Last Updated on August 18, 2020
Do you know what the MOST EXPENSIVE cuts of meat all have in common?
Every single high-dollar meat choice has a tender, juicy texture.
So if you want to eat like a king without paying through the nose… You’d better learn the best way to tenderize meat.
A lot of things can contribute to meat being tough and chewy, from the location of the cut, to the quality of the meat, to how you cook and cut it. What just about every less-than-tender cut of meat has in common, though, is the presence of a lot of muscle fiber, and relatively little fat.
We can take this knowledge and use it to our advantage in making the most tender, juiciest dishes out of even the least desirable cuts of meat. In this article, you’re going to learn 5 tested and proven methods for tenderizing meat, no matter which animal and which cut you’re working with.
If you’re ready to turn even the most humble of beef, chicken, and pork into a succulent culinary wonder, then read on!
Use a Meat Tenderizer Tool
Specially made meat tenderizing tools have been the secret weapon of chefs for generations in the battle against overly chewy meats.
Available in a variety of styles from a simple hammer to a 40+ blade super chopper, sometimes the only problem with meat tenderizers is that they can work too well. It’s easy to get a little bit overzealous with your pounding, and end up with a pile of meat goo instead of a delicious steak.
For a comprehensive review of your options in meat tenderizer tools, go take a look at our list of the 9 Best Meat Tenderizers. In it, we break down the pros and cons of every style of meat tenderizer tool available on the market today, and include a detailed buyers guide for anyone looking to add a meat tenderizer to their kitchen.
Make a Marinade
Why not tenderize your meat and give it more flavor at the same time? This is the promise of a marinade, a cooking technique whose origin has been lost to time.
Basically, there are three major styles of marinades:
As simple as soaking your cut of meat in water with salt added to it, brining is the predecessor to all other marinating methods. In fact, it’s Latin name (aqua marina) is where we get the word “marinade” from in the first place. An overnight brine will bring out the natural flavor and tenderness of just about any cut of meat.
#2 Acid Marinade
Using any acidic ingredient -- think vinegar, red wine, lemon juice, buttermilk, or yogurt -- will do a fantastic job of breaking down muscle fibers and connective tissue that give unpleasant textures. The best marinades in this style have a balance of acid, oil, and spice that keeps the meat from turning mushy by being “overcooked” by the strongly acidic ingredients.
#3 Enzyme Marinade
If you’ve ever noticed a slight tingling sensation on your hands or in your mouth while eating tropical fruits like mangoes, papayas, or pineapples, then you’ve been exposed to their protein-digesting qualities. These fruits and a few others all contain enzymes that help to break down rough, cartilaginous tissue; add some of their juice to a meat 30 minutes before cooking to tenderize it.
Don’t Forget the Salt
Whether used in a brine as outlined above or simply rubbed dry onto the surface of your meat, salt will help to both concentrate flavors and tenderize tissues by drawing out any extra water. Try covering your next brisket with a thin layer of kosher salt and black pepper, and leaving it to rest for 30 minutes before grilling or slow cooking it. An All Purpose Rub can be used as an alternative.
Cook it Long and Low
Sometimes, the best way to make sure you’re getting the most out of every cut of meat is to lower the cooking temperature, and cook it for as long as you have time for. The famous Crock Pot has been a worldwide favorite for decades because this method of cooking REALLY DOES WORK to make tender, juicy meat every time.
Other popular methods of cooking “low and slow” include:
•Smoking, where meat is cooked in direct contact with smoke at around 250 degrees for anywhere from 4 to 8 hours
•Cooking over dying coals on a grill, where their indirect heat can provide a constant heat source for hours as they burn down
•Braising is a classic French technique that alternates dry and wet heat in an oven, by periodically ladling fats and cooking liquids over your meat
Cut it Properly
Being in too much of a rush can be a sure way to make your meat less tender than it could be. Instead, follow these two simple guidelines to finish strong:
Rest Your Meat
No matter how you’ve cooked your meat, you need to give it time to sit on a cutting board before dividing it into individual portions. So once your meat is finished cooking, give it another 5 to 10 minutes to rest before cutting it; this will help it stabilize all of its juices, keeping them in the meat where you want them.
Cut Against the Meat’s Grain
Do you see the long muscle fibers that run through your cut of meat? Well, if you’re slicing your meat to serve, it's absolutely essential to cut against this grain. Doing this will help the muscle fibers to come apart with minimal chewing effort!
Final Thoughts on the Best Way to Tenderize Meat
Learning a few simple tenderizing methods goes such a long way towards making sure you’ll always be making the best of whatever cut of meat you have. So the next time you’re looking for a great value cut of meat for dinner, consider using one of these 5 techniques to get the most tender, succulent results out of it.
Thank you for reading today, and we wish you the best of luck in all of your meat tenderizing adventures!