6 Best Meat Tenderizers | March 2017
- consistently well reviewed
- soft handle absorbs pressure
- textured grip for use when wet
- 100% dishwasher safe
- rapidly breaks down meat fibers
- 5-star rated implement
- perfect gift for the serious meat lover
- housing disassembles for easy cleanup
- includes pair of steel tongs
Time, Love, And Tenderness
When I first think about striking or pounding a piece of meat, the first image that pops into my mind is the classic underdog film Rocky, watching Sylvester Stallone punch a large slab of beef during one of his many training montages. Okay, so Rocky probably wasn't doing much to enhance the beef's flavor during the movie, but his iconic actions do touch on the concept of tenderizing, at least in its rudimentary form. When enjoying a thick cut of steak, the most important qualities include its consistency, ease of chewing, and of course its flavor. Proper preparation of the food, then, is paramount to ensuring those continued success stories for your meals. That said, the tenderizer should be among your arsenal of cooking tools for making that happen.
In the simplest sense, a tenderizer is a hand-powered tool specially-designed to help bring out your meat's level of palatability for human consumption. That's a fancy way of saying that the tool helps to improve the overall consistency and quality of the cooking process for the specific cut of meat chosen, while making it that much more juicy and enjoyable when you actually sit down to eat it.
Before diving into what defines a tenderizer, we must first step back and understand what tenderness means. Some might equate the concept of tenderness to overall flavor, but flavor and tenderness are quite different things. Generally speaking, tenderness refers to a variety of factors that include the amount of chewing resistance experienced during consumption, how the meat is cooked, for how long, the impact that process has on its muscle fibers, connective tissues (like collagen) and proteins, and how much liquid is lost at high temperatures. The more liquid that is lost during cooking, the tougher a piece of meat will become. The tenderizer's job is to soften those fibers and connective tissues, thereby giving your steak a smooth consistency that's ultimately easy to chew and to digest.
Mechanical tenderizers fall into two major categories, needle (blade) and cubing (maceration) tools. The most common cubing tools resemble a hammer or mallet in shape, they are constructed from either metal or wood, and they also have short handles with two striking heads. One of the heads is typically smooth and flat, while the other is equipped with rows of pyramid-shaped points used for striking the meat's surface. A second type of cubing tool more closely resembles a potato masher, also equipped with a short handle, large metal face, and is either completely smooth or features similar pyramid-shaped points.
By contrast, needle tenderizers leverage a series of sharp blades designed to pierce various cuts of meat, such as whole rib-eye rolls, individual steaks, or roasts. These blades can cut through both muscle fibers and connective tissues. When steaks are needle tenderized, the process is often referred to as Jaccarding. Different from traditional meat mallets, the Jaccard has the advantage of allowing marinades, spice rubs, and brines to more easily penetrate a cut of beef (instead of just pounding its surface), thereby enhancing its flavor and improving one's cooking efficiency, thanks to the perforations its blades make.
Biting Off More Than You Can Chew
Because the tenderizer comes in different styles, your main focus should be on the type or cut of meat you plan to prepare. This can often direct you to the appropriate tool. For example, if the goal of your impending meal is to produce very thin slices of various cuts for consumption, then a good old-fashioned meat mallet can do the trick, as you'll be flattening the entire piece with the head of the device without much focus on using individual points to pierce the muscles or connective tissues. That said, if you're looking to tenderize a more expensive type of steak, then a needle or crank-operated tenderizer might be best.
Needle tenderizers can significantly reduce cooking time by allowing your marinades and natural juices to seep into the cuts of beef you're preparing, while also encouraging even heat distribution and cooking in the oven. That said, if you're planning dinner parties and you want to get the most out of your expensive food items, then a bladed tenderizer can definitely be an asset. Your choice also depends on what it is you plan to prepare, how you want it to taste, and how tough or soft you prefer the food to be for you and your guests.
Next, consider the tenderizer's ease of use and cleanup factor. If you're using a meat hammer, for example, it should offer an ergonomic and textured grip of some sort, so that you always have the proper leverage when applying striking force to your raw beef and that some of the force will be absorbed by the thickness of the handle itself. Additionally, it should be relatively simple to hand wash and reuse.
If you go with a needle device, make sure there are an adequate number of blades and that they're made from sturdy materials like rust-resistant stainless steel.
A Brief History Of The Meat Tenderizer
The concept of tenderizing has been around for centuries. The idea of consuming meat stretches as far back as the first appearance of Homo sapiens one hundred thousand years ago. Evolving into a bipedal species afforded early man the ability to become a hunter, which might help to explain the logic of developing a taste for beef in the first place. Before man harnessed the use of fire, meat was generally eaten raw, which caused a new problem of figuring out how to properly preserve it. Thus began man's search for innovating new ways to keep meat fresh and flavorful for extended periods of time.
Later historical accounts tell the story of the nomadic Tatars of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries who were thought to have developed steak tartare by tenderizing beef using the weight of their horses' saddles. However, these claims were later believed to be a false interpretation of the meat's use, that the Tatars merely used thinly-sliced pieces of raw beef to soothe a horse's sores prior to saddling.
The first person to patent the tenderizer was Walter Dura in 1954, however Andre Jaccard has been widely-credited with introducing the mechanical tenderizer to the United States in the 1960's.
Since the middle of the twentieth century, meat tenderizers have continued to evolve from manual, crank-operated devices to those with more compact shapes with specialized double heads and textured handles, all of which have been built to improve user comfort as well as the taste of your meals when preparing them. Home accessibility to this simple, yet effective beef preparation tool will only help you in the long run when arming yourself to create delicious, mouth-watering steaks in the kitchen.