The 8 Best Meat Tenderizers
This wiki has been updated 30 times since it was first published in September of 2015. Regardless of whether the cuts of meat you find at the store are cheap or expensive, you can ensure just the right consistency, flavor, and thickness before cooking them using one of these handy tenderizers. There are some with manual crank operation, handheld models with multiple sharp blades, and classic meat mallets to choose from, in addition to enzyme-based meat marinades. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. If you'd like to contribute your own research to the Wiki, please get started by reviewing this introductory video.
February 19, 2021:
There are three main ways to tenderize meat. The simplest is by pounding on it with a mallet like the KitchenAid Gourmet or Westmark Double-Sided. This method is commonly used for chicken white meat, but works well with a lot of mid-range cuts. Another popular mechanical method is piercing the meat with a bunch of tiny knives. The Jaccard Simply Better is the best handheld option for this, and the Mercier Professional is almost as good, as while it's not as large, it is designed to maximize the force applied. Mechanical models like the hand-cranking Weston Heavy Duty and VBENLEM Commercial accomplish the task similarly, with a host of blades inside.
The final main way to tenderize meat is with enzymes. Anthony's Unseasoned comes in two versions: One made with papain from papayas, and one made from bromelain found in pineapples. This method actually works great when used in conjunction with the physical, piercing models mentioned earlier, although you should be careful not to overdo it. These enzymes are actually so effective, that if you leave the meat soaking in them for too long, they'll turn it into an inedible mush. With proper timing, though, the chemical method can turn leather-tough cuts into tender sandwich meat.
May 01, 2019:
It may not be very big, but the Norpro Grip-EZ weighs 1.25 pounds, which helps to reduce the amount of force you need to use, and the vertical handle gives you plenty of leverage and control. If you're looking for a traditional hammer-style model, the Oxo SoftWorks and KitchenAid Textured both offer spiked and flat surfaces, so you can tenderize and flatten steaks, chops, and chicken. The Westmark Double-Sided is durable, thanks to its all-metal construction, but it's rather small and probably not a good choice for large cuts of meat. If you want to tenderize large batches of meat, a hand crank model like the Weston Heavy Duty can do the job significantly quicker than any handheld style. It does a great job turning out thin cutlets for dishes like schnitzel and chicken fried steak, and you can also cube meats by running them through a second time.
Jaccard Model H For powering through thick cuts without exerting tons of effort, it's hard to beat the Model H. It affixes to an optional stand and uses mechanical advantage to force its razor-sharp stainless-steel blades through tough connective tissue, and it's both wide and reliable enough for use with the kinds of cuts restaurants often need to work with. jaccard.com
Hobart Corporation Few commercial brands are as well-known as Hobart, and their electric tenderizer is just one more of the highly reliable, heavy-duty appliances they offer. It's built with premium materials and designed for full-time use, although it's not cheap and does, of course, take up quite a bit of counter space. hobartcorp.com
Time, Love, And Tenderness
Some might equate the concept of tenderness to overall flavor, but flavor and tenderness are quite different things.
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.
Additionally, it should be relatively simple to hand wash and reuse.
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.
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.
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.