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Choosing the best meat tenderizer will often depend on the type and cut of meat being cooked and the cooking method being used. When working with tough cuts of meat, consider using a meat mallet or meat pounder. Marinades, especially those that contain the enzyme bromelain, are good for tenderizing meat that lacks flavor. Those who are grilling meat might use a dry rub or paste rub as a meat tenderizer, to make the meat more tender and flavorful. Salt can also work well to tenderize meat.
A meat pounder or meat mallet is a good meat tenderizer to use when dealing with inexpensive cuts of meat, which can sometimes be tough and hard to eat otherwise. Made of either metal or wood, a meat mallet often resembles a hammer with a short handle. On the head of the mallet, which can have several sides, there will be at least one side covered with rows of pyramid-shaped teeth. When meat is pounded with this side of a meat mallet, the teeth cut into the fibers that can make meat hard to chew.
Another type of meat tenderizer is the marinade, which is a good option when dealing with meat that has little flavor. A marinade usually contains an acidic, wet ingredient — like vinegar, wine, lemon juice, or some other citrus fruit juice — a cooking oil, and various herbs, spices and seasonings. Meat soaked in marinade is not only tenderized, but also absorbs the flavors from the liquid. This method doesn't always work well with thicker meats, however, since the marinade may not be able to get all the way inside the meat; injecting the marinade may help with this.
One popular ingredient used in marinades is fresh pineapple juice, which contains an enzyme called bromelain, an extremely effective meat tenderizer. When using pineapple juice to tenderize meat, however, make sure it is fresh, because canned pineapple juice, and pineapple juice that has been heated or cooked, loses its tenderizing properties. Bromelain is a common ingredient in powdered meat tenderizers as well.
Rubs are another common type of meat tenderizer, especially when cooking meat on a grill. Like marinades, rubs can add flavor to meat while also tenderizing it, although they may not work as well as some other methods. It can help to leave the rub or paste on overnight to allow the ingredients to penetrate into the meat.
Salt is one of the oldest ways to tenderize meat. Liberally coating a piece of meat with kosher or sea salt causes the water to be drawn out; as the salt dissolves in the liquid, some of it is pulled back into the meat, adding to the flavor and changing the protein so that the meat becomes more tender. It's important to rinse most of the salt off and dry the meat before cooking it. The salting method works well for thicker cuts of meat.
I like using an old fashioned meat mallet. I've found the cubed side works very well, and the flat side is fine if you cover the meat with some plastic wrap.
My dad had a novel method of tenderizing meat: he used the edge of an old saucer! It actually worked very well. The edge of the saucer really broke up the meat without pulverizing it. He just came up with that idea when he wanted a faster way to tenderize some steak. I've done it myself and it does work. So, if you don't have a meat mallet, by all means, use the edge of a saucer! It does pretty well.
I've used the commercial meat tenderizers before, and they work OK. I tend to choose the ones that are lower in sodium.
Pineapple juice is a good natural, low sodium tenderizer. The enzymes in pineapple help soften the meat, and you can add other flavorings to a pineapple juice based marinade.
Rubs and so forth are OK, but they really don't do much to actually tenderize the meat. You have to have something that breaks it down a little, and the pineapple juice does that very well. Just don't leave the meat in the juice too long, or you'll end up with mush!
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