How to Tenderize Meat

Tenderizing meat helps to make tough cuts easier to chew and digest. The basic principle is to break down the muscle and connective tissue.

Like a detour on the Amazing Race, there are two ways you can make meat more tender:

  • Beat it
  • Drown it

In Beat It

In Beat It, teams will have to buy a meat tenderizer or clean their claw hammer really well. Then, start pounding away. If you are merely tenderizing for cooking, a half dozen solid whacks each side will do it. If you are trying to make your cut of meat thin for a rolled meat dish, you should remove the bones and excess fat. Then, start at the center of the cut, and whack with an outward motion. This will help tear the meat a bit and force it into a larger, flatter piece

In Drown It

In this challenge, teams will chemically break down the muscle. This does NOT mean go out and get some bleach or other icky stuff. It basically means marinade or soak. There is a whole wonderful science behind meat types vs marinade types. I can’t even begin to get into it right now. (Give me a few months of downtime and I’ll do some heavy research). But you have a few different types:

  • Acid marinating: Probably the most familiar to those who grill, these marinades include vinegar, citrus juice, or wine. Be careful about the ratio between acid and other ingredients. Also, watch out for the length of time you let meat sit in a marinade. You can actually make some meat a bit tougher if you have too much acid or it sits too long. And, as anyone who has had ceviche knows, a citrus marinade will “cook” seafood.
  • Enzyme marinating: You can buy products (usually made of from papaya extract) that contain enzymes. These enzymes “chew” away at the meat making it more tender. A word of caution on these guys. You’re going to dry out your meat (and in my mind, lose a lot of flavor).
  • Dairy marinating: I know, it can sound a bit ick. But, it works wonders (especially on chicken). I watched a recipe on Everyday Food where you soak chicken cutlets in buttermilk before coating them with breadcrumbs. Dreamy. Or, you can do a yogurt curry type of marinade.

Of course, there’s nothing to say that you can’t do both. But, if you over tenderize meat, you could end up with pulp on your plate.

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