Tenderizing is a process by which the collagens in meat are broken down in order to soften it and make it more palatable. There are meats that require tenderizing more than others, like beef or venison. There are various methods to obtain a juicy steak instead of a hard inedible mass.
- Mechanical tenderization, like pounding. Using a mallet will soften the fibers in the meat, making it easier to chew and to digest. This method comes in handy, especially when preparing schnitzels in order to obtain thinner and wider pieces of meat.
- Marinating is one of the most common tenderizing methods. It uses an acidic liquid before cooking while adding flavor to the meat at the same time. The right amount of acid needs to be used and you also need to avoid freezing the marinated meat; otherwise, the exterior layer will become mushy. Keep the marinade in the refrigerator, though, to decrease bacterial growth.
- A common mistake that many people do is adding salt to the marinade. Salt dehydrates meat and pulls the juices out of it, affecting the final result.
- But what can you use for your marinade? The liquid needs to be acidic and flavored at the same time. One of the most usual tenderizers is lemon juice, followed by apple cider vinegar. Other ideas include apple juice, which will give the meat an interesting tangy flavor, and tomato juice. Make sure that the tomato juice does not contain salt.
- The cooking method will also influence the quality of the meat. If you cook the meat at 140 degrees F and up, the collagen around the muscle fibers shrinks and causes the juices to get out of the meat. The result will be a dry steak. To obtain a “fork tender” meat, cook the meat at beyond 160 degrees F; the collagen breaks down into a gelatin, which will hold the muscle fibers together. The heat must be applied slowly. Otherwise, the outer layers will burn before the collagen inside has broken down completely.
- Enzymatic tenderization can be done by using enzymes in fruits like kiwi, papaya and pineapple. Add one of these fruits to your marinade to fasten the tenderizing effect.
By following a few simple guidelines, your next barbecue will surely be a success.