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How to Use a Meat Tenderizer & The Different Types

How to Use a Meat Tenderizer & The Different Types

Meat Tenderizers 101

There’s nothing more disappointing than biting into a cut of meat that looks perfectly succulent … only to realize that it’s hard and chewy. This can be especially frustrating if you spent a pretty penny on the ingredients—or worse, you’re hosting dinner guests.

If this sounds familiar, it might be time to learn how to tenderize meat. As the name suggests, the process of tenderization makes meat more tender, ensuring your homemade meat recipes are supple. Think of it as having your meat and eating it too.

What Do Meat Tenderizers Do?

The goal of a meat tenderizer is to make meat softer and easier to chew. Tough meat is difficult to chew and digest—and it’s unappealing as well. Tender meat, on the other hand, is more palatable, tastier, and chef’s kiss.

But how do meat tenderizers work, exactly? Let’s start with a quick science lesson: The tissue in meat is made of collagen, a type of protein. This collagen (and the bonds between them) contributes to the texture of meat. The more collagen there is in a cut of meat, the tougher it generally is. Examples of tough, high-collagen cuts include brisket and chuck steak.

That’s where meat tenderizers come in. A meat tenderizer is designed to break down the bonds between the collagen proteins, which causes the meat to soften.

Types of Meat Tenderizers

Meat tenderizing can be done one of two ways: physically or chemically.

Physical (mechanical) meat tenderizers involve kitchen tools.

These gadgets allow you to pound or pierce the meat, which mechanically separates collagen bonds. There are also two main types of physical meat tenderizer tools: mallets and bladed/needled models.

Chemical meat tenderizers involve added ingredients.

This option usually relies on the action of enzymes, or molecules that break the bonds between things like—you guessed it—collagen proteins. Examples include acidic fruit juices like lemon, lime, or pineapple juice.

Physical (mechanical) meat tenderizers involve kitchen tools.

These gadgets allow you to pound or pierce the meat, which mechanically separates collagen bonds. There are also two main types of physical meat tenderizer tools: mallets and bladed/needled models.

Chemical meat tenderizers involve added ingredients.

This option usually relies on the action of enzymes, or molecules that break the bonds between things like—you guessed it—collagen proteins. Examples include acidic fruit juices like lemon, lime, or pineapple juice.

How to Tenderize Steak With a Mallet

When it comes to tenderizing steak, a meat mallet is the way to go. Also known as a meat hammer or meat pounder, a meat mallet is used to soften meat using mechanical force. It looks like your typical hammer, but with a box-shaped head and spiky or textured surfaces. You can find meat mallets at your local supermarket or specialty kitchen supply stores.

To tenderize steak with a meat mallet, start by placing your steak between two layers of wax paper or plastic wrap. This will prevent the meat from sticking to your work surface (i.e., a cutting board). Next, hold the handle of the meat mallet in your dominant hand, making sure the spiky or textured surface is facing the steak. Starting in the center, strike the steak several times, slowly moving out toward the edges. You can use your other hand to hold the cutting board in place, but be sure to keep it away from the mallet. (Safety first, friends.) Continue pounding the steak until the meat is flat and develops an even, uniform thickness.

And just like that, you’ve tenderized steak with a meat mallet. It also doesn’t hurt that the process is an excellent way to let out some steam after a long day. How’s that for productive meal prep?

How to Tenderize Meat Without a Mallet

Although using a meat mallet is an easy way to tenderize meat, it’s not your only option. You can also use a bladed meat tenderizer, which features needles attached to a plastic handle. As you press the tool into the meat, the blades repeatedly pierce the food, essentially breaking up the collagen bonds.

If you don’t want to buy a new kitchen tool, you can make do with items you already have on hand. Popular options for pounding meat include a rolling pin, cast-iron skillet, mortar, and even cans of food. See you never, tough meat!

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