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You can buy tough steak but that does not mean you want it to stay tough after you have cooked it! Tough cuts tend to be a lot cheaper than fine cuts and if you cook it properly, it comes out juicy and falling-apart tender. The best way to tenderize a tough cut quickly is to pound it using a meat mallet. This flattens the meat and breaks down the connective tissues and fibers.
Another way to make tender beef is to apply a powdered meat tenderizer. These are made from papaya or pineapple extracts because they contain enzymes, which are capable of breaking down the tough fibers in the meat. Powdered meat tenderizers can sometimes make the outside of your meat mushy and leave the inside tough so you might prefer to choose an easy marinade recipe.
Use a marinade that contains something acidic like citrus juice, vinegar, or wine. Put your meat in a Ziploc bag or glass dish and cover it with the marinade. Refrigerate it for two hours if it is a little tough or overnight if it is very tough. Tenderized meat must be cooked quickly with a high heat for the best results. If you often marinate beef, you can pour the marinade over the meat in a Ziploc bag and freeze it. After being thawed overnight in the refrigerator, the meat will be ready to cook.
The kind of meat you end up with depends a lot on what you begin with. Choose the correct grade of steak. USDA prime grade meats are not usually something you find at your local grocery store because most of these are bought by specialty markets and restaurants. USDA choice is the next grade and this is flavorful, tender, and only slightly lower in quality than the prime cuts. This meat will be juicy and well marbled with fat to keep it succulent and moist.
Choose a firm cut which is bright red and moist. The outside should have a thin crust of fat. Rib, short loin, and sirloin are the most tender and these do not need to be tenderized. If you do not want to tenderize, look for T-bone, porterhouse, rib, delmonico, filet mignon, or sirloin cuts.
Bone adds flavor to the meat so you might want to choose bone-in steaks although they cost more because the bone adds weight. Aged cuts are more flavorful but you can usually only find these in specialty food stores. Aged cuts are darker in color and richer in flavor.
When you have prepared, pounded or marinated your meat, slash through the fat layer on the outside. This will stop the beef from curling up. Do not cut into the actual flesh though. Grill, pan fry, or broil it. If you are using a tough cut, which you have not marinated or treated, you should slow braise it in soup, wine or anything else you like.
Turn the meat only once, if possible, cooking the meat until it is brown on one side before turning it over to do the other side. Turning too often means the meat will stew instead of being seared and this makes it less juicy. Let the finished product rest before you serve it.
While it rests you can add onions or mushrooms to the drippings left in the pan, as well as flour and butter, to make a tasty sauce. Add some wine too and scrape up any burnt bits on the pan to add flavor. Add salt and pepper and serve the sauce over the steak.