case. The first time my husband was a guest at one of dad's cook-outs, he didn't know what to think.

                                  Later in life, after I started getting beef by the half and educating myself on how to cook different cuts, he had a light bulb moment that some cuts produce better results on the grill.

                                2. re: tommy

                                  With better cut, I mean "tender cut" of beef which usually mean cuts from the Loin or the Rib.
                                  When grilling, I find that ribeye or tenderloin/filet mignon remain fairly tender when cooked to medium well. T-bones and sirloin are "tender cuts" but tend to be a little tougher and have a slight liver flavor when cooked too much.

                                  Less tender cuts - chuck, round and flank are always tough and become much tougher the more done it becomes.

                                  1. re: dave_c

                                    t-bone is from the short loin, and includes a bit of the tenderloin, but mostly the strip, still from the loin.

                                    I think the skirt steak suggestion is a good one as well.

                              2. As my Argentine steak-maestro friend taught me, you cannot accomplish the effect you're after within the American orthodoxy of high-heat/flip-once grilling.

                                Most people in Argentina cook their steaks as you like them, but their meat is different from USA meat.

                                Still, you can accomplish the effect you want using moderate grill heat and frequent flipping. You'll want to use a relatively fatty cut like ribeye or strip steak. Joonjoon uplist seems to agree, and his/her salting suggestion sounds really great, too.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Bada Bing

                                  Would you suggest any time of high-heat searing, or just moderate heat throughout the entire cooking time?

                                  1. re: MatthewHSE

                                    I think Bada Bings's advice is sound except it will likely not result in the char you're after.
                                    I don't really time mine, but I put the steak over the hottest part of the grill and wait until I get nice grill marks/char, then flip and do the same. Then, I move it closer to the edge of the grill, where the heat is a bit lower, using my thermometer as described in my other post. I don't know if that would work with a gas grill, but it works with a charcoal grill since we usually have the most charcoal towards the center, with less closer to the edges. A moderate heat throughout the cooking time doesn't quite give the char I like on the outside, but in my experience a combination of initial high-heat searing and then a switch to moderate heat works well.

                                2. I highly suggest a charcoal grill for flavor - I've never, ever grilled with gas. But, it is harder to control the temp of a charcoal grill and if you're used to using gas, you might have difficulty adjusting to charcoal. In any case, though this may be blasphemy to purists, we bought one of those electronic grill thermometers from Brookstone. We've never had more consistently-properly-cooked meats. I agree with the poster who said to use a very hot grill and sear the outside. Carefully monitor the internal temp with a thermometer, and you should be able to pull it off while still moist but as cooked as you'd like. Of course as you and others say the cut makes a huge difference. But using a thermometer will at least ensure that you get the best out of whatever cut you do have.

                                  1. I agree certain cuts of meat are preferable to achieve the results you are seeking, but I would also suggest you consider, regardless of cut of meat, you simply start off with a thinner piece/actual cut ...and slice thin. A thinner piece cooks faster with less chance of drying out if not cooked over high heat .....and a thinner piece of meat will have less chew than a larger thicker piece.

                                    10 Replies
                                    1. re: fourunder

                                      This is probably the best answer I've seen.

                                      1. re: tommy

                                        Dryness is mainly a function of muscle fiber contraction, which is almost entirely a function of temperature. If you cook a thinner piece to the same doneness, it will be equally dry.

                                        Also, it is far harder to get much of a char on a thin piece of meat without overcooking it. There is proportionally more surface area though, which can be an advantage if you have a strong enough heat source or are marinading or something.

                                        I think the only reason a thin piece might appear less dry than a thicker cut is greater risk of residual heat overcooking the thick cut once it's off the fire (pull it off a little rarer than you like). Or else just the different mouthfeel from eating thinner strips, though you could always cut a thick steak thin after cooking it.

                                          1. re: tommy

                                            Yes, but the question (at least as far as it will do anybody any good on an internet forum) is 'why?'

