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How to Tenderize Meats Like a Pro!

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Holle loves to cook. BBQ and BBQ sauce is something she and others in the Deep South take seriously.

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 meats 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.

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.

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.

Which Marinades Will Make Meat More Tender?

Any acidic liquid will help tenderize meat and also infuse flavor. This include 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 in the fridge for a couple of hours to 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: 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: Which marinade would you choose for top sirloin?

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

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.

Comments

Joebelle Baldovin on July 25, 2020:

If I marinade beef add pitch of baking soda and soysouce refigarated it in 5 hours and cook it's its bad will I be poison

Joe yerg on July 05, 2020:

How does papaya juice work on tough stks?

Donna on January 16, 2020:

Whats best way to tenderize n marinate angus beef for stew?

Scott on August 01, 2018:

A long you keep me tonight there on a stake

Tina Pasamihalis on May 28, 2017:

Holle, Thank you for the great information and tips. Your article on tenderizing meat and marinades is presented in a comprehensive way and answered a lot of my questions. I really look forward to applying the techniques you provided when cooking indoor or on the grill.

Ariel on January 09, 2017:

I use red wine for beef.

OK. Would it work the same for pork?

Dana Minaty on May 15, 2015:

Why does meat tenderize taste so salty?

Won't the steak taste like it's been over salted after grilling?

Can I marinade it in something mildly acidic after putting the meat tenderizer on and in the steak for a couple of hours?

kalai on February 10, 2015:

Sir the things you have narrated will be suitable for poultry chicken but how to tender country chicken used in south india

hi on May 31, 2013:

Nice post. I appreciate the way you gave several solutions to marinating without wasting money on ready-made store-bought bottled junk!!!

Mary from Washington on April 02, 2012:

I think cheap, tough cuts have better flavor. I appreciate learning how to better tenderize my tough cuts.

Addyson on March 02, 2012:

I came to ask for help. I've tried the baking soda method twice. Both times I rinsed everything thoroughly. However both times, the entire thing began to smell terrible when I started cooking it. It was slimy, and the sauce tasted like seawater. A suggestion of what could have gone wrong would be very helpful. Thanks in advance :)

Corey on December 18, 2011:

I wanted to add something to your suggestion of using pineapple juice as a marinade. Pineapple contains bromelain, a natural meat tenderizer. Unfortunately, bromelain is deactivated by heat and commercial pineapple juice is pasteurized so the bromelain is inactive. Try throwing some fresh pineapple in a blender and use that in a marinade, you'll be amazed by how tender your meat comes out, be careful though, it is such a potent marinade that it has the ability to overtenderize the meat and make it mushy.

TravelinAsia from Thailand/Southeast Asia on April 06, 2011:

Habee, what about BEER? I am sure you have heard of Beer Can Chicken? Beer also works well as a marinade to tenderize meats.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on March 01, 2011:

I usually let meats soak in marinades for much longer than recipes suggest!

loves2cook from Portland, OR on February 22, 2011:

Thanks for this hub! I learned a lot, and now I'm not as leery to go and get those tough cuts of meat. My problem was that I wasn't letting them marinate long enough. I'm also anxious to try baking soda with stir fry beef. Fascinating. Thanks!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 26, 2010:

Mulberry, hope you get great results!

Christine Mulberry on October 08, 2010:

This could be the answer to my prayers. I'm going to try these...I hate tough meat and my results are spotty at best right now.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 06, 2010:

Glad the info was useful, Chevy!

tchevyman39 on June 06, 2010:

Huh..Didn't know about the baking soda tenderizing! Nice job.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 01, 2010:

Thanks, Nancy!

nancy_30 from Georgia on May 29, 2010:

Thank you for sharing these really great tips. They were very useful.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 29, 2010:

Great! I give both Patricias an A+ in my online cooking school!

2patricias from Sussex by the Sea on May 29, 2010:

You've given us a whole list of new ideas! Pat tends to marinade meat, usually with a lot of seasoning. Tricia has several food sensitivities and needs to be very careful, so we will try some of your suggestions. Thanks for such a useful hub - we're rating it up.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 27, 2010:

Teddle, maybe you're cooking it at too high a temp? Johnny usually slow cooks ours on an electric smoker over pecan twigs, and it's awesome! I wrote a hub about using an electric smoker.

