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Meat Tenderizers 101

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Meat Tenderizers 101

Tenderizing beef can sometimes make an inexpensive piece of beef taste like you paid for the top-of-the-line beef cut. Beef tenderizers that we purchase in our supermarkets are high in sodium. Natural meat tenderizers can flavor your meat while using their enzymes to break down the meat proteins, so the meat is less tough. Sometimes natural meat tenderizers are used as ingredients in meat marinades that we find in our supermarkets. You can make your own beef tenderizer or marinade by combining some of the fruit juices that act as natural beef tenderizers.



Bromelin comes from the fruit and leaves of pineapples. Bromelin works by dissolves the collagen connecting proteins in beef, so it softens the beef. You can use pineapple juice to marinate and tenderize your beef, or you can purchase bromelin separately. It is available as a supplement in health food stores (but using the bromelin from the pineapple will add an appetizing flavor to your beef).

Only fresh pineapple contains bromelin. When pineapple is heated; it will lose its bromelin.



Ficin is made from the sap of fig trees. Ficin can be applied to your beef as either a liquid or a powder.



Papain is an enzyme found naturally in the latex of papaya fruit. The latex is dried and the active enzymes are extracted. Like ficin, papain is available as a powder or a liquid. According to the University of Minnesota, one limitation of natural enzymes such as papain is their inability to penetrate deeply into the meat. They may also transfer flavors to the meat.



You can also use spirits, including vodka or bourbon, to tenderize meat. The alcohol acts much like the natural fruit enzymes, breaking down the meat protein. According to a Jan. 19, 2010 article by National Public Radio, alcohol can sometimes be too effective, making the meat mushy if you marinate it too long. Alcohol, too, may impart some flavor to the meat, with the exception of vodka. Plain vodka is flavorless.


Slow Cooking

Low and slow is a manta you may hear associated with cooking in a slow cooker, but for the purpose of tenderizing you should start on the highest setting and then turn down the heat over time. Slow cookers will tenderize even the toughest beef. Add broth or water to the pot along with the meat. Over time, the heat combines with the moisture to soften the meat protein.



Using a meat mallet; breaks up the tough fibers and connective tissues that make the meat tough.



Marinating is a common way to tenderize meat. Soaking selected cuts of beef in marinade is a great way to add flavor and tenderize at the same time!


Marinades are made up of an acidic ingredient as well as herbs and spices. The acidic ingredient is important because it is necessary to soften the tissues of the meat.


Fresh pineapple juice is an excellent ingredient to use when marinating because it contains bromelin, one of the most powerful natural tenderizers. Once heated, the bromelin is destroyed, so be sure not to use any already cooked marinade for marinating purposes.


Other acidic ingredients include wine, vinegar, and olive oil. Citrus fruits can also be used to provide the acidic ingredient in any marinade.


When Using Marinades:


The marinade should completely cover the meat to be marinated properly.


Soaking Time:

Tougher cuts of beef should be soaked for several hours. Soaking overnight is recommended for maximum tenderness. For more tender cuts of beef, a soaking time for 2 hours or less is recommended since the marinade is mainly used for flavoring purposes.



Never marinate beef at room temperature. Always place the beef in a glass baking dish, plastic dish, or Ziploc bag along with the marinade and seal tightly with foil, a tight fitting lid, or completely zipping the bag. Place dish or bag in refrigerator until completely marinated, turning the meat every few hours.


Proper Containers:

Glass dishes, plastic bowls, and zip-loc bags are recommended for marinating. Metal dishes can react with the acidic ingredients in marinades so avoid using metal containers for marinating.



All marinade should be discarded after use. It could contain bacteria that may be present from having contact with the raw meat. If it is essential to reuse the marinade, it must be boiled thoroughly and used as a basting liquid of part of a sauce for the meat.


The marinade should not be reused for any other purpose because of the bacteria that may be present from having been in contact with the raw meat. The only way the marinade can be reused is to boil it thoroughly and used as a basting liquid or dipping sauce.




Rubs consist of a dry mixture of herbs and spices and are applied to the beef when raw. Letting the rub to sit on the raw beef overnight allows the mixture to permeate the meat and adds flavor to the cut.

When using rubs to tenderize beef, sprinkle the meat generously with selected mixture and allow to sit for at least 12 hours.



Wrapping thin layers of beef fat or bacon around cuts of beef is known as barding. This is a tenderizing method that adds moisture and flavor to the meat as well as serving as a natural tenderizer. Once the meat is cooked, the remaining bacon can be removed.



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