Not all meat is tender. Some can be tough, especially that from an old animal. It can be an embarrassment serving tough meat at a dinner party and I know you wouldn't want to suffer that. There are a dozen ways you can tenderize the tough meat to get that succulent and rich-tasting meat. This article will dig deeper into the ways you can tenderize meat, without necessarily using a mallet. Let us begin by understanding why your meat is tough and chewy.
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Why is my Meat Chewy and Tough?
The top muscles of animals on the ribs and backbone area have lots of fat, meaning the meat from those areas is soft. The other parts, which are the legs, neck area, and lower muscles can be tender in younger animals but as they age, the muscles tend to get tougher.
The muscles consist of connective tissues that are surrounded by a thin gelatinous substance known as collagen. The collagen can either be soft or tough, depending on how you treat it during the cooking process. If you want the softest meat on your dinner plate, then check out some of the ways you can tenderize it.
Ways of Tenderizing Meat
Many kitchens are used to smacking their steaks with mallets. The mallet cannot be ideal on some meat types as it does mess with the texture. Moreover, a mallet drains all the meat juices and that makes the meat less flavorful. There is also an increased risk of bacterial contamination on your food and to kill them, you will need to cook it at a temperature of 620C. There are, however, other alternatives for attaining tender meat.
What other great way of achieving butter-soft meat other than slow cooking? By simply dry heating on your grill or wet heating it in liquid, you get the most mouth-watering tender meat. When slow-cooked, the collagen on the tough muscles melts creating a juicy moistness. You, however, have to set the correct heat and cooking time to achieve that.
i) Dry- heat
The dry heating method needs some planning and patience. Before starting the process, season your meat and if you using a marinade, ensure you pat it dry with some paper towels. You will fire your grill to up to 250 degrees Fahrenheit and set your thermometer.
The internal temperatures should be more than 1600 for the collagen to become moist. If the temperatures are a bit lower than that, the collagen tends to shrink and tighten.
Once you have set the correct temperatures, check the color of your meat. If the crust isn't caramelized as you would want it to be, then reverse it.
To reverse, take the meat out, heat up the grill to high temperatures, and put back your meat. Check to ensure that all sides are properly caramelized.
ii) Wet heat
With wet heating, you can use a slow cooker or even an oven to tenderize those tough pieces of meat. Adding seasonings to the liquid will spike the flavor to new levels. If you want a rich dark color on your meat, then the first step you should consider is browning the meat on both sides over high heat.
The next step should be placing the meat in the slow cooker and add a liquid of your choice. Add seasoning, spices, veggies of your choice, and close the lid. Set temperatures to 3000 and cook for up to three hours.
2. Marinate With Enzymes & Acids
A lot of people use acids to tenderize their steaks. There are acid-based fruits like lemons and oranges that produce perfectly tenderized meat. You can also try out using vinegar, beer, soda, etc. To some lesser extent, yogurts and buttermilk can be also used.
To soften the meat, you will add a small amount of your preferred tenderizer into it. The tenderizer will help break down those tough fibers. Enzyme based marinades like papaya, kiwi, mango, and pineapple help break down the meat protein, making the meat tender and less chewy.
If you are worried about changing the meats' flavor, you can opt to use the kiwi fruit that contains actinidin. The fruit has a neutral flavor even when combined with other ingredients. You can choose to puree your fruit or cut it into small bits and cover/seal where you placing the meat.
However, when cooking, be keen on the cooking time so you don't cook for too long. Overcooking can completely break down the meat fibers and leave you with a soggy mess. Also, it is necessary to use non-reactive containers like metal bowls for marinating.
Brining is simply a salt- water solution doing magic! This method can save you time if you running slow on some schedule. You just need to spread sea salt or kosher salt over your meat generously and leave for some time. The salt draws the meat juices that dissolves and creates a brining solution.
Later on, the brining solution gets reabsorbed into the meat. Note that normal kitchen salt may not be ideal for brining. Before taking it to the grill, ensure you pat it dry, so you don't end up with excess salt on your plate.
The meat may have a darker color, which is nothing to worry about. If you consider using water, use at least one cupful of salt and a gallon of water and leave the meat to soak for an hour. The end result will be a well-moisturized piece of meat you will want to savor immediately.
You can go to the old school way and pound your meat. Meat may have tough dense muscles. When pounded, the bonds break, making it softer. I know you might be wondering what tool to use other than the mallet.
The good news is there are tools in your space you haven't thought can flatten and pound your piece of meat. Examples of those tools include:
A. Rolling pin
Use any style to pound on your meat to get the job done.
B. A cast-iron skillet/ saucepan
The pans' flat surface is perfect for flattening your meat properly.
C. A heavy novel
Get your heaviest cookbook or even novel and whack the meat to flatten it.
D. Empty wine bottle
There's always an empty wine bottle lying somewhere in your house. Whack the meat lightly to avoid the risk of breaking. You can even opt to go for a full wine bottle, but ensure you slip the meat in a freezer bag to minimize messing the bottle with the meat juices.
All you will need to do is place the meat on a clean cutting board, have the pounding tool by your hand, and start the task. To reduce messiness, you can place a piece of wax paper on top of the meat. The amount of pressure you apply will determine how tender your meat will be in the end. If you pound it too hard, there are chances of ending up with mushy meat.
Ensure you turn the two sides and pound evenly.
5. Scoring With a Knife
Here, you will first check on the grain of the meat. The meat grain is the direction that muscle fibers face and it resemble stripes. To start the scoring process, make firm, millimeters deep incisions across the grain. This breaks the muscle fibers and reduces meat chewiness. You can then go ahead and cook your meat as desired.
Frequently Asked Questions(FAQS)
Answer: Any of the methods can apply but in cases where you working with like, deer liver (that's so difficult to tenderize) , you can pound it and later marinate for best results.
Answer: Marinate with acids or enzymes. Add salt into it, slice well then slow cook it.
Answer: Dissolve one teaspoon baking soda into ½ cup of water. Soak the meat in the solution for 15 minutes. Remove the meat and rinse it off. Go ahead and cook as desired.
Now it is time to say goodbye to hurting jaws, that is, if you deploy the above ways to tenderize your tough meat. Learn and try out some of those ways and you will be amazed at how your guests get to enjoy that soft and tender meat. You'll also probably earn yourself a new title of being the best chef in town, especially if you mix spices well.
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Rita C. Donnell (Jennifer) has spent the last 26 years studying and practicing nutrition science. She has used a larger part of this time in improving people’s livelihoods. She has done so by coming up with unquestionable ideas on how to tackle food problems in her community. Readmore