The best products to tenderize your meat

Make it melt in your mouth

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Any thrifty shopper knows that even the toughest cuts of meat can be tenderized with a little time and the right product. Although jarred marinades can offer a convenient shortcut, some of the best products are natural ones.

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.

Learn more about marinades >>

Green papaya

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.

Kiwi

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."

Get more marinade inspiration >>

Yogurt

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."

QUICK TIP: Use full-fat yogurt as a marinade to prevent it from separating, says Maxfield.

Brine

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.

Meat tenderizer

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.

Other ideas for marinades: Coffee, orange juice, pineapple juice, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, Asian fish sauce

More marinade ideas

Coffee fajitas marinade
Easy tandoori marinade
Balsamic vinegar marinade

Katherine Martinelli is an internationally published food and travel writer and photographer. In addition to writing for Fabulous Foods, Katherine also contributes to various sections of SheKnows She recently released her first cookbook, Puff Pastry at Brunch: 10 Sweet and Savory Recipes to Start Your Morning (Hang Time Press, 2012). Katherine writes about her adventures in food at KatherineMartinelli.com.