How to Tenderize Meat

Four Methods:Using ToolsTenderizing with HeatTenderizing with Marinade and FruitDry-aging Your Meat

Any cut of meat, no matter how inexpensive, can be made tender and delicious with the right techniques. Tenderizing involves breaking down the muscle fibers in the meat to soften the texture, making the meat easier to chew and taste better. Even the toughest cuts of meat, from chuck roasts to pork shoulders, can be turned into succulent, juicy meals with the right methods. You can tenderize meat in a variety of ways--from the use of mechanics like meat mallets, to the employment of heat, or the breakdown of enzymes with fruit.

  • Total time (Using Tools): 5 minutes

Method 1
Using Tools

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    Place your cut of meat on a cutting board. If you want, you can lay a piece of wax paper under and on top of the meat to reduce the mess made by this method. Note: you should not put wax paper on top of the meat if you are planning on using a knife.
    • Keep in mind that using metal tools to tenderize your meat will break up both the meat’s connective tissue and the meat fibers themselves.
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    Choose your tenderizing tool. There are two options that will work the best during mechanical tenderisation. Either you can use an actual meat tenderizer (which looks like a Medieval torture device) or a knife. The choice is yours.
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    Tenderize your meat. Tenderizing meat essentially means that you are pre-chewing the meat with a tool to make it thinner and more tender.[1]
    • If you are using a meat tenderizer, hold it in your hand and bang on the meat like you would with a hammer and nail. Hit the meat evenly over the whole surface, flip it over, and continue to hit the meat with the mallet.
    • If you are using a knife, make cuts or scores that go across the muscles fibers. Your cuts should be long and thin but necessarily very deep.

Method 2
Tenderizing with Heat

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    Understand how tenderizing meat with heat works. Muscle fibers in meat are surrounded by layers of collagen, which is connective tissue. When the collagen gets heated up to a temperature of 140ºF (60ºC), the collagen will tighten and shrink, causing the meat’s juices to be squeezed out, making for a very dry cut of meat (which you don’t want unless you love really well-done steak). Instead, heat meat to 160ºF (71.1ºC) or more and the collagen will start to become gelatinous, actually giving the meat a ‘fork tender’ texture that will melt in your mouth.[2]
    • Tenderizing meat with heat is best used on brisket, ribs or other meats with a lot of collagen. It does not work well on pork chops or filet mignon.
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    Choose your heat tenderizer. You can use either dry heat or wet heat. Grilling is a great example of dry heat, while braising is a good example of wet heat. During the grilling process, the grilled meat is cooked slowly, allowing the meat to become tender. Braising meat is when you submerge meat in a flavorful liquid and cook it.
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    Tenderize your meat slowly. Regardless of what method you use, the key to getting your meat tender with heat is to cook it slowly. If you do not cook your meat slowly, the outer surface of the cut will start to burn before the collagen in the meat has a chance to turn into gelatin.[3]

Method 3
Tenderizing with Marinade and Fruit

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    Know what enzymatic tenderizing is. Enzymes are molecules that help speed up the process of a reaction (in this case, the breaking down of meat). Various fruits contain enzymes that will help this tenderizing process along.[4]
    • Acidic fruits and substances like lemon or buttermilk will also increase the tenderness of your meat.
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    Know which sort of fruits contain these enzymes. The most commonly used fruits for this process are pineapples, kiwis, and papayas. Of all of these, the kiwifruit has the most neutral flavor (which means it will affect the flavor of your marinade the least). Be wary of pineapple--it contains the enzyme Bromelain, which will actually turn your meat to mush if you leave it sitting in the pineapple marinade for too long.[5]
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    Add a tablespoon or two of the pureed fruit of your choice. Pureeing your fruit will help it mix into the marinade better. You could also make a simple marinade of oil and lemon if you would prefer that to a marinade with kiwi. All of these ingredients will help to break down the muscle fiber in your meat.[6]
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    Place your meat in a pan, bowl, or resealable bag. Add your marinade of choice to the meat and cover or seal whatever you are keeping your meat in. Let the meat rest in your marinade for at least a day (though the longer the better).

Method 4
Dry-aging Your Meat

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    Know what dry-aging is. Dry-aging your meat is the natural way to cause enzymatic tenderization. Enzymes in the meat will break muscle fiber down and make the cut more tender, and more flavorful, as the meat ages. Note, however, that this process can take 20 or more days.[7]
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    Know what meats are ideal for dry-aging. You want to look for large cuts of meats that are cooked using a quick cooking method. This means the porterhouse steak, New York strip steak, and rib steak the best cuts for dry-aging. It is important that you get a really large cut--you will not be able to dry-age individual steaks, as you will need to cut away the exterior before you cook your meat, and a small steak will wither down to next to nothing if you dry-age it.[8]
    • If you are dry-aging ribs, go for the 109A (which is a cut of rib--ask your butcher and he will know what you are talking about). It is a cut that has had chine bone almost entirely sawed off, but the fat cap is put back on.
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    Set up your aging station. You will either need space in your refrigerator, or your own mini-fridge that you can use solely for aging meat. A mini-fridge is really the best way to go, as dry-aging meat can get a little smelly and may stink up your normal fridge.
    • You will also need to add a small fan to your fridge--a normal desk fan will work fine. Cut a hole in the fridge door’s seal so that you can run your fan’s cord through it. The fan is important because it helps to create an even dry-aging environment that will result in a piece of meat that is evenly dried on all sides.
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    Place your piece of meat on a rack. Your meat must be aged on a rack rather than on a plate or directly on the surface of your fridge. The plate does not allow your meat to dehydrate and could very easily result in your meat rotting away.
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    Give your meat time to tenderize. Generally, you will want to shoot for a minimum of 20 days of aging. 14 to 28 days is generally the average time restaurants take to age their steaks. 28 to 45 days is when really intense flavor starts to emerge and the meat gets very tender. Anything after 45 and the flavor gets incredibly strong (some would even say too strong) but that really depends on your preferences in flavor.[9]
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    Trim your meat down. When you dry-age meat, you will need to trim it down before you eat it and cook it. You will want to cut your meat down into individual steaks.


  • How you cut the meat can also help tenderize it after it is cooked. For instance, flank steak, if sliced thinly against the grain of the meat, will be slightly more tender as a result.

Things You'll Need

  • Meat mallet or knife
  • Wax paper or plastic wrap
  • Sharp knife or meat scorer
  • Baking dish or plastic, resealable bag
  • Cooking oil
  • Lemon juice, vinegar or buttermilk
  • Fruit such as kiwi, pineapple, or papaya
  • Grill
  • Mini-fridge
  • Fan
  • Rack

Article Info

Categories: Meat