Last Updated on October 13, 2021 by Boniface Muriuki
There is nothing as frustrating as encountering a chewy chunk of meat when enjoying your meal. It not only takes away your appetite but raises the chances of choking!
If you’ve found yourself in such situations, then it is the right time to invest in the right meat tenderizer.
There is a myriad of meat tenderizers ranging from mallets to natural fruit/vegetable juices. But how does a meat tenderizer work?
This article explains all the basics of meat tenderizer’s working rationale. We also highlight healthy and easy-to-use substitutes for meat tenderizer powder. Read on.
What is a Meat Tenderizer?
A meat tenderizer is an ingredient that helps in softening your meat. It works by breaking down the long meat tissues and the connective tissues.
There are many commercial meat tenderizers that you can consider.
Alternatively, you may use a manual tenderizer such as a mallet or ultrasharp needle tenderizer.
How Meat Tenderizer Powder Works
Meat tenderizer powders work by breaking down the connective tissues in your meat. They contain proteolytic enzymes.
But what are connective tissues? Why does breaking the tissue make the meat tender? To help you understand how a meat tenderizer works, you should first fathom the meat’s structure.
Meat is made of muscles. The muscle fibers are held together by connective tissues called collagen.
As such, you must break down the collagen if you want the meat to be relatively tender. The tenderizer will work by:
- Breaking the muscle fibers into shorter strands
- Breaking the collagen/ connective tissues and turning it into gelatin
Most of the meat tenderizers contain papain. This is a natural proteolytic enzyme obtained from the papaya fruit.
Since they are largely natural, most of the meat tenderizers are safe. These products do not have any side effects.
However, meat tenderizers with monosodium glutamate may have mild side effects on users prone to asthmatic attacks. However, the US Food and Drug Administration has approved the food additive, thus guaranteeing safety.
How Meat Tenderizer Mallet Works
Did you know that you can manually tenderizer your meat? Yes! You don’t need meat tenderizer powder if you possess a tenderizer mallet.
But what exactly is a meat tenderizer mallet?
This is a hand-powered tool that you can use to soften your meat before cooking. It contains both rugged and smooth surfaces.
To achieve the best effect, you should start pounding your meat with the rugged side—the pounding breaks down the connective tissues and the fiber, making the meat tender.
Once you’re through with the pounding, you should use the smoother side to flatten the meat in cooking preparation.
If you’re wondering which meat tenderizer mallet to buy, then we recommend that you choose the KitchenAid Gourmet Meat Tenderizer.
Why We Like KitchenAid Meat Tenderizer
- Has an ergonomic handle for comfortable handling
- Includes both the rugged and the smooth sides (located opposite sides for ease of use)
- It’s lightweight
- Durable aluminum construction
- It is dishwasher-safe
- One year hassle-free replacement warranty coupled with a limited lifetime warranty
When selecting your best hand-powered meat tenderizer mallet, you should ensure that it’s lightweight for ease of handling. Additionally, ensure that the course side is rough enough to break the meat’s connective tissues fast.
How to Use Salt to Tenderize Meat
Salt offers one of the most inexpensive techniques to tenderize your meat. Even better, the process of using it is pretty straightforward.
To achieve its tenderizing effect, you should follow the following simple steps:
- Cut your meat into large pieces
- Sprinkle salt uniformly on all sides
- Let it sit for 2 hours
- Rinse the salt off the meat
- Cook your meat in a skillet or roast it using your best grill
The salt will break down connective tissues, making the meat tender. However, it would help if you never forgot to rinse the meat to avoid over salted meals.
10 Best Meat Tenderizers and How They Work
Besides the meat tenderizer powders, there are other DIY techniques to soften your meat before cooking. Interestingly, most of these tenderizers are readily available on your kitchen shelf.
