The Unexpected Baking Ingredient That Will Revolutionize The Way You Brown Meat

Browning meat is a critical step for all sorts of recipes, from chili and tacos to stir frys and stews. But what seems like a simple process can all too often leave you with dry, tough, gray specks rather than that deliciously browned and flavorful meat you're looking for. Fortunately, the secret to better-browned meat is probably already sitting right in your fridge or pantry.

According to America's Test Kitchen, it's humble sodium bicarbonate — better known as baking soda, the ultra-versatile cooking and cleaning ingredient. Just mix a quarter to a half teaspoon of baking soda with a tablespoon of water, and pour over the meat. After just five minutes, it's ready for cooking. As the meat browns, you'll notice significantly less liquid in the pan. Instead, it's staying right in the meat, producing extra juicy dishes. And there's no need to worry about any negative effects on flavor, as the small amount of baking soda doesn't produce any noticeable taste, especially compared to the now extra-flavorful meat.

But how does it work? There's some basic but impressive science behind it.

The secret to juicy, tender ground meat

Baking soda is an alkaline (or "basic") substance, meaning it has a pH above 7, the level considered neutral. Most brands have a pH of 8-9 . That's enough to raise the overall pH of the meat, which America's Test Kitchen says causes the muscle fibers to slightly repel one another. This prevents them from contracting during cooking and squeezing out their juices.While this might seem like a modern technique discovered by food scientists, it actually has a long history of being used this way in Asian cuisine or other styles through a process known as "velveting" (via MasterClass).

It's important to keep in mind that baking soda doesn't penetrate far into the meat, so it works best on meats with lots of surface area, like ground/chopped meat or the thin strips or chunks used in stir frys or stews. With just one common ingredient and a few extra minutes, there's no easier and more convenient way to dramatically improve an amazing selection of dishes.