The Secret to Making Cheap Meat Tender and Tasty

Cheap cuts of meat (red meat in particular) can be either flavorless and/or very tough. Here are a few tricks to end up with tender, great tasting meat every time.

Miso-Marinated Flank Steak

Pictured recipe: Miso-Marinated Flank Steak

Can't afford a filet every time you've got a craving for some steak? Neither can we. Unfortunately, budget-friendly cuts of meat (red meat in particular) are affordable for a reason-they can be either flavorless or very tough and hard to chew. Try some of these tried-and-true methods to help make your cheaper cut taste like a tender, mouthwatering expensive steak.

1. Cut It across the Grain


Pictured recipe: Honey-Paprika-Glazed Steak & Onions

One way to make tougher meats tender starts with your knife and fork (or on your cutting board). Cutting meat "across the grain" simply means cutting crosswise through the long muscle fibers in the meat. Breaking them up makes meat more tender. So when you're carving a steak for serving, take note which way the muscle fibers are running and cut across them.

2. Cook It to the Right Temp

Clean Eating Buyer's Guide to Beef

Pictured recipe: Steak with Cheddar Roasted Cabbage

Plenty of issues with tough meat can be dealt with simply by cooking it correctly. Overcooking meat will almost certainly end in culinary disaster. Arguably, so can undercooking it. Both can leave you chewing. And chewing. And chewing some more. So have a thermometer handy and make sure you take your meat off the heat when it's ready. Depending on the cut of meat you're dealing with, taking most quick-cooking steaks (sirloin for example) to medium (or 140 degrees F) is a good bet. The exception to this rule are tougher cuts of meat like brisket that need to be cooked for longer to become tender.

3. Cook It Slowly

Slow-Cooker Brisket Sandwiches with Quick Pickles

Pictured recipe: Slow-Cooker Brisket Sandwiches with Quick Pickles

You know the old saying "good things come to those who wait"? This is certainly true when it comes to notoriously tough cuts of meat like beef brisket and pork shoulder. Cooking these cuts of meat slowly, either by braising, stewing or grill roasting, is the best way to get these tasty cuts of meat meltingly tender. Cuts like this come from active muscles in the animal such as the shoulder or the chest area, which get more of a workout (making them quite tough). Cooking them slowly breaks down the connective tissue so they're ready to eat without breaking your jaw.

4. Try Pounding


Pictured recipe: Skillet Swiss Steak

Ever heard of cube steak? It's super cheap, quick cooking and can be quite tender. But it doesn't start out that way. Cube steak gets its tender characteristics only after taking a beating with the jagged edge of a meat mallet. It's just another way to break apart muscle fibers that would otherwise be keeping meat tough. You can buy cube steak, or make your own version at home by pounding a tough cut of meat (like chuck steak, for example) with a meat mallet until it's about 1/4 inch thick or so.

5. Marinate

Chile-Marinated Skirt Steak (Carne Asada en Adobo de Guajillo)

Pictured recipe: Chile-Marinated Skirt Steak (Carne Asada en Adobo de Guajillo)

Is your meat lacking in flavor? Give it a boost by marinating! Not only does marinating infuse flavor, but it can tenderize too. A key ingredient in most marinades is acid (in the form of vinegar, citrus juice or yogurt) that starts to "cook" or break down the meat before it hits the heat. Just don't let it marinate too long or you can over-tenderize and end up with mush. For chicken, pork and beef, 2 hours to overnight is a good range to be within.

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