6 Easy Ways To Tenderize Tough Meat

Aged Steaks Tenderizing on the kitchen counter
Aged Steaks Tenderizing on the kitchen counter

Whether you’re dealing with a budget-friendly cut of meat or simply prefer the deep, robust flavors often associated with tougher cuts, knowing how to properly tenderize and cook these meats can significantly improve your meal.

In this guide, I’m firstly going to explain some of the methods you can use to tenderize meat, but then I’m going to add specific marinades and techniques that work exceptionally well, such as Pineapple, baking soda, and mechanical tenderizing.

Here are the main “types” of achieving more tender meat, but stick around and see specific methods I mention right after.

Tenderizing Methods

Marinating

Marinating meat not only infuses it with flavor but also helps tenderize it. To do this:

  • Create a marinade with an acidic component like vinegar or lemon juice, or a natural enzyme found in ingredients like papaya, pineapple, or ginger. These components break down tough proteins.
  • Place your meat in a non-reactive dish or a sealable plastic bag and pour the marinade over the meat, ensuring it’s fully covered.
  • Let the meat marinate in the refrigerator for several hours, or even overnight for tougher cuts. Longer marinating results in more tender and flavorful meat.

Slow Cooking

Slow cooking at a low temperature gives tough fibers and connective tissue in meat time to break down and become tender. Here’s how to slow cook your meat:

  • Preheat your oven, slow cooker, or multi-cooker to a low setting (typically between 200-300°F for ovens).
  • Season your meat as desired and place it in the cooker with some liquid — this could be broth, stock, wine, or even water.
  • Cook the meat slowly over several hours. Check the meat periodically to ensure it doesn’t dry out; add more liquid as needed.

Pressure Cooking

Pressure cooking is a quick way to tenderize meat. Here’s a simple guide:

  • Season your meat as per your recipe.
  • Add the meat and necessary amount of liquid (usually water, broth, or a mix of both) to your pressure cooker.
  • Seal the pressure cooker and set the cooking time as recommended in your recipe. For many tough cuts of meat, a cooking time of 45 minutes to an hour is often sufficient.
  • Once cooked, release the pressure according to the cooker’s instructions before removing the lid.

Cooking in Liquid (Braising)

Cooking tough meat in liquid, also known as braising, is a time-honored way to achieve tender results:

  • Preheat your oven to a moderate temperature, around 325°F.
  • Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed oven-safe pot and brown your meat on all sides.
  • Remove the meat and sauté aromatics like onions, garlic, or herbs in the same pot.
  • Return the meat to the pot and add enough broth, wine, or other cooking liquid to partially submerge the meat.
  • Cover and transfer to the oven, letting the meat cook slowly until it’s tender. This could take several hours depending on the size and cut of meat.

Baking Soda Treatment

Chinese cuisine often uses baking soda as a tenderizer, especially for stir-fries. Here’s how to apply this technique:

  • Cut your meat into thin slices or bite-sized pieces.
  • Sprinkle the meat with baking soda — about 1 teaspoon per pound of meat is sufficient. Ensure all pieces are well-coated.
  • Let the meat sit for 15-20 minutes to allow the baking soda to do its work.
  • Rinse the meat thoroughly under cold water to remove all traces of the baking soda, then pat dry.
  • Proceed to cook your meat as per your recipe.
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Slicing Against the Grain

Finally, no matter which tenderizing method you’ve used, ensure you’re slicing your meat against the grain for the most tender bite:

  • Look for the direction of the muscle fibers in the meat — this is the ‘grain’.
  • Slice your cooked meat perpendicular to these fibers, effectively shortening them, which makes the meat easier to chew.

Each of these techniques can transform a tough cut of meat into a succulent, flavorful dish.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with these methods and find which works best for your personal taste and cooking style.

Tenderizing Meat with Coca Cola

Coca Cola, due to its acidity and carbonation, can help tenderize meat. Here’s how to use it:

  1. Marinate: Pour enough Coca Cola into a bowl or zip-top bag to fully cover your meat. You can add additional flavorings such as garlic, onion, or your favorite spices if you wish.
  2. Rest: Allow the meat to marinate in the refrigerator for several hours, or overnight for tougher cuts. The phosphoric acid in the Coca Cola will help to break down the protein bonds in the meat, making it more tender.
  3. Cook: After marinating, cook your meat as you normally would. Don’t forget to let it rest before slicing against the grain.
Aged Steaks Tenderizing on the kitchen counter

Coke Marinade for Steak

Tenderize meat with the surprising twist of Coca-Cola, adding a hint of sweetness and ensuring a juicy result.
5 from 3 votes
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American, Fusion
Servings 4

Ingredients
  

  • 1 to 2 cups of Coca-Cola
  • 2 to 3 pounds of meat beef, pork, or chicken
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional herbs and spices such as garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, etc.

