Fact: it matters how you cut your steak. In order to avoid extra chewiness and toughness despite how perfectly cooked your cut may be, it’s crucial to always cut your steak against the grain.
What does it mean to “cut against the grain”?
While cuts from weaker muscles — like filet mignon or ribeye — have such a small grain that this isn’t quite as important, cuts from stronger muscles can taste drastically different depending on how they’re sliced. If you’re cooking up a hangar steak or skirt steak, the grain will be easily visible both before and after cooking.
Simply look at your steak and identify the direction of the muscle fibers, then slice your meat perpendicular to the fibers. This shortens the muscle fibers and allows them to be more easily chewed, making the steak more tender.
Going against the grain is particularly sacred if you’re preparing a larger piece of meat, like a brisket, and slicing it into portions before cooking. With a sharp knife, you shouldn’t have any problem cutting through those strong muscle fibers to make your steak more palatable (and enjoyable) overall.
How does cutting with the grain affect flavor?
Let’s say you prepare two steaks in exactly the same way. They’re seasoned identically; they’re both cooked to the exact same internal temperature, and they both spend the exact same amount of time ‘resting’ before being sliced — but one is sliced against the grain and the other is sliced along the grain.
Now, if we’re going on flavor profile alone, these two steaks likely won’t taste much different. You could hold a piece of each in your mouth and not notice a drastic difference. However, the second you start to chew, you’ll realize the extreme significance of slicing against the grain. Assuming you didn’t overcook the steak with shortened muscle fibers, the first cut will be tender and juicy. And the second one–not so much. Who wants tough, dry steak? We can answer that question with almost complete confidence: no one.
Other tips for achieving a perfectly tender steak
While cutting against the grain is one of our top pro tips for enhancing the tenderness of steak, there are other factors that can influence the ‘chewability’ of your steak.
- The cut: As we mentioned above, cuts from weaker muscles are generally more tender than cuts from stronger muscles — no matter how you slice them.
- The quality: Beef that is ethically-sourced is more likely to come from happier cows, which means they produce lower levels of cortisol and adrenaline — two stress hormones that can toughen up meat.
- The preparation: Steak that is cooked medium or medium-rare will be easier to chew than steak that is well done. For the perfect medium-rare steak, use a meat thermometer and cook until the internal temperature of your steak is 130 degrees F.
So, next time you get ready to cut into a big, juicy steak, take a moment to pause, look carefully, then cut against the grain. Trust us, you’ll be glad you did.