Few things are as tasty as a well-cooked steak.
A good steak should be flavorful, juicy, and tender.
Unfortunately, not all steaks turn out that way.
Some steaks end up being tough and chewy.
Many things determine the texture of a steak.
Understanding the things that cause a steak to become chewy will make it easier to avoid them, so your steak turns out juicy and tender.
Here are some potential reasons your steak may be chewy.
Why Is My Steak Chewy? 9 Potential Reasons
The most common reason a steak ends up chewy is that it was cooked too long.
Steaks should be cooked at a high temperature for a short time.
This allows the fat to melt and be evenly distributed through the meat, so it is juicy and tender.
Cooking the steak too long will cause the fat to evaporate and make it tough and chewy.
1. Cooking Method
The method you use to cook the steak can have a big impact on how tough it is when it is finished.
The fat inside the steak breaks down as it is heated, but if it is heated too quickly, it can also break down and make the steak tough.
There are a few different methods for cooking a steak, including baking, frying, and grilling.
Most people agree that grilling is the best method of cooking a steak because it allows the cut of meat to cook evenly, keeps the fats and juices inside, and creates a smoky flavor.
It’s also easier to monitor a steak on the grill to avoid overcooking and causing it to become tough and chewy.
2. Length Of Cooking Time
One of the most common reasons a steak ends up being chewy is that it’s overcooked or cooked too long.
The longer a steak is cooked, the chewier and tougher it will be.
Cooking a steak too long breaks down all the tissue and fat, and while this can help make a steak tender, if all the fat and tissue are dissolved, it will cause the steak to seize up and could make it chewy.
The steak doesn’t stop cooking when you remove it from the heat.
It’s best to remove it a little too soon rather than leave it on too long.
Some people prefer a well-done steak, and they don’t mind the chewy texture that comes with it.
Learning the perfect amount of time to cook a steak comes with trial and error.
3. Cooking Temperature
The temperature at which the steak is cooked can determine the texture.
Cooking the steak at an extremely high temperature will cause it to overcook or will burn the outside and leave the inside undercooked.
Everyone has a different preference when it comes to the perfect temperature or doneness for steak, but it’s best to cook the steak on high heat but for as little time as possible.
As the steak heats up, the connective tissue and fats break down.
Doing so too quickly can cause the juices to ooze out of the steak and make it chewy.
Not cooking the steak at the right temperature will prevent the connective tissues and fat from breaking down and distributing through the meat.
This results in a chewy texture and a less-flavorful steak.
4. Fresh Or Frozen
Choosing a fresh or frozen steak can also determine the texture.
Fresh steaks are more likely to retain their juices and fat content during the cooking process.
When steaks are frozen, the fat and connective tissue can become freezer burned or may break down in cold temperatures.
Pros And Cons Of Fresh Steak
Fresh steaks can be purchased from a local butcher or grocery store.
Many people prefer fresh steak because it’s easier to see the marbling and have an idea of the quality before they buy it.
- Juices distribute more evenly
- Better flavor
- Reaches room temperature quickly
- Cooks more evenly
- Better texture
- It does not last long
- Not as portable
Pros And Cons Of Frozen Steaks
Some brands of steaks can be bought from the freezer section of the store, and some people prefer to freeze fresh steaks so they can stock up on them during a sale.
Here are the pros and cons of buying frozen steaks or choosing to freeze fresh steaks.
- They last longer
- You can buy in bulk
- Maintains nutrition if frozen properly
- Less flavorful
- Fat can break down and become freezer burned
- It takes longer to come to room temperature before cooking
- Firmer, chewy texture
Regardless of whether you choose a fresh or frozen steak, it is important to allow it to come to room temperature before you cook it.
Steaks that are cold or frozen take longer to cook and have to spend more time on the grill.
Bringing the steak to room temperature before cooking means the steak won’t have to cook as long, and the juices and fat won’t evaporate and lead to a chewy steak.
5. Cutting Into It Too Soon
A perfectly cooked steak can be almost irresistible, and it’s easy to see why so many people can’t wait to cut right into it as soon as it comes off the grill.
This can actually cause your perfect steak to become chewy.
Steaks need to rest when they come off the grill or out of the oven.
They will continue to cook as their temperature goes down, and the juices will spread back through the entire cut of meat.
This will help make each bite juicy and tender.
Cutting into a steak before it has a chance to rest and redistribute the juices will cause the juices to leak out.
This will leave the steak with a dry and chewy texture.
Chefs recommend letting the steak rest for 10 minutes for every pound of weight.
6. The Type Of Cut
Some types of steak are more likely to be chewy than others.
High-quality steaks have higher fat content and better marbling of the fat, which means it is more evenly distributed through the meat.
Steaks of lesser quality do not have as much fat content and, thus, are more likely to be chewy.
When the steak is heated, the fat melts and helps to tenderize the meat.
If there is not enough fat in the steak to spread through the meat, it will remain tough.
If you are looking for a steak that is not likely to be tough and chewy, consider one of these cuts.
- Top Sirloin
- Filet Mignon
Cuts that are the most likely to be chewy include,
- London Broil
Keep in mind that the cut alone will not determine if the steak is chewy or not.
The cooking method, temperature, and other factors also come into play.
7. Fat Content
When it comes to the fat content in a steak, there’s a fine line between too much and not enough.
Too much fat can take away from the steak’s flavor and texture, but not enough will make the steak tough and chewy.
