One of the most special ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day—or any romantic occasion—is a steak dinner for two. Sure, you could go out to a fancy restaurant and end up with a fancy-restaurant check. Or you could go above and beyond by making dinner at home, complete with steak, a side or two, dessert, and a bottle of wine.
In this article, we want to focus on the centerpiece of that romantic dinner: the steak. More specifically, once it’s prepared and ready to eat, how should you cut it? You may be surprised to know that the answer to that question seriously affects the enjoyment of your steak.
Tip 1: Use a Steak Knife
Most steak recipes don’t call for cutting the meat before it’s cooked, but if yours does, use a carving knife or a standard chef’s knife. Once your steak has been prepared and served, you and your date should cut it using steak knives. These have thin-edged blades that produce a fine, clean cut in the meat, keeping the steak’s juices inside the meat instead of spilling out. Look for high-carbon steel for a lightweight yet powerful blade, and make sure your steak knives have easily grippable handles that allow for control and leverage.
Never saw away at your steak; always slice. Keep your grasp firm but not tense.
Tip 2: Go Against the Grain
Slicing steak against the grain—that is, perpendicular to its long, thin muscle fibers instead of parallel to them—has a surprising effect on tenderness. The great minds over at America’s Test Kitchen did an experiment that actually quantified that effect: Using a machine called the CT3 Texture Analyzer, they found that “a slice of flank steak carved against the grain took on average 383 grams of force to bite five millimeters into the meat, while flank carved with the grain required an average of 1,729 grams to travel the same distance.” The machine had to use four times as much force to go through steak sliced with the grain, as opposed to without!
Kenji López-Alt at the Food Lab explains it: “Before putting a piece of flank, hanger, or skirt steak in your mouth, the goal should be to shorten those muscle fibers as much as possible with the help of a sharp knife. If you cut with your knife parallel to the grain, you end up with long muscle fibers that are tough for your teeth to break through. Slicing thinly against the grain, however, delivers very short pieces of muscle fiber that are barely held together.” (He, like the America’s Test Kitchen experimenters, has math to back up the benefits of slicing against the grain. Who knew trigonometry could be applied to such delicious things?)
So once you and your date are ready to dive into your sizzling, juicy steaks, first remember: the right knife can make all the difference, and always go against the grain.