I live on a chuck steak budget, but I have Wagyu ribeye dreams.
In other words, I love steak, but I don’t really have the dollars to prove it.
And because I don’t live in largesse (but would be excellent at it, if given the chance), I’ve found ways to skirt through the steak world and still enjoy a really great piece of beef that’s tender, moist, and quite flavorful even if it’s plucked from the back of the butcher’s case, far behind the prime filets and tenderloins.
Of all the tips and tricks I’ve read (and tried) to make inexpensive cuts of beef taste better and develop a buttery texture, I’ve found just one I return to again and again. Today, I’ll happily share it with you.
Salt your steaks.
Yes, you read that right. The top-secret ingredient that makes cheap steak taste prime is salt.
How to Tenderize Steak with Salt
Arrange your steaks—I love a little eye round steak or top round—on a rimmed baking sheet. Cover each steak with a generous dose of salt.
But not just any salt—you’ll need coarse kosher salt or sea salt. Table salt won’t work because the salt grains are too fine, and the steak will absorb too much sodium. We want tender steaks, not salty ones.
Don’t be shy with the salt. You will remove it before you cook the meat, and you need to make sure a good portion of the meat is covered so you get the most tender cut possible.
Once the steak is salted, let it rest at room temperature for one hour. If you’re working with a steak that is extra thick (more than one inch), salt the beef, put it in the fridge for an hour, and then bring it back out for an hour of sitting at room temperature.
After the hour at room temperature is up, rinse your steak. Wash off all visible salt. As the salt sloughs off the beef, you should be able to see and feel a difference: the steak will be more tender, and the color will be slightly darker.
Now, pat the steaks very dry with paper towels. You want to remove as much moisture as possible because water becomes steam on a hot grill or pan, and steaming is not the ideal way to cook any steak.
At this point, you can add more seasoning to your steak, such as a dry rub; you won’t need to salt them again.
Lastly, cook your steak to your preferred degree of doneness. (Please don’t let it be well-done.)
How Salt Tenderizes Beef
Cheap cuts of beef have more tendon and muscle fibers than the more expensive cuts. These pieces of the protein are tough to chew and turn tougher when cooked.
But salt dissolves into those muscle fibers and breaks them down. The pockets of tendon and muscle can then capture fat and juices so the beef stays moist when it’s cooked.
It’s an inexpensive hack for taking inexpensive meats and making them taste and feel a little bit more like the fancy, special-occasion cuts.