Science: How to Slice Steak

By Cook's Illustrated Published September 2015

The way you slice steak can make all the difference. Here’s why.

We know that it’s possible to make relatively tough cuts like flank steak more tender by thinly slicing them against the grain—that is, perpendicular to the orientation of the muscle fibers—rather than with the grain. But how much more tender? We decided to quantify just how much difference using the correct slicing method can make.


We cooked a whole flank steak in a temperature-controlled water bath to 130 degrees, cut equally thick slices both with and against the grain, and used an ultrasensitive piece of equipment called a CT3 Texture Analyzer from Brookfield Engineering to test how much force was required to “bite” into the slices. We repeated the experiment three times and averaged the results. We also duplicated the tests with a more tender piece of strip loin.


Flank steak slices carved against the grain required 383 grams of force to “bite” 5 millimeters into the meat, while slices carved with the grain required a whopping 1,729 grams of force—more than four times as much—to travel the same distance. Strip loin slices carved against the grain required 329 grams of force; with the grain, 590 grams of force.


Flank steak contains wide muscle fibers and a relatively high proportion of connective tissue that make it chewy. Slicing it against the grain shortens those muscle fibers, making it easier to chew.


Slicing against the grain dramatically narrowed the gap in tenderness between the strip and flank steaks. Flank steak sliced with the grain was 193 percent tougher than strip steak sliced with the grain, but that difference dropped to just 16 percent when both types of steak were sliced against the grain. So while all cuts benefit from slicing against the grain, it’s especially important when slicing flank steak. In fact, slicing a flank steak properly can make it tender enough to rival premium steaks.

flank steak against grain 383 grams
with grain 1729 grams
strip loin against grain 329 grams
with grain 590 grams