Tenderizing meat has slowly become a standard part of my grilling and smoking meat routine and this is for a reason.
Updated: December, 2023
Although it might seem that it is a fairly new thing to tenderize meats it has been around for a long time.
History Of Tenderizing Meat
Meat tenderizers have been used for centuries to make tough cuts of meat easier to chew and make it more palatable.
For centuries and In the old times, natural tenderizers such as papaya, pineapple, and figs were used to break down the fibers in meat.
In the Middle Ages, marinating meat in wine or vinegar was a very commonly used method, as the acid helped to tenderize the meat.
The meat grinder that was invented in the 19th century made it easier to tenderize meat mechanically, and in the 20th century, using enzymes such as papain and bromelain became prevalent.
Nowadays, meat tenderizers come in many forms and are readily available to home cooks and professional chefs.
What Does Tenderizing Meat Do?
There is a whole slew of things that tenderizing meat does. Although you can buy many types of meat for the grill that from the start are tender.
Tenderizing meat is still important for several reasons.
Firstly, it reduces the cooking time.
By making the meat easier to cook and allowing it to retain its moisture. Tough cuts of meat that have been properly tenderized can be cooked at high temperatures without drying out, resulting in a juicy and flavorful dish.
Secondly, tenderizing meat helps to enhance the flavor.
Because IT breaks down the fibers in the meat, it does allow the marinade or seasoning to penetrate deep into the meat. This results in a more flavorful and aromatic dish, as the seasoning is absorbed more evenly throughout the meat.
Lastly, tenderizing meat is cost-effective.
Tougher cuts of meat are generally less expensive than tender cuts. By tenderizing them properly, you can achieve the same tenderness and flavor as more expensive cuts of meat, without breaking the bank.
Tenderizing meat can be an essential step in preparing delicious tender and enjoyable meat.
Types Of Meat Tenderizers
Meat tenderizers are available in various forms, including chemical and physical tenderizers.
Enzymes such as papain and bromelain are often used, which break down the protein molecules in the meat and make it more tender.
These enzymatic tenderizers are usually found in natural sources, such as papaya or pineapple, and are safe to use unless you overdo it.
Chemical tenderizers on the other hand include enzymes and acids that break down the connective tissues and make the meat tender.
Acids such as apple cider vinegar or regular vinegar, lemon juice, or wine can be used to tenderize meat, as they kind of destroy part of the proteins and break down the fibers.
However, it is important to be cautious when using acidic tenderizers, as they can easily over-tenderize the meat and make it mushy.
They use mechanical force to break down the fibers in the meat.
Meat mallets, meat grinders, and other tools can be used to pound or grind the meat, which helps to break down the connective tissues and make it more tender.
However, it is important to be careful not to over-tenderize the meat, as it can become too soft and lose its texture.
Marinating meat is another common method of tenderizing, as the acid used in most of the marinades breaks down the proteins in the meat and makes it tender.
This means that I consider them to be part of the chemical tenderizers.
I mention them separately because many people, including me, use them for tenderizing and adding flavor to our meat.
My Way Of Tenderizing Meat
Although I am still experimenting with ways to tenderize meats and that includes a lot of reading I have a few methods that I use regularly.
I have been testing baking soda now for a while and got some great results. If you like to read more about it just read how I use baking soda to tenderize meat.
I use baking soda almost all the time on chicken. Especially on chicken breast.
I almost always use some vinegar in my marinates to improve tenderness and the absorption of the used spices.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Although you might think that it will do the same as regular vinegar it is my experience that it works a little faster and better. Probably because of the fermentation.
Apple juice I use most of the time for the simple reason that we always have that available.
Lemon Juice I use on fish and in some marinates.
I have not used this many times yet but came upon a few recipes that called for it. As soon as I have tested it I will add my experience here.
Many of the tenderizing methods are also used in many of my favorite grill recipes.
Meat Tenderizer Tools
In my restaurant years, we used the tenderizing mallet sometimes on steaks.
In a butcher shop where I always ordered my meat I have seen them use a tenderizer machine on the pork cutlets I used for Schnitzel and that works fast and well.
I have also used just the bottom of a heavy skillet when I had no mallet available and to be honest that works just fine.
Tip: When using a mallet or bottom of a skillet don’t forget to cover the meat with plastic wrap or the blood splatters all over the place. (Ask me how I know!)
If you have any tips or ideas on how to tenderize meats feel free to share it in the comments.
Eddie van Aken
Eddie van Aken has years of experience in running his full-service restaurant and with this came working with using and dealing with all types of kitchen equipment. With his experience, he can find all the pros and cons of grills and add them to the grill reviews and the outdoor cooking tips he is writing about. You can read more on the About page for Eddie van Aken