You pass the meat case in your favorite supermarket, and the prices of the good cuts just don't fit into your budget, until you discover that a particular cut of meat is on sale and it's a great deal! Doubt sets in. You know some of the cheaper meat cuts have a tendency to be tough, but the price is luring you in. Tenderizing the meat is an option, and it's not rocket science. Once you've tried it, you'll not only be a magician in the kitchen, but those meat bargains will save you money and win you accolades from your family!
Cheap and Cheerful Tenderizing
Many cooks recommend soaking meat in vinegar for an hour or two to tenderize it before cooking. Just pierce the meat with a fork, pour the vinegar over it, and let it sit. As it sits, the acid in the vinegar breaks down those tough fibers, rendering them more tender.
A few words of caution before you go dancing to the vinegar aisle: Be sure you cook the meat in a skillet that's non-reactive. A cast iron pan won't do because of the reaction between the acid and the iron. Use a non-stick pan for best results.
Be sure to thoroughly rinse off the meat and dry it completely before cooking. Cooking a wet piece of meat gives it a gray cast because it's been steamed, not seared. Your meat may pick up a bit of the vinegar taste, so season it thoroughly after you take it out of the skillet or oven.
Smash It to Death
Pounding a piece of meat with a mallet wrapped in plastic wrap or with one of those medieval-looking mallets with spikes on the end actually works to tenderize meat. A rolling pin or the bottom of a cast iron pan also does the trick.
As you pound, you're breaking up the fibers inside the piece of meat. Get your aggression out on a smaller piece of meat or a cutlet. Putting a piece of plastic wrap on top of the meat contains whatever bits may go flying around. Saute it quickly on the stovetop; on the grill, the meat may fall apart.
Tenderize With a Reverse Sear
A nice chunk of meat, perhaps a top sirloin that's at least 1-inch thick, can be reduced to a butter-like consistency by reverse searing. Put the steak on a roasting rack that sits over a big piece of foil, big enough to wrap around the steak. But don't wrap it until it comes out of the oven.
Heat the oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit and cook the steak until the internal temperature reaches 125F. Remove it from the oven, wrap it with the foil, and let it sit for 15 minutes. The final step is to sear the steak for 1 minute on each side. Again, let it sit for 5 minutes before carving your most tender steak ever!
Make Your Own Marinade
A flank or chuck steak, brisket and even a tri-tip all benefit from a marinade. Homemade concoctions include a teriyaki sauce that contains brown sugar, ginger, soy sauce, garlic and onion powder, and lemon juice. Or, buy a commercial marinade.
Don't let the meat sit too long in the marinade. Two hours should do it. If you marinate longer than that, the fibers start to break down due to the acids in the marinade, and the taste is effected. Marinades work best on thinner pieces of meat.
Know a Few Tenderizing Tricks
Salt is a great tenderizer; it's the primary ingredient in the commercial tenderizing powders. Just be sure to rinse it off and then dry the meat completely before cooking.
Baking soda is another tenderizer, but it must be used with precision. Too much or too long, and your meat becomes mushy, and the flavor of the meat turns bitter.
And if you have all day, you can cook your meat in a crockpot or Dutch oven, long and slow, and you'll end up with a perfectly tender stew or roast. Just be sure the lid is on and that you have moisture in the pot. You'll also get a nice gravy!