Turning a Cheap Steak into a Juicy Tender Cut

Preparing and cooking a cheap steak for maximum enjoyment pleasure.

Just because you're in the poor house doesn't mean you have to eat like it.
cheap steak how to


Holidays got you feeling low… No worries, we’ll help turn that frown upside down as you cut into a budget friendly juicy steak.

Budgeting our lives often means we sacrifice when it comes to meal time. Saving pennies and in our case tens of dollars, we all know every steak can be a filet mignon. As much as we eat steak we just can't afford for every cut to be as good as a ribeye. Often, we end up with a flank or a skirt steak we what we really wanted was a NY Strip. So what do we do with all those cheap cuts of beef? MeatGeeks have their own hacks for making those cheap cuts taste just as good as the filet.

Not to long ago (okay, maybe it was a while ago, still 1990 wasn't all that long ago) you used to be able to get skirt steak for pennies on the dollar. This was a cost effective way to having a great grilled tender steak without much effort. However, it seems that butchers have gotten wize to the increase in demand and adjusted prices accordingly.

Breakdown of steak cuts

Graphic Courtesy of FoodBeast.com

Some of the best lower priced cuts are top sirloin, cap of the top round, shoulder petite tender, sirloin tip, flank, and sometimes, skirt steak.  All of these cuts are easily redeemable and are significantly less than the Porterhouse (or filet mignon) you really wanted. They are usually thinner cuts than more expensive steaks and are almost always less tender, but don’t worry we’ll help you with that. On the upside, these lower end cuts usually have a decent fat content.

The real secret to making a cheap steak into a delicious one is salt.

Salt forces muscle fibers to separate and draws out the natural juice of the meat creating a brine which is then reabsorbed. The process helps draw out the delicious beefy flavor of the meat.  At the same time, the salt tenderizes the proteins, so when you cut into like a hot knife through butter.

The only way for this hack to work is if you do it properly. Do not generously sprinkle the steak with salt. Cover it. Cover it with salt. Completely cover it, don’t be shy. When you’re done, if you don’t see red, that’s ok. And don’t just use any salt, a coarse salt, such as kosher works best.

Cover the steak and put it in the fridge for at least an hour. Since these cuts are usually pretty thin, an hour is all you really need, but let it sit longer if you have a thick cut.

Rinse off the steak and pat it dry before throwing it on the grill.

Scoring the cut can work too

transform cheap steakDepending on the thickness of your cut you can score it against the grain before grilling. This will do two things:

  • Make it tender

  • Resonate seasonings throughout

Breaking up the muscle fibers by cutting into the meat help to relax the meat. You'll notice a night and day difference when cutting into it.

The most obvious benefit is how seasonings penetrate throughout. So even if the cut you're working with doesn't have much fat, the extra seasonings that sit in the crevice of the meat can make up for not having that juicy marbled ribeye.

Ageing simulation

Ageing a cheap steak sounds like a waste – we agree, but what if you could simulate hanging out a steak for weeks by simply using a marinade? Well, here's how you can do just that.

Faux-aging Marinade 

The process of ageing meat is partly about removing water from the meat while leaving everything else; pretty much how you reduce the liquids of a pan sauce to strengthen all of its flavors. Another effect of ageing is the unleashing of unimi flavors by allowing proteins to transform into amino acids. While there's no other way to make this happen minus time, you can fake it.

You do this by creating a marinade strong in glutamate. Glutamate is one of the amino acids which becomes present throughout the natural beef ageing process.

Recipe for a Faux Simulated Ageing

Most of this lineup has been put together by selecting ingredients that are high in glutamic acid, so feel free to change it up or add another ingredient you may prefer which is high in amino acids.

Good enough for about 4 steaks, or 8 thin cuts


3 tbsp. soy sauce

1 tsp. MSG (Not as scary as it sounds.)

3 tbsp. fish sauce

1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 tbsp. roasted garlic, minced

1 tbsp. blue cheese

½ tsp. anchovy paste

Combine everything and blend until smooth (not the steak…). Marinate your steaks with the blended ingredients, either quickly in a vacuum seal, or leave them in a dish for a few hours. If you’re feeling extreme leave them in the marinade for up to 8 hours.

Recipe inspired by Modernist Cuisine

As this article is dedicated to dressing up a cheap steak I understand that spending money to make a pricey marinade is somewhat counterintuitive; however, this marinade can be made in bulk and stored in the fridge for up to a month to be used time and time again.

Maillard time

Don't forget about the Maillard Reaction.  This is the process responsible for the tasty brown crust which gives heavenly aromas as it's created. Unfortunately, the Maillard Reaction requires a dry exterior and heat levels of 250 - 350°F.  There's a fine line between a rare and medium rare steak; moreover, overcooking the area directly below the exterior (as shown in the steak to the right with the grey areas) is easy to do.  The challenge: avoiding that brownish gray area, and overcooking it throughout.  

cheap steak cooking

Steak on the left has reaped all the benefits of the Maillard Reaction while the cut on the right has gained the nice crust, it has also become overcooked.

The vacuum method is a fool-proof technique to yield a steak cooked to a precise doneness level while avoiding the overcooked area just below the exterior. 

Vacuum Technique

Perfect sear without overcooking

The vacuum technique (also known as sous vide) is executed by heating the entire piece of meat in a controlled environment before searing. Using water heated to 134°F you’ll submerge your cut for about an hour – bringing meat's internal temperature to your preferred level of doneness. Since you have already cooked the meat to completion, all that’s needed is a quick sear to reap all the benefits of the Maillard Reaction. This steak preparation method doesn’t even require a grill; a blowtorch or frying pan can be used to produce a magnificent sear.

Performing a Sous Vide Slow Cook (Vacuum Technique)

  1. Season cut with a marinade like the Faux-aging marinade above or a similar glutamate based mix.
  2. Vacuum seal the cut.
  3. Add the sealed cut to a pot of water heated to 134°F (with the sous vide device) until the desired doneness temperature is reached (about an hour for a 1” cut and 3 to 4 hours for a 2” cut – download a quick reference chart).
  4. Remove cut from seal, pat dry, and sear.
vacuum steak method


  1. Season cut with a marinade like the Faux-aging marinade above or a similar glutamate based mix.
  2. Place the marinaded cut into a Ziploc bag and remove as much air as possible using the water displacement method. Basically, you’re just placing the bag containing the cut into a bowl of water, allowing the water pressure to push out the air from the bag and while it’s submerged you seal the bag. You’ll need to extract most of the air to ensure an even cook (and so that your cut doesn’t float when placed into the pot of water).
  3. Add the sealed cut to a pot of water on the stovetop which has been heated to 134°F. I recommend mounting a thermometer to the pot. Leave the cut submerged until the desired doneness temperature is reached (about an hour for a 1” cut and 3 to 4 hours for a 2” cut – download a quick reference chart).
  4. Remove cut from seal, pat dry, and sear.
cheap steak cooking tip