Some cuts of meat are naturally tender and take very little effort to chew. Other, less expensive cuts need tenderization or extra preparation. Cutting meat against the grain, or certain cooking techniques can help tenderize meat. Restaurants sometimes use processed tenderizers to make a less expensive steak tender. But those tenderizers, which dissolve the sinewy connections in the meat, are not always tolerated by the consumer. There are substitutes for processed meat tenderizers.
Processed tenderizer can come in a powdered form that is sprinkled over the meat. Their enzymes work to break down meat fibers. Bromelain, which is a protease enzyme often extracted from pineapple, is one common tenderizer. It will need to be left on the meat for a short time prior to cooking, yet leaving it on for too long can adversely affect the meat's texture and make it unappealing.
Instead of buying processed tenderizer, fruit juice can be used to tenderize the meat. Marinating the meat in pineapple juice or papaya juice will break down the meat fibers, and the flavor normally cooks off during grilling. It is from these fruits that many processed tenderizers are made. It is important to find a pure juice and not a pineapple or papaya drink or punch.
Marinades can be used to add flavor and to tenderize meat. Recipes that include acidy liquids, such as lemon juice, wine, vinegar or tomatoes help to soften and break down the tough meat fibers. One way to use a marinade is to fill a plastic bag with the marinade, add the meat, seal the bag, and leave it in the refrigerator overnight. If the meat is not covered in marinade, the bag should be periodically turned.
Instead of applying a tenderizer to break down the fibers of the meat, physically cutting the fibers prior to cooking will also work. Hand-held meat tenderizers, such as the Jaccard®, which is often used by chefs, puncture the meat with rows of tiny blades. Poking the meat with a fork will have similar results. Pounding the meat with a mallet will help break down the fibers and is often used when making chicken fried steak. Some steaks, such as round or flank stakes can be scored to help in tenderization.
There are different cooking methods that are used to tenderize meat. One is stewing, where the meat is slow-cooked for hours in a liquid. Braising will also tenderize meat. When braising, the meat is slow cooked on a bed of vegetables, spices or herbs. Cooking meat in a pressure cooker will also make it more tender. When tenderizing stew meat, which is typically a tough cut of meat, the pieces can be floured, browned quickly in hot oil and then cooked in a pressure cooker for about 30 minutes.