9+ Reasons Why Cube Steak Is So Tough

Cube steak is tough due to cuts of meat used, lack of marination, improper cooking, insufficient tenderization, overcrowding in the pan, under/overcooking, and lack of salt or gravy, but can be made tender using the right techniques and cuts.

Why Cube Steak Is So Tough

Cube steak is a popular dish because of its affordability. Knowing why cube steak is so tough compared to other meats will help you to work to create a more tender dish that pairs well in a meal.

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What is Cube Steak?

Cube steak, often referred to as swiss steak, is mechanically tenderized which creates a pattern of small indentations across the beef.

Cube steak can be made out of a variety of different cuts of beef. It is a flattened steak that can be cooked in just minutes. It’s also how the steak has earned the nickname of the “minute steak.”

Why is Cube Steak So Tough?

Cube steak is tough because of a number of reasons. Realistically, most cube steak is made with some of the tougher cuts of meat. However, there are plenty of things that affect the toughness.

As you explore what makes the cube steak tough, you can compensate for these things and address them in the prep and cooking process.

1. The Cut is Too Tough

While cube steak is generally made from tougher cuts of beef, the cut still matters. The shoulder/chuck portion of the cow is most commonly used.

Cuts of Beef

If you want something that is a bit more tender, you can choose either the round roast or even a sirloin.

Any steak you buy at the store should be labeled so that you know the cut prior to purchasing.

2. The Steak Isn’t Marinated

Marinating the tougher cuts of steak is critical. Especially when you have a cut that has a lot of sinewy muscle, the marinade is necessary to break it down. Otherwise, it will be chewy after it is cooked.

A good marinade will have acid or enzymes to break it down, such as vinegar, wine, or citrus juice.

3. The Steak Isn’t Brought Up to Room Temperature

A steak should be brought to room temperature before it is cooked. The reason for this is to ensure you get a nice, even cook. Otherwise, there will be cold spots that will cause problems in the cooking process.

Don’t worry about your meat spoiling. As long as you don’t let it sit out on the counter for hours or overnight, you won’t have to worry about foodborne illnesses. One hour on the counter should be all that’s needed.

4. The Tenderization Is Insufficient

Different butchers take different approaches to tenderization. Most often, the thin steaks are fed through a machine that takes care of the tenderization. If the steak doesn’t look thin enough or there isn’t enough of a pattern, use a meat mallet or meat tenderizer.

By using a mallet, you can be sure that the beef is thoroughly tenderized before cooking.

5. The Pan is Crowded

Too often, a pan is crowded with too many steaks. If you don’t have a large pan, you may only be able to fry one or two cube steaks at a time.

When the pan is crowded, you end up steaming the meat, creating a chewier fried steak.

6. Salt Isn’t Used

You can season both sides of a cube steak with kosher salt. About one teaspoon per side will work well. You can let it sit for anywhere from half an hour to two hours. Then, pat the meat dry before you begin to cook.

Salt works as a natural tenderizer to break down the sinewy muscle.

7. It Is Overcooked

If you overcook the meat, it can end up being too chewy. It can also lead to all of the juices being removed, leaving the meat dry. That’s when the cube steak ends up tasting more like jerky than steak.

Depending on just how thin the steak is and how hot the pan is, two minutes per side should be sufficient.

8. It Is Undercooked

Undercooked meat tends to be extremely chewy. Consider a pot roast for a slow cook. The longer you cook cube steak, the more it can be broken apart with a fork.

Particularly if you choose a braising method for cooking the cube steak, undercooked is one of the more common reasons for chewy, tough meat.

9. No Gravy Was Served

Gravy is a nice way to soften up the meat and help to add flavor. You can choose to make a brown gravy or a white/peppered gravy or onion gravy. It all depends on the dish that you are making.

While gravy won’t always help with the tenderness, it will help with the softness and your ability to cut and chew the meat.

Dishes You Can Make with Cube Steak

There are quite a few cooking methods you can use and dishes you can make with cube steak. If you have been struggling to create a tender meal, it may be time to explore a new approach.

Sauteed Cube Steak

With just a little bit of oil in a frying pan (or cast-iron skillet), you can sauté the cube steak. The steaks will only need to be cooked for about one to two minutes on each side.

You can choose any herb mixture to flavor the steaks with, too.

Pan-Fried Cube Steak

Frying will involve submerging the steak in oil (vegetable or olive). You can choose to coat the cube steak in breading or batter to give it a browned and crispy flavor and appearance.

Braised Cube Steak

You can choose a low and slow method where the cube steaks will be submerged in liquid. If you choose a particularly tough cut of meat, this can yield the best results.

Get a good sear on the steaks and then let them slowly cook in a braising liquid, such as one with wine or vinegar.

Smothered Cube Steak

Dredge the cube steaks with flour, salt, and pepper. Heat up some oil in the pan and fry the steaks. Let the steaks rest.

Then, you’ll add onion, butter, and onion soup mix to the pan and stir around. Add a bit of water and mix around so that you get a nice, thick buttery blend of onions. Move the steaks into the pan and toss gently.

The smothered steaks will be soft, tasty, and tender.

Country-Fried Steaks

Country fried steak is similar to fried chicken (and not to be confused with chicken fried steak). It is actually steak. You’ll create three bowls – one with egg and milk, one with seasoned flour, and one for the meat. You’ll dip it in flour, then egg, then back into the flour. Then, you’ll pan-fry the steaks. After that, you can make a peppered white gravy to pour on top.


Instead of using ground beef, you can choose to use cube steak to make the burgers. A charcoal grill can deliver a delicious flavor to the beef.

Add some cheese and other toppings onto a toasted bun and you’ll be set. You can also choose to toast bread and turn it into a patty melt.

Frequently Asked Questions

Knowing more about cube steak will help you to work with the beef more effectively. As you learn how to prevent a tough steak, you can enjoy the dishes you make.

Why is My Cube Steak Always Tough?

Cube steak is most commonly too tough because it isn’t given enough room to cook in the pan. As such, it ends up getting steamed instead of flash-fried. You may want to examine the kind of steak you’re getting, too. It may be time to change to a cut of beef that is known for being more tender.

Should Cube Steak Be Cooked with Oil?

Cube steak is made from tougher cuts of beef, which means that they contain active muscle. Any muscular pieces of beef are lean without a lot of fat. As such, it’s best to use oil or butter in the pan to generate fat. It will help with the cooking process while also adding flavor to the meat.

Does Cube Steak Get Tender?

Absolutely. It’s important to incorporate a variety of processes into the preparation and cooking of cube steak so that it is tender.

Is Cube Steak Supposed to Be Chewy?

Cube steak shouldn’t be chewy. While there are plenty of tough cuts of beef on the market, none have to be chewy. You simply need to explore a few cooking methods that will work to create a more tender cube steak.

How Do You Make Cubed Beef Soft?

One of the best ways to make cubed beef soft is by soaking it in milk for at least four hours. The milk acts as a marinade that helps to tenderize the steak. In addition to soaking the cubed beef in milk, you can also explore various marinades that will deliver flavor to the final dish.

Final Thoughts

You may find a butcher that will prepare cube steaks based on your preferences. This will allow you to choose the cut that is tenderized. In some instances, you can even control the level of tenderization based on the settings on the equipment. This will help you achieve the tenderness that you desire in your beef while also getting sufficiently tenderized beef.

Once you have the tenderized cube steak that you love, you can make sure that every dish is a success.

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