1. Vinegar. This tenderizer has a substantial amount of acid that helps in softening muscle fibers by breaking connective tissues. Even better, it adds a unique flavor to the meat, making it more delicious. If you don’t have vinegar, you can use the following substitutes:
- Wine – Red Wine is ideal since it has tannins that give the meat a unique brown look
- Citrus Juices – You can use fruits such as pineapple, lemon, and lime
With vinegar, you can use your ideal type. Be it apple cider, balsamic, or any other regular household vinegar.
2. Tea. This tenderizer is rich in tannins, which offer a potent natural meat softener. Just make a cup of strong tea and marinate your meat in it.
3. Tomato Sauce. Tomatoes are relatively acidic, which helps in breaking down meat fiber. Also, this tenderizer will give your meat a unique color and exceptional scrumptiousness.
4. Cola. For a long time, chefs have used Coca-Cola for marinating meat in restaurants. But have you ever wondered how this beverage helps? Well, cola is highly acidic, which helps in breaking down connective tissues resulting in tender meat. However, you should avoid using diet cola since it has shallow acidic content.
5. Beer. This tenderizer contains high levels of tannins and alpha acids. If you want to achieve uniquely tender meat, you should marinate your meat in beer for several hours (up to 24 hours)
6. Coffee. This is a natural tenderizer that is highly acidic. You should brew your coffee and marinate the meat in it for a maximum of 24 hours.
7. Ginger. This tenderizer has natural proteolytic enzymes that help in breaking down proteins. This feature explains why this product is an ingredient in many cooking products.
8. Baking Soda. This ingredient will break down proteins in your meat. To achieve its tenderizing effect, you should sprinkle the powder and rub it on the surface gently. You should then refrigerate the meat for 24 hours before cooking.
9. Buttermilk/ Yogurt. These tenderizers have a dual-action. It contains a significant level of acidity that breaks down the meat’s connective tissues. Also, it has calcium that activates meat’s enzymes to break down proteins.
10. Papaya. Some fruits such as papaya, figs, and kiwis contain proteolytic enzymes that break down connective tissues without a hassle. All that you’ll be required to do is apply the juice to the meat and leave it for a few hours.
Tips on How to Use Meat Tenderizers
Your primary intention of using a meat tenderizer is to soften the meat. However, inappropriate use of meat tenderizers can result in the opposite results. Here are useful tips that you should consider before you start using your meat tenderizer:
- Use Straight Liquid Acid Sparingly. If you are using apple cider vinegar or lemon juice, you should marinate your meat for a maximum of 2 hours. If it takes longer, the acid will start toughening it. If you must marinate longer, then choose a tenderizer that contains oil.
- Use Glass Dish for Marination. Since you’re using an acidic product, it can quickly react with metals. This reaction may form compounds that will be deposited on your meat.
- Refrigerate Your Meat During Marination. Storing your meat in a relatively cold environment allows the tenderizer to enter deep into the tissues, resulting in softer meats.
To get the best marination effect, we recommend that you choose a meat tenderizer with the following ingredients:
- An acid
- Spices and herbs to add flavor
This combination ensures that you get soft and flavored meat for your enjoyment.
How Does a Meat Tenderizer Work – The Bottom Line
If you want to enjoy your meat, you have to ensure that it is not chewy! One of the surest techniques you can use is investing in a meat tenderizer.
You can choose to use manual tenderizers or DIY tenderizers. If you choose the manual, then you should get yourself a meat mallet. Alternatively, you can invest in a meat tenderizer powder.
If that sounds confusing, then you shouldn’t worry! This article offers an all-inclusive guide on how a meat tenderizer works. If you follow this guide to the letter, you can be sure that you’ll never experience pieces of chewy meat on your plate again.
Chef Boniface is a graduate in Culinary Arts from the Institute of Culinary Education, New York. He has worked in several restaurants and is currently the Head Chef at Cavali Restaurant.
He has excelled in developing unique recipes and influencing the menu at the restaurant. He prides himself in sharing his knowledge at thekitchenpot.com where he writes about the best cookware for various recipes.