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How To: Tenderize a Steak

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© 2013 Helana Brigman
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Dear Readers & Pinners, 

The below recipe uses a basic salt tenderization technique that measures the length of time by the thickness of the meat.  Jaden Hair has a great (and funny) article using this same technique here.

If this is your first time trying this recipe, a couple of tips: 1 – use this method to revive cheap cuts of meat.  Not prime or fancy cuts.  Cheap.  2 – test the recipe with a shorter time (or less salt) than the formula suggests.  If you’re not a fan of salt, don’t go as heavy-handed, but do use enough to create the chemical reaction that leads to proteins in the meat breaking down. 

Not a fan of salt? See Food Scientist Matthew Cael’s comments about using fruit juice as an alternative in the comments section below.  He really knows his stuff!

Suggested Method of Cooking: Grilling.  

Happy Grilling!


I’ve been oversalting my steaks for years because—unbeknownst to me—something magical happens during this preparatory process.

Not being a chemist, I refer to this magic as purely “yummy,” but food scientists will tell you there is a tenderizing method anyone can use by salting meat before cooking: extra salt breaks down proteins and releases natural juices.

Coarse salts like kosher (suggested below) can transform rubbery, chewy steaks into juicy fillets with just a little bit of everyday kitchen chemistry.

Restaurant-quality tenderness—and flavor—is possible for any steak by following this simple step: salt steak according to the ratio I outline in the instructions below (basically, the thickness of your steak will determine how long it is exposed to large quantities of salt).

Note: for those worried about consuming too much salt, fear not, as you will be washing off any excess salt before cooking (see steps 3 and 4).

How to: Tenderize a Steak

(Suggested for cheap (or old) cuts of steak that need reviving and, preferably, are getting ready for the grill.  Don’t know the difference between choice, prime, or other cuts? See Kenji Lopez-Alt’s discussion of the four high-end steaks you should know here.)

Yield: 2 (1/2 lb) servings

Calories: 350-400 (see here for full nutritional info); note, the type of steak could possibly matter in overall caloric intake, but in a comparison of ribeye versus porterhouse, the levels are only a difference of 1-2 calories per serving).

Prep Time: 60 to 90 minutes (0r, 1 to 1 1/2 hours)

Cook Time: N/A: cook times vary based on preference for levels of done-ness and size of steak

Chef’s Note: My attention to this technique was first peaked on Jaden Hair’s blog, Steamy Kitchen (here).


*1 lb. steak (1 to 1.25-inches thick)

*kosher salt

1.) Prepare steak for tenderizing: based on the thickness of your steak, you will want to season with salt for every inch of thickness.  Note: use a thick, heavy layer of coarse salt and don’t worry about excess sodium in the final product (you’ll be washing this off).

For example, a steak that’s 1-inch thick requires one hour of tenderizing with salt; a steak that’s 1.5-inches thick requires an hour and a half of tenderizing, and so on and so forth.

Cover steak on both sides with a thick layer of coarse salt, such as sea or kosher. Leave steak out at room temperature, covered, and watch as the steak’s natural juices increasingly rise to the skin as it tenderizes before your eyes. Salt is a natural tenderizer making the steak juicier as it breaks down the meat’s proteins and enhances its texture.


2.) Steak at 30 minutes:


3.) Steak at an hour:


4.) After steaks have tenderized, rinse with water thoroughly to remove excess salt. Salt adds wonderful flavor to any dish, but we’re truly using the sodium for its chemical properties at this point. Pat steaks dry to remove extra moisture from skin.

5.) You can cook steak now grill, fry, or bake steaks for immediate use, or, freeze steaks and save for later.

Makes 2 (1/2 lb) steaks.

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How To: Tenderize a Steak , 3.2 out of 5 based on 56 ratings
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  1. Matt Cael
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 1:03 pm | #

    Great stuff as always, Helana Brigman. If your readers are looking for low sodium options for meat tenderization you can also use meat tenderizers that contain the enzymes bromelain (from pineapple) or papain (from papaya), or better yet, they can marinade in the juices or fruit from these two. The enzymes and natural acid help to tenderize the muscle. This works great for tough cuts such as skirt steak for fajitas.

  2. Posted January 23, 2013 at 10:28 pm | #

    Thanks Matthew! I love that you shared this with me! I’m gonna be sure to try a natural (non-salt-related) tenderizing method like you suggest next time. I love the idea of using fruit juice–it’s fabulous!

  3. Posted January 31, 2013 at 3:50 pm | #

    I’ve also tried mashed kiwifruit as a tenderiser. I like the taste of sweet/savoury so I don’t wash it off afterwards.

  4. Posted February 3, 2013 at 1:49 am | #

    I love this idea Genie! I’m definitely going to do a post on fruit as a tenderizer (but first, I’ll need to find the fruit and the meat). I love this idea so much…how am I just now hearing about this? Granted, I’m sure I’ve heard about it before…but I’m just now paying attention :).

  5. norman rolin
    Posted March 21, 2014 at 2:02 am | #

    I love all the info on tenderising meats . Especially the quickie ways THANK YOU ALL VERY MUCH .

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] 3 – Use Quality Ingredients.  You may have a great discount price for your summer grill meat, or, you may not have access to a great butcher.  With a quality marinade (and pepper sauce, if you have it), low-quality meats can be brought to life.  I discuss other techniques (as with tenderizing) in my article on “How to Tenderize a Steak” here. […]

  2. […] have time to marinade, salt the meat and let stand at room temperature to tenderize. There is a great link explaining the […]

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