Tenderizing meat at home is a great way to save money on food. Instead of paying for a meal at a restaurant, why not learn how to tenderize meat and prepare it at home? You can do it with only a few household materials, and the results are tender, juicy meat that is sure to delight any palate.
So what does tenderizing meat do? Discover the process and the science behind tenderizing meat here. Also, learn how tenderizing affects different meats & cuts.
What Does Tenderizing Meat Do?
Tenderizing has three significant impacts on meat:
- Tenderizing breaks down the fibers, making them shorter and easier to chew and digest.
- It makes meat cook faster.
- It also makes its texture softer and more pleasant.
However, these effects aren’t necessarily desirable for every cut, but those tough cuts.
What Is the Science Behind Meat Tenderization?
To understand the science behind meat tenderization, it’s important to have a basic understanding of how meat is structured.
Meat is composed of muscle cells bundled together by connective tissue. Collagen is the most common connective tissue in meat. It is responsible for the meat structure.
As an animal ages, more collagen is produced in the muscle tissue, making the meat tougher. The more an animal moves, the harder its muscles are. This is due to more collagen being created to support its movement.
When such meat cuts are heated, the proteins in its muscle fibers contract. Heat causes the loosely arranged proteins to come closer together and form a “net” that squeezes moisture out of the meat. Eventually, they get close enough to interact and form new bonds. The bonds grow stronger as heat is applied, creating new tougher structures.
That’s where tenderization comes in. Its goal is to change the muscle protein structure of myosin and collagen. It breaks down the muscle fibers and connective tissues in the meat. This results in softer and chewy meat, allowing us to enjoy tougher cuts just as much as we would an expensive cut.
5 Types of Meat Cuts to Tenderize
The degree of tenderness is primarily determined by the amount and location of connective tissue (collagen) in the meat. The less connective tissue there is, the more tender the meat is.
Generally, the most tender cuts come from muscles that do little work. The more often a muscle is used, the tougher it is.
Brisket is a cut that needs a lot of tenderizing since it’s so lean and tough (especially the Brisket Flat). It comes as the pectoral muscle of the cow, supporting most of the animal’s body weight on its front legs. It’s a tough muscle with lots of connective tissue, but it also has excellent flavor.
Brisket is often prepared as a pot roast for several hours, braised with vegetables and seasonings over low heat. This breaks down the collagen in the meat and results in a tender, juicy dish.
Brisket is also popular as corned beef or pastrami, cured and smoked for extra flavor. It can even be prepared as barbecue brisket after seasoning it with dry rubs or marinades (just don’t overcook it or it’ll be tough.
Chuck roast comes from one of the toughest parts of the cow. So, it’s cheaper than other cuts. Marinating or braising this cut is the way to go.
Brisket and chuck roast are similar in many ways, so they can be cooked using the same techniques. However, chuck roast is better suited for longer cooking times. This is because it’s less likely to dry out or turn tough during extended cooking sessions. Just tenderize this meat cut and cook it much faster to avoid the hassle.
Pork shoulder is a leaner cut than brisket or chuck roast, but it’s still pretty tough. Like brisket and chuck roast, pork shoulder requires long cooking times at low temperatures. It’s often used in barbecue pulled pork because this method of cooking results in pork that pulls apart easily into shreds.
Pork shoulder roasts can also be split into smaller pieces before cooking to shorten their cooking time slightly. However, they’ll still require several hours of heat to produce tender meat.
This cut of meat comes from the area between the hip and rib of the cow. It is a very lean piece of meat that can become quite tough when cooked improperly. You can prepare it like steak, but you will need to marinate it first to tenderize it.
The round steak comes from the back leg area near the hip bone. This is a lean piece of beef that contains muscle fiber, making it somewhat tough.
Round steak (both top round and bottom round) may take longer than other cuts to cook because you have to ensure that you cook the outer layer long enough. That is why you will need to marinate it at home for fast cooking.
Methods of Tenderizing Meat at Home
Home cooks chefs use a variety of methods to tenderize meat. This is especially important for tougher cuts of meat, like beef chuck roast and pork shoulder.
The first option for tenderizing meat is the simplest: the basic kitchen hammer. The key to using a hammer is to use it in moderation so that the cuts don’t become too big or spread out.
Also, be sure not to hit too hard when hitting the tenderloin with the hammer, as it can cause the meat to be tough.
For tougher cuts of meat, you will want to marinate them first before cooking.
Marinating meat can break down some of the proteins in the meat and make it more tender and add flavor. Acidic marinades include:
- Citrus juices
The acidic marinades should be used only for a few hours. If left on too long, they can have a toughening effect on the meat.
Citrus fruits are especially effective at tenderizing beef. On the other hand, red wine is best when preparing lamb or other red meats.
You can also use an enzyme-based marinade made from pineapple juice (bromelain) or papaya (papain).
Meat enzymes, such as bromelain, break down the proteins in the meat. The enzymes occur naturally in pineapple juice and papaya.
