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How to Tenderize Meats Like a Pro!

Holle loves to cook. BBQ and BBQ sauce are some things she and others in the Deep South take seriously.

How to use meat tenderizers and substitutes

How to use meat tenderizers and substitutes

What Can You Use to Tenderize Meat?

Welcome to my online cooking and culinary arts school. Today’s technique is how to tenderize meat, especially for BBQ cooking. Learning to do this properly can save you major bucks on your grocery bills. You can easily turn cheap cuts of meat into tender, juicy servings at a fraction of the cost!

There are actually several methods for tenderizing meat. One is to use a chemical powder that’s made from papaya or pineapple. Other methods involve baking soda, salt, or marinades, including grilling marinades. Tough muscle fibers can also be broken down manually.

5 Ways to Tenderize Meat

  • Baking soda
  • Salt
  • Powdered tenderizers
  • Manual methods
  • Marinades

Each method is described fully below.

How to Use Baking Soda as a Meat Tenderizer

Baking soda is how Chinese restaurants get that velvet texture in stir-fries. This method is best for thinly sliced meat, seafood, or poultry that’s used in dishes like stir-fries and fajitas.

  • Thinly slice the meat across the grain. This is important! The slicing alone will help make the meat more tender because you’re doing away with the long muscle fibers.
  • Next, work the baking soda into the meat, using your hands. Use about one teaspoon of baking soda for each pound of meat.
  • Let the meat sit for about 20 minutes, then rinse thoroughly. Place the strips of meat or poultry between layers of paper towel and press firmly to remove all the water. Cook as desired.
Salt relaxes the muscle fibers, causing the meat to become more tender.

Salt relaxes the muscle fibers, causing the meat to become more tender.

How to Use Salt as a Meat Tenderizer

This method works great for thick steaks and chops, especially on the grill. The salt draws water from the meat, then some of the salt is absorbed into the meat. Salt relaxes the muscle fibers, causing the meat to become more tender. The salty protein cells also tend to trap fat, making the meat juicier.

  • To use this method, coat—don’t sprinkle—the meat or poultry with salt. Let it rest for 20-60 minutes but no more. Rinse the meat thoroughly and pat it completely dry with paper towels. Grill until desired doneness.
  • For even more flavor, add crushed garlic to the salt. As the salt enters the muscle fibers, it will take the garlic with it.

Using Powdered Meat Tenderizers

Some cooks think they can just sprinkle the powder on the surface of the meat and voila—their job is done. Wrong! The tenderizer has to get into the meat in order to work. If it just sits on the surface, the surface will get “mushy,” and the inside of the cut will still be tough.

To get it right, pierce the steak, chop, or fillet with a sharp knife or fork all over, then coat that side with the powder. Sprinkle on some liquid to help the powder reach the inside of the meat. You can use water, but to add flavor, you might want to use fruit juice, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, teriyaki, vinegar, or wine.

When you’ve treated one side of the meat, turn it over and repeat the process with the other side.

One of the best ways to break up tough muscle fibers is by using a meat mallet.

One of the best ways to break up tough muscle fibers is by using a meat mallet.

How to Manually Tenderize Meat

One of the best ways to break up tough muscle fibers is by using a meat mallet. These are usually made of wood or metal, but I like the metal ones because they’re so much heavier. Simply pound both sides of the meat with the mallet. If you don’t have one, the opening of a two-liter soda bottle makes a decent substitute.

Of course, when you pound the meat, it’s going to be flattened, so you probably don’t want to do this to a steak that’s going on the grill. For these, break up the muscle fibers with a fork or the point of a sharp knife.

Any acidic liquid will help tenderize meat and also infuse flavor

Any acidic liquid will help tenderize meat and also infuse flavor

Which Marinades Will Make Meat More Tender?

Any acidic liquid will help tenderize meat and also infuse flavor. This includes wine, vinegar, and acidic fruit juice like pineapple, lemon, lime, and orange. You can also add other flavors like minced garlic, rosemary, basil, or sliced onions.

Just cover the meat with the marinade and place it in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight. The tougher the cut, the longer it needs to marinate.

For tough cuts of beef for the grill, I often use the powdered tenderizer method and a marinade. Here are some of the grilling marinades I use:

  • White wine (chicken, fish, shrimp)
  • Red wine (beef)
  • Pineapple juice (chicken, pork)
  • Orange juice (chicken, pork)
  • Teriyaki or soy sauce (chicken, beef, shrimp, pork)
  • Lemon juice (shrimp, fish)
  • Lime juice (shrimp, fish, chicken)
  • Vinegar (game, large pork roasts)
  • Italian dressing (chicken, wild game)

Also, experiment with mixing liquids together for great marinades. Try Italian dressing and pineapple juice for chicken wings, vinegar and orange juice for pork roasts, and white wine and line juice for shrimp. Be creative!

Learn the culinary arts of tenderizing in online cooking school!

Learn the culinary arts of tenderizing in online cooking school!

Questions & Answers

Question: Which marinade would you choose for top sirloin?

Answer: Red wine, oil, red onion, garlic, and peppercorns.

Question: What marinade do you use for a bottom round roast?

Answer: I like oil, red wine, onion, garlic, and pepper. Rub the roast with meat tenderizer first.

Question: How long ahead of time should the powdered tenderizer be mixed into a marinade and be used before cooking beef?

Answer: I usually marinate beef overnight, in the refrigerator.

Question: Do I need to wash the powdered meat tenderizer off the beef before cooking?

Answer: No.

Question: Is Pepsi good to tenderize meat?

Answer: My results for using cola to tenderize meats has been hit or miss. It does enhance flavor, however.

Question: If I'm adding meat tenderizer powder in a marinade, how long does the meat have to sit in the marinade and then how to cook it?

Answer: It depends on the meat. For tough cuts of beef, I usually let them marinate overnight.

Question: Can I substitute pineapple juice for orange juice as a meat tenderizer?

Answer: Yes.