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 There are four typical protein tenderizing methods that help make tougher cuts of meat more tender and easier on the jaw as you chew.


Chemical Tenderizing

Acid foods and food enzymes can tenderize by breaking down or Denaturing tougher foods. The drawbacks of chemical tenderizing are that it only works on the meat’s surface and if left on too long it can cause a mushy texture. Pumping tenderizers deeper into the meat by injecting them is one way around the issue of surface only tenderizing.

Acidic foods include citrus juices, like Lemons or LimesVinegarsSalsasYogurts, wines, etc. Tenderizing enzymes also do a good job of breaking down tougher fibers and Connective Tissue in meat and are present in fresh GingerPineapplePapayaKiwi and Figs.


The plant enzyme Papain, for example from the stem of the papaya fruit, is an ingredient in the commercial meat tenderizer "Accent ©." Papain’s drawbacks, like other tenderizing enzymes or acidic foods, are that it only works on the meat’s surface and if left on too long it can cause a funky texture.






Anything flat, heavy and sanitary can be used, but hand held “Meat Tenderizers” are typically metal mallets or hammers with both flat and studded surfaces that break down the tough fibers and connective tissue in meat through fast contact. After being Poundedmeats are more tender as well as  flatter and wider, allowing them to be manipulated into more even thicknesses to aid in uniform cooking on all sides of the portion of meat.


Cutting or Puncturing


Some handheld “Meat Tenderizers” have sharp ridges or studs on their surface to cut as well as pound the meat. Shallow cuts sever tough fibers and connective tissue without cutting down the portion of meat. Handheld rollers with points or blades perform a similar function. There are also some electric tenderizers which employ rollers with blades or needles to puncture or cut the portion of meat. Electric tenderizers are most often found in commercial groceries or butcher shops where tougher cuts are run through a time or two. The most familiar products yielded by the electric tenderizers are Cube Steak and Swiss Steak.





Wet Aging and Dry Aging are beyond the scope of this page on tenderizing methods that a chef might typically employ. Commercial aging is covered on the Aging of Meat resource page.

Smart Kitchen’s preferred tenderizing method is Pounding with a handheld mallet. That pound of steel does a good job with all but the toughest cuts of meat and provides some stress relief at the same time.

Additional tenderizing can come from internal Marbling, how you portion cut the steak, even how you cut off individual bites as you eat as a diner. As it cooks, internal fat in a cut of meat can help to tenderize and flavor the final product. Some leaner cuts, like round steak, don’t have enough marbling to let them tenderize quickly even with a Moist Heat Methodand chefs have to adjust accordingly.

Finally, how you cut the fibers of the steak as you portion it, or even eat it, can help make meat more tender. Most cuts of beef, especially steaks, have a visible pattern of fibers that run together in a given direction. Collectively the fibers are known as the Meat Grain. The grain is easier to spot in tougher (more fibrous) cuts and less obvious in more tender (less fibrous) cuts.  

When you cut across the grain, you aid tenderizing by loosening the fibers’ hold on the surrounding meat. Think of a taught rope: if it is severed, it can’t remain taught. Cutting across the grain of the fibers does the same thing to the fibers and connective tissues in the cut of meat.

Even if you are dining and can’t see the grain, slice thinly in one direction and check the bite for tenderness. Next, slice your bite in the other direction and check if it is more or less tender than the first bite. Go with the direction that works best for you.