There are lots of great ways to tenderize your meat. Think about using ingredients you have on hand that are acidic like citrus fruits and juices, yogurt, vinegar and even coffee. The length that you brine or marinade the meat will vary depending on how tough it is. Chicken breast, for example, will typically require far less time than a tough cut of beef.
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If you can get your hands on this tropical fruit, it works wonders on meat. Food blogger Dan Main of A Life in Food considers it a go-to ingredient for tenderizing meat and notes that it "is in a lot of commercial meat tenderizers." To use on your meat, he suggests peeling the papaya then crushing it into a paste along with a little salt (he suggests 2 tablespoons of green papaya and 1/4 teaspoon salt for every pound of meat). Rub it all over the meat, cover and refrigerate for at least six hours or overnight.
Another tropical fruit that can come to the rescue is kiwi. Recipe developer and food blogger Pamela Braun of My Man’s Belly says that "kiwi fruit contains an enzyme that breaks down tough meat fibers almost magically." She peels and mashes the kiwi then rubs it over the meat. "I only let the kiwi stay on the meat for 10-15 minutes," she warns, "because it works so quickly. If you leave the kiwi on too long, your meat will turn mushy because it breaks things down so thoroughly. Just rinse the meat off and cook as usual."
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A popular tenderizing product the world over is yogurt. "The live cultures and lactic acid in yogurt helps marinate all types of meat," says Sharon Bice, Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery Marketing Communication Manager. "In order for yogurt to do its magic, I recommend an overnight marination... Excess yogurt that has been used for marinating raw meat should be discarded or cooked." Food blogger Anne Maxfield of The Accidental Locavore also turns to yogurt because "it adds taste as well as tenderizing the meat."
Another great way to tenderize your meat is brining, which means soaking it in a salt-water bath. Main says that "it draws liquids into the meat more than any marinade ever could, making it more tender and less likely to overcook." He recommends a 6 percent brine (about 1/2 cup kosher salt for every quart of water) for about 24 hours. "You can also flavor the brine with garlic powder or dried herbs," recommends Main. Rinse off the brine before cooking so your food isn't overly salty.
If you want a little assistance, try using a meat tenderizer like this one. By cutting through the tough connective tissue, it automatically tenderizes meat, plus it allows marinade to reach everywhere so it cuts marination time as well. Old-fashioned mallet-like meat tenderizers work well too.