Nothing beats the taste of a tender, well-seasoned, and adequately prepared steak. Every trade has its secrets, and restaurants are no exception. Restaurants are experts at tenderizing steak, and the methods revealed may come as a pleasant surprise.
There are three ways restaurants can tenderize steak: wet or dry aging and mechanical and chemical processes. Restaurants will seldom admit to using chemicals or automated processes to tenderize their steak, but it is no secret that they do.
The meat cut that needs tenderizing determines the method used for tenderizing.
Tenderizing refers to breaking down the protein strains and fibers that result in easier consumption.
Popular Methods Restaurants Use To Tenderize Steak
Restaurants and home cooks alike tend to use one of the following ways to tenderize steaks.
The dry or wet aging process is the preferred method of high-end restaurants. This is because they can control their steaks’ tenderness, moisture, and taste during these processes. Unfortunately, dry or wet aging is the most expensive way to tenderize steak.
Mechanical processes call for “tools” to tenderize the steak. Automatic tenderizing methods cuts and penetrates the meat in diverse ways, breaking up the fibers. Automated processes are the cheapest way to tenderize steak.
Chemical processes use enzymes to tenderize meat. Enzymes found in fruits such as papaya and pineapple assist in breaking down tough meat fibers. Family restaurants tend to favor the chemical process.
How Restaurants Use Different Methods To Tenderize Steaks
The ongoing rising cost of beef and other meats forces restaurants to buy cheaper cuts of meat. Unfortunately, cheaper cuts of meat tend to be more challenging to tenderize. To make these tougher pieces easier to prepare and consume, restaurants apply various tenderizing methods.
Following are the methods used, how the different techniques tenderize, and what cuts of meat tenderize best with each technique.
Wet Or Dry Aging To Tenderize Steak
Wet or dry-aging meat is the most natural way to tenderize meat, and high-end restaurants prefer this method. However, they choose to use the most expensive and time-consuming technique to ensure the best tasting tender steak and, because of this, can charge premium prices for their product.
Wet aging steak is a cheaper and quicker tenderizing technique than the highly sought after, more expensive dry-aging method.
When wet aging steak, the meat gets vacuum packed immediately after cutting it from the carcass and then left to tenderize in its moisture. The enzymes and water within the flesh start a slow decaying process that breaks down tough protein fibers.
Dry aging steak tenderizing starts by hanging the meat in moisture and temperature-controlled environment. Once again, tenderizing happens naturally.
However, this process takes much longer than wet aging. During this process, significant cuts of meat get tenderized instead of individual steaks, as with the wet drying process.
Both dry and wet aging allows a restaurant to stay in control of the natural tenderizing process. This way, they can control and manipulate the time it takes for their steaks to reach the flavor and moisture profile their customers desire.
Pounding To Tenderize Steak
Cheaper cuts of meat need more robust methods to tenderize it.
Pounding the meat is a cheap and fast way to tenderize meat. The equipment used to beat meat includes a mallet, rolling pin, hammer, or even a cast-iron skillet. The steak, laminated between two plastic sheets, is pounded from the middle outwards.
The blow to the meat breaks the tough fibers, making the steak easier to consume.
Enzymes Used To Tenderize Steak
Natural enzymes found in fruits such as papaya and pineapple can assist in tenderizing meat.
As mentioned earlier, this method involves adding the pulp or a marinade containing the fruit to the meat. The chemical breakdown of meat fibers is due to the working of the enzymes.
The use of enzymes is a quick, cheap, and effective way of tenderizing meat and is a popular method used by family restaurants. This process tenderizes steak in less than an hour, depending on the size of the steak.
How To Decide Which Tenderizing Method to Use
How do restaurants decide which tenderizing method to use? Of course, the easiest way is to let the cut of meat dictate the technique. Following are examples of how restaurants tenderize specific steak cuts.
- Flank steak tends to be tricky due to its low-fat content. The easiest way to enhance this cut’s flavor and softness is by using marinades containing acidic elements such as apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. Tougher steaks like flank, skirt, round, and chuck steaks must be prepared by slow cooking and slow and low-temperature grilling when marinated and broiled.
- Skirt steak has tough fibers. In this instance, use a mallet to pound the steak. Pounding breaks down the tough fibers. Once again, low and slow is the key to preparing them.
- Sirloin steak tenderizes very well in marinades. Low and slow cooking or grilling is the key to successfully preparing a juicy, tender sirloin.
- Tri Trip Steaks are not as challenging, and marinating the meat will tenderize it to satisfaction. Grilling is an excellent choice when cooking these cuts.
Tools Used To Tenderize Steak
Restaurants use three tools to tenderize their steak.
Different tools serve different purposes in the tenderizing process of meat.
- Meat tenderizers, also known as meat mallets or meat pounders, are tools that resemble an ordinary hammer. These mallets have blunted spikes that, upon pounding the steak, break down the tough fibers.
- A meat cuber tenderizes sizable portions of meat. First, the beef gets packed in a chamber equipped with a crank. The crank attaches to a turning handle. Then, large spikes inside the cuber pierce the tumbling meat, breaking down the tough fibers and making the meat more tender.
- Meat tenderizing powder is a very convenient way of tenderizing steak. These powders contain enzymes that naturally break down tough meat fibers.
Easy And Affordable Ways To Tenderize Steaks
Beyond everything previously mentioned regarding the way restaurants tenderize their steaks, there are two more effortless and affordable ways that, without fail, produce tender steaks.
One way is salt, and another is a solution of water and baking soda.
Kosher or coarse sea salt is remarkably effective in tenderizing steak. The salt extracts the moisture from the meat. The water mixes with the salt on the surface of the steak.
The steak again absorbs the brine, at which point it starts to break down the muscle protein, tenderizing it. Again, treating the meat for 24 hours before cooking, grilling, or frying produces the best results.
A solution of water and baking soda produces beautiful tenderizes steak. Soaking steaks in this solution raises the PH on the meat’s surface, causing the proteins to not bond well. Fifteen minutes of soaking is adequate to ensure tender, flavorful steaks.
Even if restaurants are not keen on admitting to the fact, it is no secret that they use different methods to tenderize their steaks.