Sacrilege, or Science? Freezing These Two Steak Cuts Increases Tenderness

Strip steak is one of the cuts of beef found to be more tender after freezing and thawing, according to a new study. JJ Poole/Getty Images

Fast-food eateries and high-end restaurants alike tout a policy of using "fresh, never frozen" beef, and fresh food's often assumed by consumers to be better in all regards. But a new study confirms that when it comes to tenderness, a stint in the deep freeze may benefit some steaks — at least if we're talking tenderness.

A team of Kansas State University researchers found that while freezing and then thawing can make other cuts of beef tougher due to moisture loss, it had the opposite effect on two cuts of steak: strip loin and inside round steaks.

Freezing most cuts of steak can reduce moisture and increases toughness, but that's not the case for all.
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While some gourmands may turn to more flavorful cuts like dry-aged ribeye or bavette, there's a reason the tenderloin filet — also known as filet mignon — is one of the most popular cuts of steak. It's a top-seller for noted supplier Omaha Steaks, for instance. Its soft, buttery texture is what makes it the most-ordered cut of steak in restaurants, according to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

John Unruh, KSU professor of animal sciences and industry, led a team investigating the impact freezing would have on steak tenderness. They used a Warner-Bratzler Shear Force test machine, which measures the amount of force necessary to shear a muscle, on six different cuts of beef from the cow's hindquarters, and found that the strip loin and inside round cuts were 10 percent more tender after freezing and then fully thawing. The study did not address whether freezing affected the nutritional value of the steak.

"These two muscles, for some reason, did not lose as much moisture during freezing as the other four," Unruh said in a press release preceding an announcement of the findings at the university's Cattleman's Day event in early March.

So if it's tenderness you're going for and you've got time to put things on ice before putting them on the grill, defy conventional wisdom.