Meat should be marinated in pineapple juice for 12 to 24 hours before cooking. Fresh pineapple can also be used as part of the marinade but must be left on the meat for longer hours.
Pounding meat with a mallet or similar meat tenderizers is another method of tenderizing it at home. The act of pounding ruptures the connective tissue in the outer layers of meat and makes it easier to chew.
This method is often used in conjunction with breading and frying meats like chicken breasts to create a crispy coating while keeping the inside moist and flavorful.
Pounding with a good tenderizer is also used in preparing some cuts of steak for grilling.
The purpose of salting is to reduce the toughness or chewy texture of the meat. Salting works by breaking down the proteins in the meat.
The salt draws some moisture from the meat and then breaks down the protein strands, resulting in softer meat.
The amount of time you need to salt depends on the type of meat and its thickness. For example, chicken breasts need less than one hour. A roast may take up to 24 hours.
The best way to salt is to rub salt into both sides of the cut. Then wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least an hour before grilling it over high heat.
The best way to tenderize any cut of meat is to cook it using moist heat methods. Such methods include:
These methods break down the collagen in the connective tissue with heat and water. The longer you cook it, the more tender the meat will become.
If time isn’t an issue, use an inexpensive cut of meat and let it cook for hours until it falls apart with a fork.
This method is perfect for roasts, steaks, and chops because these cuts have tough connective tissues that need breaking down.
Dry-aging is a way to tenderize and intensify the meaty, beefy flavor of the meat. It’s done by hanging a large cut of meat in a controlled environment for several weeks.
Your fridge will do the trick. Pick up some USDA Prime beef from your local butcher, trim it yourself, and pop it in the refrigerator for about two weeks.
While dry aging is not for the faint of heart, it’s one way to make a great steak even better. The process involves allowing enzymes naturally present in the meat to break down connective tissue and muscle fibers. At the same time, moisture evaporates from the meat, concentrating its flavor.
Some people believe that dry-aging makes the meat unsafe through the increased microbial load. This is not true. As long as you’re cooking the meat properly, there’s no reason to be worried about safety when eating dry-aged beef.
There are two ways to dry age beef at home: hanging and box methods. The hanging method mimics how professional butchers do it, while the box method relies on air circulation inside a container instead of natural airflow around the beef roast (the beef roast hangs freely).
Why Tenderize Meat at Home
Do you ever wonder what tenderizing meat does and why you need to do it at home? Check out the many reasons why you should consider tenderizing meat at home.
You Can Save Money
Meat is one of the most expensive parts of any meal. When you buy cheaper cuts of meat, you are often sacrificing quality for a better price tag.
Tenderizing these meats at home improves their quality, making them stronger in flavor and easier to digest.
You Can Control the Level of Tenderness
When you purchase pre-tenderized meats from a grocery store or butcher shop, they have already been processed. But they may not meet your level of tenderness.
By doing it yourself, you control how much the meat is tenderized so that it is just right when it hits your plate or grill.
You Can Reduce Fat Content
Not only does this method make meat more tender, but it also helps reduce its fat content.
Extra trimming and seasoning help get rid of unwanted fat without sacrificing taste.
Control Over Tenderizing Method
By choosing to tenderize your meat, you retain control over what goes into that process. You can choose from various tenderizing methods:
- Meat mallet
- Marinating the meat in an acidic liquid
- Using a slow cooker, etc
Tenderizing at home allows you to avoid unusual ingredients. For example, polyphosphates, used by some commercial processors, are linked to kidney problems.
Also, you can control what goes into your food. You want a specific ingredient in your dish, right? Using a tenderizer with the same ingredient is an easy way to get more of that ingredient into your recipe without buying another bottle of it.
Ease of Tendering
Home-tenderized meat is easier for you or your family to eat. Mostly, home-tenderized meat is more tender than regular meat. It’s particularly useful for people with dentures or other dental issues that make chewing difficult or painful.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
If you still have questions about tenderization, check out the quick answers below.
How long should you marinate meat?
The answer depends on what type of meat you’re using. It also depends on what effect you want it to have on the final dish. Meats like chicken or pork should be left in the marinade for around two hours. Tougher cuts of beef benefit from overnight soaking by taking up the flavors.
Does tenderizing meat make it healthier?
No. Studies suggest that cooking meat for long periods at high temperatures damages proteins in the meat and decreases their nutritional value. However, tenderizing increases their palatability.
Can you over-tenderize meat?
Yes, you can over-tenderize. Just like over-marinating, over-tenderizing breaks down the proteins to the point where the muscle fibers disintegrate and turn to mush.
What does tenderizing meat do to your stomach?
Tenderizing meat will not tenderize your stomach lining. However, the spices that come with the tenderizing ingredients may upset your digestive system.
As you can see, tenderizing meat is an excellent way to get the most flavor and the best texture out of a cut of meat, and there are plenty of easy ways to do it at home. Now it’s time for you to pay a visit to your local butcher and pick out a fresh cut, so you can try one of these methods yourself.