                                            After thinking about it a little more, I think you and fourunder might be onto something, but i still think it has to do with nothing more than the actual doneness of the meat. I think when most people order a steak medium well, they're saying they expect no pink at all. So what they get when the steaks is cooked traditionally over high heat is a steak whose center is medium well while most of the steak is very well done, since it takes a lot of built up heat to get the center of a thick steak to med well.

                                            Cooked traditionally on high heat, a thinner steak makes this difference between the center and outer parts of the steak less marked. You order a med well steak, and most of the steak isn't actually cooked beyond medium well.

                                            But if we're not cooking traditionally, there doesn't have to be much or any difference. The 200 degree oven trick mentioned above lets the temperature of the meat come up more slowly and uniformly - a thick steak can be cooked to med well much more uniformly, The effect would be minimized. And cooking sous vide, the effect would be completely eliminated.

                                            If you have another explanation, I'd love to hear it. I can personally verify from dicking around with sous vide and low temp cooking that you can get very tender results in a thick cut of 150+ F meat that way, though I haven't cooked steak to that temp (it makes for extra tender chicken and such).

                                            1. re: cowboyardee

                                              We are now starting to agree.

                                              A thin steak
                                              1) won't have time to have its moisture forced out, leading to a more "juicy" product.
                                              2) won't have to be heated as long, and therefore won't have an outside edge that is completely dried out as the inside is finally coming to temp.

                                              Take a thin strip steak and see how quickly it cooks, and how tender it is when you're done, even though the inside has little to no pink. Getting "char" is a bit trickier, but can be coaxed with fire.
                                              http://www.tommyeats.com/tommyeats/20...

                                              1. re: tommy

                                                I just disagree that time really has anything to do with it. Muscle fiber contraction squeezes the juice out of meat, not evaporation. Try to 200 deg oven method - you'll have a thick steak that takes a long damn time to cook but is nice and tender afterwards, far more so than a thick steak cooked to the same doneness at its center cooked traditionally for a very short time.

                                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                                  A thin steak won't get has hot for as long as a thick steak. I'm not comparing this to slow and low cooking or sous vide (neither of which will create any char).

                                                  1. re: tommy

                                                    Low temp cooking and sous vide specifically both typically use ultra-high heat methods to get a char before and/or after cooking (and a rest, usually).

                                                    I'm making the comparison to low temp cooking because the same principles apply. If you cook a steak to 150 and only get it to that temp for a second, it will be no less dry than if you cook a similar steak to 150 and carefully hold it at that temperature for an hour without letting it get any hotter.

                                              2. re: cowboyardee

                                                My thoughts are simply this.....thicker steaks need more time to reach temperature and the longer time on any heat source only increases the chances of losing moisture in the meat....the result is drier meat, so I would disagree that a thicker steak cooks more evenly on a high heat source. Low temperature cooking and reverse searing is a better method to reduce the possibility of moisture loss....what I believe causes dry meat.....not temperature and muscle fiber contraction

                                                1. re: fourunder

                                                  "so I would disagree that a thicker steak cooks more evenly on a high heat source."
                                                  ____
                                                  I don't think we disagree.

                                                  "Low temperature cooking and reverse searing is a better method to reduce the possibility of moisture loss....what I believe causes dry meat.....not temperature and muscle fiber contraction"
                                                  _______
                                                  I haven't noticed any major advantages of reverse searing over starting with the sear if you are careful to dry the surface of the meat before searing traditionally, though I'll take the experts' word for it that maybe enzymes can work some sort of magic if the cut is large enough. I do advocate the low temp cooking aspect, so we are in agreement there. But I'm not sure what you are saying - what causes moisture loss in your opinion? When I say it's temperature and muscle fiber contraction, I'm talking about the temperature of the meat, not of the heat source. Basically I'm saying it's all a matter of doneness. That if you want as juicy and tender a med well steak as possible, you should avoid cooking any more of it than you have to past medium well.

