Turning a Cheap Steak into a Juicy Tender Cut

by Top Geek  

Last Updated: August 16, 2022


Transforming a cheap steak

Just because you’re in the poor house doesn’t mean you have to eat like it.

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.

cheap steak how to

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

cutting to relax the meat

Depending 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.

Aging simulation

home aged ateak

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.



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
  • 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

 sous vide

Perfect sear without overcooking

The vacuum technique (see our sous vide guide) 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)

vacuum steak method


  • Season cut with a marinade like the Faux-aging marinade above or a similar glutamate based mix.
  • Vacuum seal the cut.
  • 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).
  • Remove cut from seal, pat dry, and sear.
cheap steak cooking tip


  • Season cut with a marinade like the Faux-aging marinade above or a similar glutamate based mix.
  • 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).
  • 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).
  • Remove cut from seal, pat dry, and sear.


Slow-mo oven


Prior to sous vide devices becoming popular, another cooking technique that was known for making a steak more tender was a very slow oven. Apparently in cooking parlance that means a ‘cool’ oven using lower temperatures for longer slower cook times. Most ovens will register and maintain 150 degrees as their lowest setting. You can sear your steak at either end of this process. Place on a rack with a light coat of salt & pepper and monitor the internal temperature. A two hour cook time is not uncommon for thicker steaks to reach medium rare. If you are searing first, let the steak cook to your preferred doneness and serve. If you sear after the oven, remove when it reaches 5 degrees below your target temperature and sear at the highest safe temp and as quickly you can.


using jaccard on meat

Jaccard is a product name like Kleenex that has become identified as a generic term. In this case the needle style tenderizers made for home use. These have a spring loaded base plate that you place on the steak, or any meat, press down and the slim blades protrude making tiny cuts into the fiber of the meat. These are extremely effective in creating a more tender steak experience. Be careful though, over use can makes your steak seem like a pre-chewed product. This is also a great first step to any marinade or rub process to help flavors penetrate deeper.

Clobberin’ time

tenderizing steak with hammer

The old joke is that if you have a hammer, every problem becomes a nail. It used to be that everyone’s kitchen had a meat hammer, or mallet. Most will also offer one side with ridges or blunt points. They are truly made to pound meat down to the tenderness that you desire. Using the bumpy end will break down the meat fibers better that the flat side. Start with one, finish with the other for a smooth surface. Taken too far and you create medallions, which can still be made into a delicious meal, from chicken fried steak to Steak Diane.

That’s right gov’nor

London Broil cooking

London Broil is an American dish, so it is neither from England nor is it a cut of meat. But it is a style of preparing and serving less desirable cuts in an enjoyable way. Initially it was made with flank steak, a very flavorful cut that has long grains running the length of the cut. Most recipes will call for an acidic marinade to begin breaking down the meat. Next, drained and dried off, the steak is broiled to the desired doneness. Then you slice it thinly across the grain. Flank steak makes this very easy because the grain is so visible. Butchers will now label bottom or top round, Coulotte steaks, and other cuts as ‘London Broil’. They will work just fine as long as you are certain that your slicing is across the grain and not in the same direction.

About the author Top Geek

I have always been a believer: “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. I’ve been lucky enough to use my professional experience in the meat industry over the past 20 years to create a business where I love to go to work.

Smoking Meat Geeks is all about bringing people together that enjoy food as much as I do. We provide a place for everyone to share thoughts, ideas, and recipes; to be a go-to spot for cooking inspiration. Feel free to leave a comment, say hello, or provide any tips. There is no right or wrong input, as long as you’re engaging, you’re a Meat Geek!

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