You're Sleeping On Tenderizer Powder When It Comes To Steak

Although not everybody likes their steak done the same way, nobody likes a tough cut of meat. There are several ways to tenderize tougher cuts, like manually beating them into submission or using an acidic marinade. The goal is to break down the meat's collagen fibers, which makes it more tender. A meat mallet does this by force, while the acidity in some marinades performs this same trick. However, one option that requires even less work and time is a meat tenderizer. The steak will cook quicker after it's tenderized, so it's important to keep a keen eye on it during cooking. Meat tenderizer is the best option when you want a tender cut without adding flavor to the meat.

Meat tenderizer is a chemical powder that breaks down collagen more gently than a meat mallet by using enzymes called proteases. Bromelain, one of the main components found in tenderizer, is one such enzyme — it's also commonly found in pineapple — that breaks down proteins. Bromelain is the main reason why acidic marinades are so effective in tenderizing tough cuts of meat. It breaks down the amino chains that make up the tough collagen in steak, making the meat softer.

Sometimes, baking soda is used as a meat tenderizer. This works well, as it raises the pH level in the meat, which in turn breaks down collagen, but it can add a soapy flavor to the steak. Meat tenderizer works in the same way but without the unwanted flavors. 

How to use meat tenderizer

Some tenderizers come with other seasonings, like cumin or pepper. But what you choose to season a cut of steak with is personal preference. The basic ingredients in meat tenderizer are salt, dextrose, and bromelain. These ingredients are necessary to make a tough cut of meat chewable because of their ability to penetrate and break down the tough fibers. For tougher steaks, it's helpful to moisten the steak with water before applying the tenderizer. The water creates a saline solution like a brine that allows the tenderizer to work faster.

The brand McCormick — which produces its own meat tenderizer — recommends using one teaspoon of tenderizer per pound of meat. Once both sides of the steak are lightly coated, the steak needs about 20 minutes to tenderize before it's ready to be cooked. Thicker cuts benefit from sitting for 30 minutes before cooking so that the tenderizer has enough time to penetrate the fibers all the way through. 

The chemical reaction that tenderizes the meat works fast, and if too much meat tenderizer is used or if it's left on for too long, the texture will turn mushy. It's best to penetrate the steak with a fork in a couple of places so the tenderizer works its way throughout the steak, not just on the surface. Once the steak starts cooking, the chemical reaction from the heat breaks down the tough fibers as well, so there's no need to continue to apply the tenderizer. 

Why tenderizer should be used on steak

The obvious reason to use tenderizer on steak is so that it is easier to eat. This is particularly true with tougher cuts of steak like flank and skirt. Cuts of steak with rich marbling like New York strip will be more tender and flavorful, but using a powdered tenderizer levels the playing field. Cheaper cuts of steak can be flavorful, but tough to chew, which takes away from the experience. Using tenderizer will soften the proteins and make meat more palatable. 

For instance, it's hard to beat a perfectly grilled steak, but steak is often used in other dishes like fajitas or salads. Even if it's full of flavor, if it's hard to chew, it detracts from the meal. This is where tenderizer makes the difference between a great dish and one that is best forgotten. Steaks with little to no marbling are tougher than the cuts with high levels of marbling. Sprinkling meat tenderizer on the steak just before cooking makes a huge difference, and it changes the overall texture of the steak for a softer and less meaty mouthfeel. 

Although there are various methods to tenderize tough cuts of meat, powdered meat tenderizer is a simple and effective way to cook a perfectly tender steak every time. It has the same effect on tough cuts of meat as a mallet without the additional labor. So, the next time you're ready to fire up the grill, don't sleep on meat tenderizer.