Instructions
 

  • Prepare the Meat: Trim any excess fat from the meat and cut it into the desired size and shape.
  • Create the Marinade: In a bowl, combine the Coca-Cola with salt, pepper, and any other herbs or spices you like. Mix well to combine.
  • Marinate the Meat: Place the meat in a resealable plastic bag or a shallow dish. Pour the Coca-Cola mixture over the meat, ensuring it’s fully coated. Seal the bag or cover the dish with plastic wrap.
  • Refrigerate: Allow the meat to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. For tougher cuts of meat, you may want to marinate for up to 24 hours.
  • Cook as Desired: Remove the meat from the marinade and pat it dry with paper towels. You can then grill, roast, pan-fry, or cook the meat as you normally would.
  • Optional Sauce: If you want to make a sauce, you can reduce the remaining marinade by simmering it in a saucepan until it thickens. Make sure to boil it for at least 2 minutes to kill any bacteria from the raw meat.
  • Serve: Serve the meat hot with your favorite side dishes.

Notes

  • The amount of Coca-Cola and marinating time can be adjusted based on the type and thickness of the meat.
  • Always discard any marinade that has been in contact with raw meat, or boil it thoroughly before using it as a sauce.
  • Coca-Cola can add a sweet flavor to the meat, so consider balancing it with savory or spicy ingredients if desired.
Keyword Coca-Cola, Marinade, Tenderizer
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Tenderizing Meat with Pineapple

Pineapple contains a natural enzyme called bromelain that breaks down proteins and can help to tenderize meat.

  1. Prepare Your Marinade: Use fresh pineapple juice for your marinade. You can also include other ingredients for added flavor.
  2. Marinate: Place your meat in the marinade, making sure it’s fully submerged, and let it sit in the refrigerator. However, be careful not to marinate for too long — bromelain is so effective that it can turn your meat mushy if left too long.
  3. Cook: Cook your meat as you normally would. The pineapple flavor should complement your meat nicely.
Aged Steaks Tenderizing on the kitchen counter

Pineapple Steak Marinade

Use the natural tenderizing power of pineapple to create succulent meat dishes, perfect for grilling or roasting.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American, Fusion, Hawaiian, Tropical
Servings 2

Instructions
 

  • Prepare the Meat: Trim any excess fat from the meat and cut it into the desired size and shape.
  • Create the Marinade: In a bowl, combine the pineapple juice with salt, pepper, and any other herbs or spices you like. Mix well to combine.
  • Marinate the Meat: Place the meat in a resealable plastic bag or a shallow dish. Pour the pineapple mixture over the meat, ensuring it’s fully coated. Seal the bag or cover the dish with plastic wrap.
  • Refrigerate: Allow the meat to marinate in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours.
  • Cook as Desired: Remove the meat from the marinade and pat it dry with paper towels. You can then grill, roast, pan-fry, or cook the meat as you normally would.
  • Optional Sauce: If you want to make a sauce, you can reduce the remaining marinade by simmering it in a saucepan until it thickens. Make sure to boil it for at least 2 minutes to kill any bacteria from the raw meat.
  • Serve: Serve the meat hot with your favorite side dishes.

Notes

  • Fresh pineapple juice contains more active bromelain and will tenderize more effectively than canned or cooked pineapple juice.
  • Be cautious with the marinating time, as over-marinating can cause the meat to become mushy. Generally, 1 to 2 hours is sufficient.
  • Pineapple can add a tropical flavor to the meat, so consider pairing it with other tropical or Asian-inspired ingredients.
  • Always discard any marinade that has been in contact with raw meat, or boil it thoroughly before using it as a sauce.
Keyword Marinade, Pineapple, Tenderizer
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Tenderizing Meat with Baking Soda

Baking soda raises the pH on the meat’s surface, making it more difficult for the proteins to bond excessively, which can result in a tougher texture.