Mike Teddleton from Midwest USA on May 27, 2010:

Culinary Arts: How to Tenderize Meats Like a Pro! Great hub, thanks for the info. Every time I grill a pork loin the thing ends up like an old boot, leathery. I am looking foreward to using the marinades you discussed and the baking powder tenderizer method. Wish me luck...

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 27, 2010:

Thanks, Pam!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 27, 2010:

Aud, you should have offered her some "barbecue"!! Ha!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on May 26, 2010:

Habee, Some of those meat tenderizers sound great. Good hub.

Audrey Kirchner from Washington on May 25, 2010:

Ya never know! Thanks for the tip! I seriously think the lady thought I was mincing up someone and putting him or her in the freezer! She did not look happy with my explanation....go figure!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 25, 2010:

Audrey, next time try the opening of an empty 2-liter soda bottle! Of course, I don't think it would prove effective on Bob's head!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 25, 2010:

Thanks, Jen. I hope to do a lot more online cooking classes!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 25, 2010:

Give it a try, HH! See what you can learn in my online cooking classes? lol

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 25, 2010:

Right, Msorennson; pineapple serves the same purpose. Thanks for visiting!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 25, 2010:

Try, try again, FP!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 25, 2010:

Sambo, you are so good for my ego! I always love reading your comments!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 25, 2010:

Let me know how you like it, Sheila!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 25, 2010:

Thanks, Bpop! I'm headed over now for a late breakfast!

Audrey Kirchner from Washington on May 25, 2010:

I personally like the meat mallet - I seem to enjoy pounding the living heck out of meat or chicken. I once substituted (on vacation) a heavy pan because I did not want to spend the money at the trendy little store in town and buy another meat mallet when I had 2 at home already. We were staying in a condo and the next door neighbor actually came over to see 'what was wrong' when she heard the pounding - too hilarious. I met her at the door with the pan in hand and told her I was just whacking my husband! (She did look at me a little funny and paled a bit) Yikes...ah well - I digress. Wonderful tips!

JenDobson27 on May 25, 2010:

Those sound like some great tips. I think I'll have to give one of those tenderizing methods a try this week! Keep the cooking tips coming :)

Hello, hello, from London, UK on May 25, 2010:

Thank you, habee, for such a lot of good tips. I never knew about baking soda.

msorensson on May 25, 2010:

Thank you, habee. The main ingredient in meat tenderizers is the enzyme found in papaya skins. It is called papain. In the countries where papaya grows, the people knew this so they used papaya together with the meat, without knowing the enzyme there.

I am glad I learned more methods to tenderize meat. Thank you!!

Feline Prophet on May 24, 2010:

This was most informative, habee. I'm always wary about coking red meat because I'm scared it will remain tough. Maybe I should give it another try! :)

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 24, 2010:

Glad you enjoyed my online cooking classes, Jen!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 24, 2010:

Many thanks, Veronica! Since I couldn't have a real culinary school, I started my own online culinary school!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 24, 2010:

Prasetio, you're already part of my online cooking school!

samboiam from Texas on May 24, 2010:

habee, thanks for such a helpful hub. I have bookmarked this so I can go back later and share it with my wife. Voted it up. You are simply amazing.

sheila b. on May 24, 2010:

I particularly like your suggestions for marinades. I'm going to try a fruit juice and see how I like it.

breakfastpop on May 24, 2010:

Thanks habee. I really needed to learn more about this subject. Just the other day I was pulverizing a piece of meat wondering if I really was accomplishing anything.

Jen's Solitude from Delaware on May 24, 2010:

Thanks for the great info. I especially appreciated the baking soda moisturizing tip.

Veronica Allen from Georgia on May 24, 2010:

I love your introduction Habee!

I nominate you as our hubpages online culinary director of fine southern cuisine. :)

I have rated it up and bookmarked it.

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on May 24, 2010:

It would be fun join this school. Actually I liked something about education and you also educated me well. Thanks for share about this, good topic. Two thumbs up for you.

Prasetio