steak tips on a plate with charred lemon halves

Lemon: The Secret Ingredient to Making Succulent Steak

Last Updated on April 1, 2022

Many food experts use lemon to marinate or tenderize steak prior to cooking. While they’re not wrong, you can also get a tender piece of steak by cooking it just right and adding a hint of lemon at the end. This simple cooking technique provides a salt-like punch that brings out the flavor of all the ingredients on your plate.

According to Slate, the acidity of lemon increases salivation, which literally makes your mouth water and causes your brain to perceive flavor. In other words, squeezing a lemon on top of your cooked steak makes it even more appetizing. The acidity also nicely contrasts the fat in steak and helps break down the collagen, giving the meat a balanced flavor profile and a succulent bite.

When it comes to cooking different cuts of steak, keep in mind that certain cooking methods give you better results than others. Some need to be cooked low and slow while others do best with a quick sear on top of the stove or on the grill. For the cuts that do best with a quicker cook, medium-rare to medium internal temperatures will result in tender meat that is perfectly safe to eat.

Simple Steak and Charred Lemon Recipe

Ready to try cooking steak with lemons? Start by picking out your favorite beef cut (I used sirloin steak tips) and then follow these easy, step-by-step instructions:

  1. Season your steak with salt and pepper.
  2. Sear or grill your steak to 125°F, as read by a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the steak.
  3. Let the steak rest for 10 minutes until it reaches your desired level of doneness.
  4. Cut one lemon in half and take out the seeds.
  5. Place the lemon halves cut side down on the hot skillet or grill. I let the lemon halves stay on the heat until they’re taking on some char.
  6. Once the steak has rested and the lemon halves are cool enough to touch, squeeze lemon juice on top of your steak.

Need some recipe inspiration?

I appreciate Bon Appetit’s Steak with Lemon Butter and Jammy Lemon Halves and America’s Test Kitchen’s Grill-Smoked Herb-Rubbed Flat Iron Steaks. If you’ve never attempted sirloin steak tips before or need a refresher, check out this guide on how to cook steak tips. It also includes a few other recipes worth trying!

Kristina DeMichele is the Digital Content Strategist at Harvard Magazine. She is also a freelance copyeditor who has worked for America's Test Kitchen as the Senior Content Editor of Cook's Illustrated Magazine.