Why Is My Grilled Steak Tough? [Causes & How to Fix It]

You know when you buy a steak, and then you think of that steak all day long because you’re so excited to cook it and have it for dinner? But then you cook it and sit down to eat it alongside all the yummy sides that you whipped up, and you take that first bite, and it’s tough. It’s hard to chew, and the flavor is lost, and you have no idea where you went wrong. You sit there asking yourself, why is my grilled steak tough?! There are a few different reasons this can happen.

Why is My Grilled Steak Tough?

You’re using lean meat with less fat on it, which means there is a higher muscle ratio. Muscle is not as juicy as the meat’s fat parts, meaning the juices will cookout faster. If you cook a lean steak, you need to keep a close eye on the steak’s temperature and doneness as you grill it since it will cook faster and become tough and chewy if you leave it on too long.

why is my grilled steak tough

Muscle is also generally just tougher to eat. If you are eating wild-caught game like elk or buffalo, the meat will have less fat. It also means that your meat will have a gamey taste

The higher the muscle content, the tougher the piece of meat is going to be. Suppose you are eating farm-raised food, like cow. It does not have as much muscle because it is raised to become food, so it is kept supple and fatty.

Before buying meat for your next grilling adventure, consider more tender grilling meats. Most people make the mistake of going for the cheapest meats and then wonder why it doesn’t come out good. 

What Causes a Tough Steak?

You’ve Likely Overcooked It

As much as we would love to blame the steak itself for having too much muscle or being too lean, you may have to blame yourself for creating a tough steak. 

One factor that is a definite culprit is the length of time you grilled your steak. If you cook it for too long, you run the risk of overcooking it. Overcooking a steak creates a tough steak that is hard to cut through and hard to chew, giving you an unpleasant steak.

Every griller should have a meat thermometer that will make it easy for them to cook it to the proper internal temperature. Any meat thermometer will work and will prevent you from overcooking your meat. 

You Bought A Tough Meat

Even if you have a tender cut of meat, overcooking is still a genuine possibility. When you apply heat to a piece of meat, the heat causes the meat’s proteins to harden. 

So, if you overcook your steak, the proteins will harden to the point of being very tough to cut and chew through.

As mentioned, there are several reasons your steak is coming out tough.

Below, you’ll find some of the things you can do to prevent it the next time you grill your steak or any other type of meat.

How Do I Avoid Grilling A Tough Steak?

Not all meats are created equally, meaning some cuts are guaranteed to be tougher than others, while some will be soft and tender every time. 

They carry different flavors, though, and lucky for you, you do not have to avoid the tougher cuts! There are ways to soften your steaks to turn into a tough grilled steak when cooked.


The first way to ensure your steak won’t be tough once grilled is to tenderize it. You can use the rough side of a meat mallet and pound the meat a little bit. 

Tenderizing breaks up the hard muscle fibers, leaving you with a tender steak to grill. You can also use a knife and score lines on the sides of the meat or a fork to pierce holes into the flesh. 

Any of these methods will tenderize the steak and get it ready to be perfectly grilled.


In addition to tenderizing the meat, you can also use a marinade. Because tougher steaks are more “muscley” and less fatty, they are automatically tougher. 

To counteract this and make sure your steak stays nice and tender when you grill it, let your meat soak in a marinade for up to two hours before you are ready to grill it. Any longer, and you run the risk of your steak getting mushy.

Cook it Low and Slow

Depending on the type of meat you have, it may need to be cooked at a lower temperature. According to Taste of Home, budget cut meats like chuck roast and pork shoulder require low and slow cooking techniques. 

I’ve shared how I cooked my Boston Butt on my Pit Boss and how long it takes. It came out nice and tender. 

Store It at Room Temperature

You can also let your steak come up to room temperature before throwing it on the grill. If you take it straight from the refrigerator and put it right onto the grill, the meat can cook unevenly. As some parts will warm up faster, and some will stay colder for longer. 

This means parts of your steak could end up tough or chewy while the rest is adequately cooked. 

Letting it come to room temperature first means that the whole steak will be the same temperature and cook more evenly throughout, giving you a better chance to have a juicy steak.

Monitor the Cooking Temperature

Maybe the most important thing to do to avoid having a tough steak is to watch the temperature while cooking it. Different cuts of steak and different levels of doneness require different amounts of cooking time. 

Use a meat thermometer periodically while you cook your steak to keep an eye on it. If you cook too high of a temperature, you are sure to end up with a tough steak. 

While cooking to less of a temperature will give you a more tender steak, you run the risk of not cooking it to the point of being safe for consumption.

Let It Rest

Letting the meat rest goes hand in hand with cooking it to the right temperature. If you don’t let it rest enough after you cook it, it will end up too tough. It is recommended to let your steak rest at least five minutes per inch of thickness of the steak. 

The resting period will let the juices run and keep your steak nice and tender!

Is There a Way to Save a Steak That Came out Tough?

So you grilled your steak, and it came out tough. It happens. While there isn’t a way to fully salvage the steak and reduce the toughness, allowing the steak to rest will help tremendously. 

As mentioned above, letting the steak rest at least five minutes per inch of thickness will let the juices run. If you cut into your steak and find that it is too tough for your liking, let it sit for a little bit before taking your next bite.

Final Word

Nothing is worse than your meat coming out tough after grilling. It all starts with the type of meat you use and preparing it properly. 

Next time you are ready to grill up a steak, keep these things in mind, and you should end up with a perfect, tender steak for dinner! Happy grilling!

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