Tenderloin and sirloin are tender and juicy, and melt in the mouth. But these cuts of meat are expensive! Is there any way to tenderize the cheap, tough cuts of meat—maybe not up to sirloin standard, but enough so we don’t break our teeth while biting into our dinner?
Yes! With a little preparation, patience, and very cheap kitchen tools and ingredients, you can tenderize chuck, flank and other cheap cuts of meat into tender, delicious and satisfying meals.
Meat tenderizing tip # 1: Kitchen Mallets
Kitchen mallets may look like mini-medieval torture devices, but those rows of spikes can help break down the meat fibers and connective tissues, so you get a “softer” cut. All you have to do is to cover the meat with plastic wrap (really important, unless you want meat confetti in your hair) and then pound, pound, pound. It’s an excellent stress-reliever, and—budget bonus!—you’ll even be able to squeeze more portions from your longer, thinner steaks.
Meat tenderizing tip # 2: Marinades
Marinades contain acid, which break down the meat fibers and add a lot of flavor to your food. Your “acids” can include vinegar, citrus (like lemon), wine and beer, buttermilk (which contains lactic acid), and even Italian dressing.
One of the best natural marinades is pineapple juice. Pineapple contains bromelin, an enzyme that is particularly effective at breaking down protein. However, you have to use fresh pineapple juice. Bromelin tends to disintegrate when heated (like during the canning process).
Make enough marinade to completely cover the meat. Leave it to marinate for at least 30 minutes or even overnight (especially if you’re using a weak acid, such as Italian dressing). To prevent food spoilage, marinate your meat in the refrigerator. Another important tip: acids can react to metal, so use glass or plastic bowls. When you’re ready to cook the meat, throw away the marinade—bacteria can breed in it. Or, boil it thoroughly before using it for basting or sauces.
Meat tenderizing tip # 3: Commercial meat tenderizers
You can buy commercial meat tenderizers, usually found in the spice section of the supermarket. These contain enzymes (taken from papaya and pineapple extracts) that break down meat fibers. Pick one that’s unsalted, or if you can’t find that, just remember to adjust the recipe.
Even if you tend to use marinades, it’s good to have a bottle of commercial meat tenderizers in the pantry—ready when your recipe doesn’t call for a marinade, or if dinner’s running late and you can’t wait for the natural acids in the marinade to take full effect.
Meat tenderizing tip # 4: Cover meat in bacon.
This technique, which is called barding, involves encasing the meat in layers of bacon or beef fat. It’s great when you roast the meat.
The barding adds moisture to the meat so it doesn’t dry out into Styrofoam consistency. Don’t freak out over the cholesterol levels, you can let the fat drip into the pan and throw it all away. (Save a little bit for gravy or fried rice, though—it’s amazing.)
Meat tenderizing tip # 5: Cook slowly.
High heat will turn a tough cut of meat into, well, edible concrete. It’s all about food chemistry: the temperature will cause the meat to contract. So choose a slower cooking method, like grilling over indirect heat, roasting in an oven, simmering over low flame.
Meat tenderizing tip # 6: Cut the meat the right away.
If you can’t afford a really long cooking time, cut the meat into smaller pieces. And, most importantly, cut against the grain. The simple act of choosing the angle will help break down the tendons of the meat.
Meat tenderizing tip # 7: Invest in a pressure cooker
This handy device requires less cooking time than a crockpot (you need about 45 minutes to make brisket tender, as opposed to several hours). One great tip is to sear the meat before throwing it into the pressure cooker. This helps lock in flavor and moisture.
Photo from ceramicshop.com