Anyone who has worked in a kitchen likely knows that meat is a fickle thing. Different types of meat can require vastly different cooking methods to coax out their best flavors and textures — and some meats are just downright tough, no matter how you cook them.
So what is an at-home cook to do when faced with a cut of meat that’s closer to shoe leather than dinner? You’ll have to break out the culinary big guns, and get yourself a meat mallet.
Ideal for use with tough cuts of pork and beef, meat mallets are also used to make ridiculously tender preparations of chicken. Even if you’re not regularly cooking with chuck roast or bottom round, a meat mallet is a wise investment in your kitchen preparedness.
But not all meat mallets are created equally, and that’s why we’ve put together this guide to explain the ins and outs of finding the best meat mallet for your kitchen. Along the way, you’ll learn about three different types of meat tenderizers, as well as what we advise our friends to look for when they’re buying a meat mallet for their own kitchen.
By the end of this article, you’ll be fully informed and ready to pick out the right meat tenderizing tool for your home kitchen. Let’s get started!
What Is A Meat Mallet?
Also known as a meat tenderizer or meat pounder, at its most basic a meat mallet resembles a hammer with a wide, flat head. Utilizing leverage and hand-powered force, a meat mallet will help to separate the tough fibrous tissue that makes meat chewy and unappetizing — leading to softer, richer, more flavorful recipes.
As simple a tool as a meat mallet might be, the best meat mallets have nuanced designs that cut down on the amount of work a chef has to do to achieve tender cuts of meat. Our favorite meat mallets are designed specifically to reduce stress on the hands and wrists, making it easier to use without any risk of injury or strain.
Types of Meat Mallets
Two of the three main types of meat tenderizer may be referred to as a meat mallet, with the third being a more modern version of this age-old tool. Let’s take a closer look at the design of all three, before covering how to decide which one is right for you:
Instantly recognizable thanks to its likeness to a carpentry hammer, the hammer style of meat mallet increases force through the use of a long lever arm. This gives it great power, but also the potential to put a greater amount of stress on your hands and wrists.
You’ll commonly find two types of heads on hammer style meat mallets: A cube with spiked and flat sides, or a cylinder with spikes on both ends. More rarely, a heavy metal disk will be affixed to the end rather than a hammer head, distributing the force more evenly across a wider area of meat.
Somewhat similar to a hand stamp, the pounder style of meat mallet takes a bit more force to wield but offers greater control and less stress on your hands and wrists. One piece stainless steel pounders are a convenient tool and easier to clean than hammer style mallets, but take more time to achieve the tenderizing results you’re looking for.
The most recent addition to the meat tenderizer family of tools, bladed tenderizers forego blunt force in favor of making dozens of tiny perforations. While this is a much faster way of separating meat fibers, it carries the risk of going overboard: Even a few too many whacks with a bladed tenderizer can turn a decent cut of meat into unpalatable mush.
Considerations When Buying Meat Mallets
Whenever our friends are looking to outfit their kitchen with new meat mallets, we recommend that they take these three considerations into account:
1. Pick the Right Style For Your Body
The three styles of meat tenderizers in the above section each have their advantages and disadvantages. Primarily, though, this consideration comes down to matching the style with how strong your wrists are.
If you’ve had considerable problems with your wrists, avoid the hammer style meat mallet and go for the pounder. If even this seems to heavy or like too much work, the bladed style should be your next choice. For anyone with healthy, pain-free wrists, the hammer style works quickly and efficiently.
2. Always Go For Stainless Steel
Since you’ll be tenderizing raw meat, it’s vitally important to be able to ensure the cleanliness of your tools. Stainless steel is the easiest material to clean, and quite durable to boot — making it an ideal choice of material for meat mallets. Avoid tenderizers with plastic handles, as they can become a breeding ground for dangerous bacteria if improperly sanitized.
3. Seek Out Simple Designs
At its heart, the meat mallet is a low-tech tool. No matter how many bells and whistles a company sees fit to add to their kitchen gadgets, the best meat mallet will always be the one that is simple and sturdy. If the meat mallet you’re looking at seems complicated, it’s best to move on and find another model.
Where to Buy Meat Mallets
Thanks to the wide variety of kitchen tool companies that sell their wares on Amazon, it’s easy to find high-quality meat mallets with just a bit of searching. Here are our favorite picks for each of the three styles discussed in this article:
OXO’s Good Grips series uses an antimicrobial material for their non-slip handles, making their tools both easy to work with and easy to clean. Their hammer-style meat mallet is well-balanced, affordable, and simple — and our top recommendation for most kitchens.
Norpro uses a similar non-slip grip material in their pounder style meat mallet, and all stainless steel for the body of the tenderizer. It’s heavy enough to tenderize tough cuts, but not so hard on the wrists as hammer-style mallets.
Jaccard was the original innovator of the bladed meat tenderizer, and their 48-blade tenderizing tool is still the leader in the field. It’s ridiculously efficient, so you’ll need to use restraint when pounding so as not to end up with meat pulp. If you’re looking for maximum tenderizing efficiency, the Jaccard is the way to go.