Knowing a little about meat tenderizing methods is a must for aspiring pit masters. Quite often the cuts of meat used in classic “smoker cooking” recipes are not the most tender.
Proper tenderizing of meat allows you to purchase less costly cuts while still enjoying tenderness typical of more expensive cuts.
Spices, powders, pounding, cubing, and cutting all have their place in properly tenderizing meat.
On this page you will learn more about these techniques, and in the process become a better smoker chef.
Meat Tenderizing Methods … A to Z
Primarily used for beef. In this method you wrap bacon or thin layers of beef fat around the meat. During the smoking process the fat melts “down into” the meat. This adds flavor and has a slight tenderizing effect on the meat. Some smoker recipes such as Brisket call for leaving a layer of fat on the meat, so it’s already barded.
Barding is a good natural method for tenderizing lean muscular cuts of meat such as round steaks that have little marbling. While nicely marbled cuts such as loins and rib cuts seldom benefit from barding.
For me greatest benefit of barding is really the taste. A nice tenderloin wrapped in apple wood smoked bacon is pure heaven.
Cubing, or making small cuts in the surface of the meat is a good way to tenderize stubborn cuts of meet. There are several gadgets you can purchase from for cubing. Some tenderizers for cubing are electric powered and some require some elbow grease.
The most common hand held devices include spring loaded cubers that make several incisions in the meat each time you press it down. Others are rollers or wheels with small sharp blades. Hand cranked cubing machines pull the meat through a feeder end across a series of cubing blades as you crank the handle.
If thats too much work for you electric motorized models are available. A motorized cuber can process a lot of meat quickly.
Marinating meat is another way to tenderize meat. However, the effect is limited and a proper marinade must be used. Effective must contain an acidic ingredient such as wine, vinegar, or citrus fruit juice. I hear pineapple juice is a great maridnade base. As long as it is fresh, canned pineapple juice won’t cut it.
Marinade does have it’s limitations. Time is a big factor. For best results meat should soak in marinade overnight. This rules out marinade as a quick fix tenderizer. For thick cuts of meat marinade has reduced deep tenderizing effect. The meat’s capillary action, or ability to draw in liquids is not infinite. Marinade typically tenderizes the surface and maybe the first quarter inch of meat on each side.
Papain is a product of the papaya fruit. This enzyme is commonly used in commercial meat tenderizers. This enzyme is effective on beef chicken and pork. Products such as Adolph’s Meat Tenderizer© and Accent© utilize papain.
The best part of commercial tenderizer is convenience. Simply shake the tenderizer on the surface of the meat. Follow the guidelines on the package and let it do it’s work. However like marinade papain is mainly a surface tenderizer.
Another way of tenderizing meat is through the use of a Dry Rub. A rub is a mix of herbs and spices which is literally “rubbed” onto the surface of the meat. Like a marinade rubs are not a quick way to tenderize, most rubs need to sit for several hours or over night.
Smashing and Pounding
Probably the oldest and easiest meat tenderizing method. Smashing or pounding meat is easy to do and does not require a lot of time or specialized equipment. Heavy meat mallets are my favorite and are quite effective. I prefer a mallet made of non-corrosive metal that’s got a nice flat head on one side, and a spiked head on the other.
Smashing meat with a mallet basically flattens it out, which loosens connective tissue and muscle. For thinner or flat cuts of meat I place plastic wrap underneath and on top of the meat. This reduces the friction as the meat is smashed, allowing it to move a little as it flattens. While the connective tissue breaks down there is no tearing of the meat.
That’s the basics of meat tenderizing methods. Now it’s up to you to experiment a little with barding, finding great rubs recipes, and perfecting your marinades.
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