  1. Apply Baking Soda: Sprinkle your meat with baking soda, using about one teaspoon per pound of meat.
  2. Rest: Let the meat sit for 15 to 20 minutes for thin cuts, and up to a few hours for larger pieces. This gives the baking soda time to start breaking down the proteins.
  3. Rinse: Rinse the baking soda off thoroughly to avoid a soapy taste. Pat the meat dry before cooking.

Tenderizing Meat with Honey

Honey has enzymes that can break down proteins in meat, making it more tender.

  1. Make a Marinade: Use honey as a base for your marinade. You can also add acidic ingredients like lemon juice or vinegar, as well as your favorite herbs and spices.
  2. Marinate: Let your meat marinate in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours. Because honey is quite sweet, it will also impart a pleasant sweetness to the meat.
  3. Cook: Cook your meat as usual. If grilling or broiling, watch carefully to make sure the honey marinade doesn’t burn.

Using a Meat Tenderizer

A meat tenderizer tool, or meat mallet, is a hand-powered tool used to tenderize slabs of meat in preparation for cooking.

  1. Prepare Your Meat: Place the meat on a cutting board. If you want to keep things clean, you can place your meat between two sheets of plastic wrap.
  2. Use the Tenderizer: Use the flat side of the tenderizer to pound down the meat. Be sure to apply even pressure and cover all parts of the meat.
  3. Turn and Repeat: Flip the meat over and repeat the process on the other side.
  4. Cook: Once tenderized, your meat will cook more quickly and evenly. Cook as per your recipe.
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How to Tenderize Tough Deer Meat

Deer meat, also known as venison, is lean and can sometimes be tough, particularly if it’s from an older deer. Here’s how to tenderize deer meat:

  1. Trim and Clean Your Meat: Start by removing any silver skin, sinew, and excess fat from your venison. These can contribute to a tough texture and gamey flavor.
  2. Use a Marinade: Since venison is very lean, a marinade can help to tenderize the meat and add some moisture. Acidic ingredients like vinegar, wine, or lemon juice can help to tenderize the meat, while oil and other flavorings add moisture and flavor. Marinate the venison in the refrigerator for several hours, or even overnight.
  3. Cook It Right: Slow cooking methods like braising or stewing work well with venison. These methods allow the tough connective tissues to break down over time, resulting in tender meat. If you prefer grilling or frying, be sure not to overcook the meat as it can become tough.
  4. Rest and Slice: After cooking, let the venison rest for a few minutes before slicing it against the grain. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, making it more moist and tender.

How to Tenderize Wild Boar

Wild boar meat is flavorful but can be tough. Here’s how to tenderize wild boar:

  1. Trim the Meat: As with other types of meat, start by trimming any excess fat and sinew off the wild boar meat.
  2. Marinade: Use a marinade with acidic components such as citrus juice, vinegar, or wine to help break down tough proteins in the boar meat. Additionally, include ingredients like garlic, onion, and herbs for added flavor.
  3. Slow Cook: Since wild boar is a tough meat, using slow cooking methods such as braising or stewing is recommended. Slow cooking at a low heat over several hours allows tough collagen in the meat to break down into gelatin, resulting in a more tender dish.
  4. Rest and Slice: As always, allow the meat to rest after cooking and before slicing. Be sure to slice against the grain for maximum tenderness.

How to Tenderize Squirrel Meat

Squirrel meat is a less common type of game, but it can be quite tasty when prepared properly. Here’s how to tenderize squirrel meat:

  1. Clean and Cut: Clean your squirrel meat thoroughly and cut it into small, manageable pieces. This will help tenderizing agents penetrate the meat more effectively.
  2. Brine the Meat: Brining the squirrel meat can help to tenderize it. Make a simple brine solution with salt and water, or add flavorings like herbs and spices if you prefer. Allow the meat to brine in the refrigerator for several hours.
  3. Cook Slowly: Slow cooking methods like stewing are ideal for tenderizing squirrel meat. Simmer the meat slowly in a broth or sauce until it becomes tender. This could take several hours, so be patient.
  4. Shred the Meat: After cooking, the meat can be easily shredded with two forks. Shredded meat has a softer texture and is easy to chew.

Author’s Take

I’m Eric, a California based food blogger helping people make amazing food from home. I’m an expert on anything BBQ or Smoked, but I also like to craft epic drinks to pair.

If you’ve ever been intimidated by tougher cuts of meat, I hope this guide helps demystify the process and encourages you to give it a try.

Remember, the key is patience and respect for the meat – with the right care, even the toughest cuts can become melt-in-your-mouth tender and incredibly flavorful.

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