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Is it ok to poke holes in steak? (Explained)

Is It OK To Poke Holes In Steak

Most experienced backyard chefs and steak lovers avoid poking any holes in their steak for fear of giving precious juices a means of escape. For a traditional steak like a New York strip, ribeye, porterhouse, or tenderloin, it’s best to limit yourself to one hole for the instant read probe thermometer.

Inserting an instant-read probe thermometer through the side of the steak’s fillet will reduce the volume of juices that are released. 

If you don’t have a probe thermometer and you want to visually inspect the interior for doneness, you can make a small slice on the top after flipping the steak. Try not to cut all the way through the steak, and then leave the slit you made facing up throughout the resting and plating process. 

When it comes to other steaks or larger cuts of meat, like a small prime rib roast, there are a few times when poking holes is OK. This might be to help tenderize a thick flank steak for a classic London Broil, or to inject garlic butter into a roast beef tenderloin.

For the most part, poking a few large holes in a steak does very little to tenderize it. If you wanted to say tenderize a top round for a Salisbury steak, you are better off making a lot of small holes to break up the meat fibers.

Why You Would Want to Poke Holes in Steak?

The most common reason why you would want to poke holes in a steak is to check the internal temperature. Though this is just one single hole poked in the side of the steak.

If you need to check the temperature more than once, you should use the same hole for the instant-read thermometer. They also make heat-resistant probe thermometers that you insert into a large piece of meat and leave it there.

Poking holes in a thick piece of meat like a beef flank can also help tenderize it. This is a common practice for things like London Broil or classic pit beef.

There are some specialty steaks and cuts of beef that call for poking holes in the meat to add seasonings. This includes things like slivered garlic in a small prime rib roast or injecting garlic butter into a roast beef tenderloin.

Checking for Internal Temperature

If you prioritize perfect doneness in your steak, you’ll likely want to insert an instant-read probe thermometer into the side of the steak at least 2 inches into the thickest part of the meat. Ideally, you would only do this once, right at the end, and leave it there to keep from letting juices out. 

If you do need to insert a probe thermometer a second time, you want to try to use the same hole. 

Seeing If It Is Cooked All the Way Through

Different degrees of steak doneness occur at different temperatures, but it can be hard to know the internal temp if you don’t have a probe thermometer. Poking or making a small slice into a steak can let you see just how pink it is inside. 

Ideally, you only want to do this once to keep from letting the internal juices of the steak seep out. With this method, you want to try to come down from the top, in the thickest part of the meat without cutting all the way through the steak. 

The goal is to visually see the interior of the steak, without letting flavorful juices pour out the bottom. 

Potentially Inserting More Seasoning into the Meat

There are some larger steaks, special recipes, and cuts of beef that benefit from the injection of flavorful marinades, and sauces. Sometimes small poke holes and incisions can be used to insert flavoring ingredients like slivers of garlic. 

Ideally, you want to do this before you ever bring the meat out to the grill or heat up the frying pan.

Poking Holes with a Meat Injector or Inserting Seasonings

When it comes to using a meat injector, the goal is to insert the tip in through the side of the steak or other cut of beef. You can then use the following steps to inject meat or insert seasonings into a steak that is 1.5 or more inches thick. 

Step One: Leave the steak lightly wrapped and insert it in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes. 

Step Two: Prepare your injector and/or seasonings

Step Three: Once the meat is firm, but not frozen, take it out and unwrap it. 

Step Four: Make your first injection or insertion into the thickest part of the steak, through the side. Go to the deepest area first.

Step Five: To make multiple injections or insertions, you start at the deepest area of the meat, then back off an inch or two before making another injection. 

Step Six: Lightly salt the exterior of the meat, then wrap and let it sit on the counter for 15 to 20 minutes while you preheat the grill. 

The goal in step six is to draw water-soluble proteins to the surface of the steak, which will also help relax some of the meat fibers. It also helps the steak warm slightly toward room temperature, which will further help your flavor injections to distribute further through the meat fibers. 

If you’re injecting something like garlic butter, marinade, or some other liquid flavor enhancer, you should grill it within 20 to 30 minutes of injecting. Longer than that and you run the risk of the liquid simply running out the hole you injected it in. 

If you are inserting a solid item or dry seasoning, you can put the steak back in the refrigerator for up to 8 hours or overnight to let the flavors permeate the surrounding meat fibers. 

Does Poking Holes in Meat Help Tenderize?

Poking holes with a meat fork at the grill side will do very little to affect the overall tenderness of the meat. It will more likely release natural juices, which dries out the meat and can make it tougher in the final bite. 

Swishing and similar mechanical tenderizing processes tenderize meat by making hundreds of tiny holes across the surface of a steak. This is commonly used to create Salisbury steak and the cube steaks you find at the grocery store. 

If you do want to try to tenderize your steak by poking a lot of holes in it, you can buy meat tenderizer tools online. Jaccard, Weston, and XSpecial meat all sell manual and device-based steak tenderizers that are well-engineered and available at a reasonable price. 

Final Thoughts

In my experience the more holes you poke in a steak, the more juices you lose. If you do need to check the internal temperature for doneness, try to only insert the probe thermometer once, into the side of the meat, right as it is almost done. 

If you don’t have a meat thermometer on hand, you can use a sharp paring knife to make a tiny slit on the top of the meat after you’ve flipped it for the first time. Try not to cut all the way through the steak, just enough to give you a visual understanding of how pink the interior is. 

If you are making a thicker cut of meat like a London Broil, or you want to tenderize a cheaper cut of steak like a top round, you’re best off investing in a Swisher, or other mechanical meat tenderizing device that makes hundreds of tiny holes.

If you need to inject a flavorful marinade, or insert seasonings, it’s best to chill the steak in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes to firm the meat without freezing. This will let you strategically insert the seasonings at varying depths with consistency and the least number of holes in the steak’s surface area.