                                      2. Sous vide to the desired temp and than briefly on the hot grill

                                        1. To answer your original question in the most direct manner. Set one side of your grill very hot. The other side don't have it on at all. It will get plenty of heat from the hot side. If your gas grill has an elevated rack, you can use it, preferably still on the cool side. Put some cooking oil on the grill.

                                          Bring your steak out of the fridge 20 - 30 minutes before you want to start cooking it. Let it come up to room temperature. I would salt it when I first took it out of the fridge. When you are ready to cook it, pat it with some paper towels to get it as dry as possible.

                                          Put the steak on the hot side of the grill and sear it on both sides for 2-3 minutes per side to get a nice browned exterior. Now move the steak to the cooler side and cook it until it measures 150 degrees F. Take it off the grill, wrap it in aluminum foil and let it rest for 10 minutes. Serve.

                                          Other considerations:

                                          I think there is more control on the stovetop and then transferring to the oven.
                                          Especially for the grill, use a fatty steak like ribeye. Grills can dry a steak out pretty fast so something fatty is best. Porterhouse and T-bones are good too but not as fatty.

                                          For best results, use choice, certified angus or prime rated steaks. Unfortunately, they also are the most expensive. Expect to pay at least $10.00 per pound.

                                          Use a steak that is at least 1 inch thick... otherwise, it is just too hard to control the temperature and how done your steak is.

                                          I use charcoal because I like the flavor it imparts. Gas grills just seem like stovetops and ovens that you use while it is 90 degrees outside.

                                          Honkman is right about the sous vide setup but who has a sous vide setup?... not me and probably not you.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: Hank Hanover

                                            Actually more and more people I know have now a sous vide setup (including ourselves). I think it is one of the key cooking "instruments" which can have an deep impact for everybody interested in cooking and even though it is not cheap it is now reasonable afforable.

                                            1. re: honkman

                                              What you need to do is counter-act the toughening that happens when you cook the meat to higher temperatures. I have been using a slow-roasting method for big cuts of beef...given the idea that keeping the internal temperature below 120 F for as long as possible encourages enzymatic action that breaks down & tenderizes meat, and temperatures over that level cause muscle fibers to tighten and toughen.,,but I wanted to find a way to similarly tenderize steak cuts, and I wasn't willing to spend the whole day flipping a slow oven on & off to maintain a low temperature for a quick dinner option like a steak...soooo.....a few weeks ago I very cautiously did my first dry-aging steak experiment. I bought a couple of sirloins and a strip steak, took them out of store wrappings, rubbed them with a little salt & pepper, and then wrapped them loosely in baking parchment & stuck them way back in the fridge for five days. I will confess I stared morbidly at them toward the end of the five days, but cooked & ate them anyway...and I'm still alive. They were noticeably more tender than un-aged steaks, and had a deeper beef flavor. They had dried very slightly on the edges, but I had to trim just a bit away from each one. Next time, I'm going to go longer. I know that aging beef is kind of an art, and I would never attempt the 20-30 day dry-aging that butcher shops can, but some websites suggest you can go even a couple weeks at home. You can google 'dry-aging at home' for ideas. I was raised on beef that had been doused with commercial 'tenderizers' (which makes them taste like they've been dunked in the hot tub at the YMCA) and I'm determined to find other methods to tenderize the relatively inexpensive cuts of beef that we can best afford. I hope this post doesn't poison anybody! But I am fairly comfortable pushing the 'sell-by' limits...as long as you keep your kitchen hygiene pretty good and cook to 'safe' temperatures...and I trust my nose a lot. If it stinks, toss it!

                                              1. re: tonifi

                                                Tonifi, just one thing you should be aware of with your aging experiments - if you salt your beef before aging you are effectively curing your meats - turning it into ham/corned beef - rather than aging.