If you’re looking for a money-saving alternative to expensive steak for grilling, you can’t go wrong with flank steak.
Flank steak is a (not always) budget-priced, tough cut, but there are 10 ways you can tenderize it. Unlike other tough cuts that need to cook for hours in simmering liquid, flank steak can be grilled just like tender meat. This is because of its muscle fibers.
The thick muscle fibers are long and thin. They run parallel to each other. Grilling and broiling don’t tenderize the meat.
But, don’t let that stop you from tenderizing the flank steak and enjoying its tender potential and flavor.
10+ Ways to Tenderize Flank Steak
If you’re wondering how do you tenderize flank steak, the following 10 tenderizing methods will give you a tender, tasty, and juicy flank steak.
1. Slice Across the Grain
This method doesn’t require any tenderizer, but slicing your flank steak correctly tenderizes the meat naturally.
Because the muscle fibers run alongside each other, thinly slicing the steak across the grain of the fiber, tenderizes the meat. This allows you to grill or broil a flank steak just like a high-priced steak.
Just make sure you’re buying a flank steak and not a round cut that looks like a flank. Flank steak will always give you tried and true results.
You can make your own marinade with your favorite ingredients, or purchase ready-made marinade from the grocery store.
Once you combine your marinade ingredients, place the flank steak in a plastic bag that can seal tightly.
Turn your steak to ensure it’s coated evenly on both sides. Seal the bag and place it in the refrigerator overnight or for at least 6 hours. Turn the steak occasionally.
After marinating, take the flank steak out of the bag, and it’s ready to grill. Depending on the meat’s thickness and if you like it medium-rare or medium, it can take from 11 to 20 minutes.
3. Dry Brining
Tenderizing flank steak is simple with the dry brining method. Basically, you coat the steak with a layer of coarse salt. Then, all you do is let it sit.
If you’ve heard that salt draws out all the meat’s juices, don’t worry. This will happen at first, but as the flank steak sits, the juices and salt are pulled back into the meat. This alters the muscle structure, which makes the steak tender.
Brining also adds flavor to the meat. Make sure you use coarse salt because table salt (and many rubs) is too fine, and the steak will absorb too much. You’ll be incredibly surprised at how tender dry brining makes the flank steak.
4. Wet Brining
To wet brine your flank steak, you let it soak in seasoned saltwater so that the seasoning soaks deep into the muscle. When selecting salt for your brining solution, Diamond Crystal kosher salt dissolves faster than other salts.
You can either use zip-lock plastic bags for individual steaks or any bowl or pot. Avoid using aluminum pots or cast iron pans because the salt is corrosive to these materials.
The basic ingredients in brine are about one-half cup of salt to one quart of water. Also, adding your favorite herbs and spices add more flavor to the steak. You can adjust these amounts to suit your taste.
It also takes about one-half hour of brining per pound of meat. This time is flexible.
Keep your flank steak in the refrigerator during brining time. Brining is most effective at 34°F, so you can add ice cubes to the brine to lower the temperature.
5. Mallet Tenderizing
Pounding your flank steak with a meat mallet breaks up the muscle tissue of the meat, which tenderizes it. Keep in mind that this method also flattens the meat, so it won’t take as much time to cook when grilling or broiling.
Place the flank steak on a hard surface and cover it with plastic wrap. Pound the meat with the mallet until you reach the desired thickness.
6. Enzyme Tenderization
This is often an overlooked method for tenderizing flank steak. Enzymatic tenderization uses the enzymes in the fruit to break down the meat’s collagen. The result is a flank steak that’s tender and flavorful.
The best fruits to use for enzyme tenderization are kiwi, papaya, and pineapple. These fruits contain the enzymes that break down the meat’s connective tissue.
You can add a tablespoon of these fruits to your marinade to speed up the time it takes to tenderize your steak.
7. Slow Cook
If you want fork-tender flank steak, slow cooking will give you melt-in-your-mouth meat. You can use a smoker, a grill, or a crockpot to slowly cook meat.
To prevent your steak from getting tough, you have to cook it slowly until the collagen breaks down into gelatin. When this happens, moisture surrounds the muscle fibers. This is when the meat is the most tender.
The slow cooking time varies depending on whether you’re smoking the flank steak, using a crockpot, or the grill.
8. Sous Vide
This tenderizing method boosts the enzymes in the flank steak by using a consistent and precise temperature. Sous vide breaks down the meat fibers and muscle tissue similar to other slow cooking methods.
To tenderize your flank steak with the sous vide method, you place the steak in a vacuum-sealed plastic pouch.
The pouch lets the heat travel from the heated sous vide water bath to the meat. It also stops the moisture and flavor in the meat from evaporating.
The key to tenderizing the steak and keeping it juicy is to maintain the water temperature at precisely 140F degrees. If you let the water temperature get too hot, your steak will be tough. Leave the plastic-sealed steak in the pot of water for one to three hours.
As it cooks, its muscle fiber shrinks and dissolves the collagen. This tenderizes the flank steak. Your sous vide flank steak will have a uniform color inside and out, unlike the usual pink on the inside and brown on the outside.
If you like your steak crusty, you can sear it quickly in a frying pan before you serve it.
9. Needle Tenderization
You can tenderize your flank steak with a handheld needle tenderizer. Use the needle tenderizer right before you’re ready to cook the steak.
To use the needle tenderizer, gently press the device until it penetrates the steak several times. Do this on both sides.
Using this method results in the most tender flank steak you’ll ever eat.
The needles pierce the steak, cutting into the meat fibers and tissue. This increases tenderness. Needling steak is often called Jaccarding. Needling your steak reduces cooking time, as well.
You can find a Jaccard needle tenderizer online or at home goods stores.
To braise your flank steak, pan-sear both sides on high heat first. This holds in the juices and flavor. Then you simmer the steak in a liquid, such as meat stock, wine, beer, buttermilk, or coconut milk.
It has the same results as stewing meat, but it doesn’t need as much liquid. Simmer the meat until it becomes fork-tender.
Don’t let your simmering liquid go to waste. Make a gravy or meat sauce to pour over your flank steak, potatoes, and vegetables.
FAQs on Ways to Tenderize Flank Steak
Here are some of the most common questions asked about tenderizing flank steak:
How long does it take to tenderize flank steak?
If you use a tenderizer mallet or needle tenderizer, it only takes a few minutes to tenderize a flank steak. But, using the other tenderizing methods mentioned can take several hours.
Should you tenderize a flank steak?
You don’t have to tenderize flank steak if you cut it thinly across the grain. It’s naturally tender when sliced this way.
If you want it fork tender, using other methods like sous vide, slow cooking, and brining will result in a more tender flank steak.
How do you cook flank steak, so it’s not tough?
Grilling or broiling flank steak delivers the most flavor, but you have to make sure you slice it across the grain. If you don’t want to run the risk of a tough steak, marinate the flank steak first.
Marinating not only results in a tender flank steak but sparks up the flavor.
What is the quickest way to tenderize a steak?
There are two quick ways to tenderize a steak. These included using a mechanical tenderizer, such as a meat mallet or a needle tenderizing device.
Can you use baking soda to tenderize a flank steak?
Yes, you can use baking soda to tenderize flank steak. Just rub the baking soda on both sides of the steak. This is the same as the dry brine method of tenderizing. Leave the baking soda on your steak for about one hour or more while it’s in the refrigerator. Wash the baking soda off the steak before grilling.
How long can you marinate flank steak?
You can marinate your flank steak for up to two days in the refrigerator. Just remember that the longer you marinate it, the stronger the marinade flavor will penetrate the meat.