A good steak will have a nice marbling of fat throughout the cut of meat.
What Is Marbling?
If you look at an uncooked steak, you will notice white streaks running through it.
These white streaks are fat.
Certain cuts of steak have more marbling than others.
The type of food that the animal was fed can also determine how much marbling is present or the fat content of the steak.
Steaks marbling also has a score.
This is based on what percentage of the steak is marbled or how much marbling is present.
According to a chart on Stetson Beef, this is how the marbling scoring works.
- Devoid has 1.0% to 2.5% of marbling.
- Trace: 2.5% to 4.0%
- Slight: 4.0% to 5.0%
- Small: 5.0% to 6.5%
- Modest: 6.5% to 7.5%
- Moderate: 7.5% to 8.5%
- Abundant: >8.5%
How Does Fat Content Affect Quality?
The USDA rates the quality of a steak based on several factors, including marbling.
Not only is the marbling considered, but the experts who rate the steaks will check a specific area of the loin between the 12th and 13th rib.
The amount of marbling in this area will be the basis for the quality grading.
8. The Animal The Steak Came From
How the animal was raised before it was processed for meat can affect the quality and texture of the steak.
While you may not always be able to trace your steak back to a specific animal or cow, it is possible to be selective about the steaks you buy.
If you want to make sure you are getting a good quality steak, only buy from a farm that raises cattle in a way that improves the flavor, texture, and quality of the meat.
Age Of The Animal
The more an animal moves or is active, the tougher and chewier the meat will be.
Older animals have moved around more, and their muscles have been more active.
When choosing the perfect steak, it should come from an animal that is less than 42 months old.
Animals of this age do not have as much connective tissue as older animals, but they do have a higher fat content.
Type Of Food The Animal Was Fed
The type of food that cattle eat can also have an effect on how tough or chewy the steak turns out.
Cattle are usually fed grass, grain, or a combination of both.
Most cattle start out being grass-fed.
Some transition to grain when they are older, but others are only fed grass throughout their lifetime.
They are generally left to graze in a pasture.
Grass-fed beef cattle are able to obtain a lot of essential nutrients from grass, including antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and Vitamins A, B, and E.
Grass-fed beef is believed to be more nutritious, and it is leaner.
The flavors in grass-fed beef are not as rich and are more earthy or nutty instead.
The texture of the steak is also leaner, chewier, and tougher.
There is less fat content, which means less marbling and less flavor.
Grain-fed cattle may graze on grass for a short time before they are fed grain.
Some cattle are fed grass for most of their lives but switched back to grain for the last year before they are slaughtered.
The grain gives the meat a higher fat content, making it juicier, thicker, and more tender.
Most farmers prefer to feed corn to their cattle because it is affordable and helps create better marbling in the meat.
Most farmers agree that a combination of grass and grain is essential to providing cattle with the nutrients they need while also allowing them to fatten up for more flavor and a tender textured steak.
Cattle genetics can play a role in their muscle characteristics and overall fat quantity.
Some animals are naturally leaner, and others are fattier.
Breeds that mature early in life are more likely to have less fat content, and those that mature early have more fat and result in a more flavorful steak.
9. Steak Quality
The quality of the steak also determines its texture.
The better the quality, the better the texture.
The USDA grades steaks based on marbling and the age of the animal at the time of slaughter.
When you buy a steak in the store, it will have a grade on the packaging.
Here’s what those grades mean.
Prime is the highest quality of steak available, and it is also the most expensive.
Prime cuts have the most marbling and fat, which means they will have more flavor and a juicy texture when cooked correctly.
It can be difficult to find prime cuts of steak in a grocery store because this grade is usually reserved ahead of time by restaurants.
Choice is the second-highest quality, and while it contains less marbling than prime cuts, it still has enough marbling to make it juicy and tender when cooked properly.
Choice is more affordable than prime and easier to find at grocery stores and local butcher shops.
Select is the lowest grade and the most affordable.
Steaks that are select quality do not have much marbling, and they are not as forgiving as higher quality cuts when cooked.
Select steaks are much more likely to turn out tough and chewy.
Tips For Choosing The Right Steak
If you want to choose a steak that is going to be tender and juicy instead of tough and chewy, keep some of these tips in mind when shopping.
Marbling is the most important thing to look at when choosing a steak.
Look for a steak that has streaks of white throughout the meat.
As the fat melts, it will distribute the fat and juices through the meat and make it tender and juicy.
2. Choose Steak That Hasn’t Been Trimmed
Some butchers prefer to trim the steak before they package it.
If possible, choose a steak that has not been trimmed.
Keep all the fat on the steak until after it is cooked.
Once the steak is cooked, you can remove the excess fat.
3. Understand The Grades
Make sure you know what each grade of steak means and how it can affect the texture.
You may not want to choose the highest grade, but knowing which grade you have will give you a better idea of how to cook it for the right texture.
4. The Right Cut
If your goal is to choose a steak that won’t be chewy, choose a cut that is more likely to give you the texture you want.
A ribeye or filet mignon is a great option for beginner chefs who are still learning how to perfect their steak grilling skills.
5. Know The Source
Understanding where the steak comes from is important.
If you are hoping for a tender and juicy steak, you may want to choose one that you know came from a cow that was grain-fed.
Some farms advertise their steaks as grain-fed or grass-fed, and understanding what each label means can help you have better expectations for the quality of your steak and the texture you will get once it is cooked.