Meat tenderizer powder is a handy kitchen ingredient that can transform tough, chewy cuts of meat into tender, melt-in-your-mouth meals.
While premium steaks like ribeyes and tenderloins naturally have a soft, buttery texture, cheaper cuts like chuck roast, brisket, and flank steak can be quite tough.
Meat tenderizer powder contains enzymes that break down collagen and connective tissues in meat, significantly improving its tenderness.
Using tenderizer powder is simple - just sprinkle it evenly over your meat, pierce the surface thoroughly with a fork, and allow it to work its magic for 5-30 minutes before cooking.
How Does Meat Tenderizer Powder Work?
Meat tenderizer powder contains proteolytic enzymes, usually derived from papayas, pineapples, or fungi. These enzymes break down proteins through a process called denaturation.
Collagen is the main structural protein that holds muscle fibers together in tough cuts of meat, giving them that chewy, fibrous texture. The enzymes in tenderizer powder weaken collagen's structure by severing the bonds between proteins. This makes the meat more tender and easier to chew.
The two most common enzymes used are:
- Papain - Derived from papayas
- Bromelain - Derived from pineapples
Both papain and bromelain work quickly at dissolving collagen when meat is exposed to moisture and warmth. Heat from cooking activates the enzymes, rapidly accelerating the tenderizing process.
Key Takeaway: Meat tenderizer powder contains proteolytic enzymes that break down collagen, the protein that makes meat tough. This makes the meat easier to chew and more tender.
Choosing a Meat Tenderizer Powder
When shopping for meat tenderizer powder, you typically won't find much variety on store shelves. Most products contain very similar formulations. However, here are a few things to look out for:
- Enzyme type - Papain and bromelain work equally well. Some tenderizers use fungal enzymes. Go with your personal preference.
- Other ingredients - Some powders contain additional flavorings, spices, salt, sugar etc. Choose based on the dish you'll be making.
- Reputable brand - Stick to established brands like McCormick to ensure you're getting a quality product.
As long as the powder contains active proteolytic enzymes as the main ingredient, the brand or type is not hugely important. Focus less on the nuances of different products and more on using the tenderizer correctly.
How to Use Meat Tenderizer Powder
Using meat tenderizing powder is simple:
- Lightly moisten the surface of the meat with water first. This allows the powder to stick and absorb better. Pat the meat dry with paper towels.
- Sprinkle tenderizer powder evenly over all surfaces, applying about 1 tsp per 1 lb of meat. Try to coat the meat as thoroughly as possible.
- Pierce the meat thoroughly with a fork, at least 20-30 times all over. This allows the enzymes to penetrate deeper below the surface.
- Let sit for 15-30 minutes before cooking. For extra thick cuts, up to an hour is fine. This gives time for the enzymes to work.
- Rinse off any visible powder residue before cooking. Some residue is ok, but you don't want big clumps or piles.
- Cook as desired through pan-frying, broiling, braising etc. The powder will continue working as the meat cooks.
Don't let meat sit too long after applying tenderizer - no more than an hour, less for thinner cuts. If you leave the powder on for several hours it will make the meat mushy instead of just tender.
Key Takeaway: Moisten meat first, coat with powder, pierce all over with a fork, let sit 15-60 minutes, rinse off excess powder, then cook as usual.
Tenderizing Different Cuts of Meat
Tenderizer powder works great on cheaper meat cuts that are naturally tough due to extensive collagen:
- Chuck roast
- Flank steak
- Skirt steak
- Beef shank
- Eye of round
- Top round
- Any stewing beef or stew meat
It can also improve tenderness in inherently tender cuts like:
- Strip steak
- Pork chops
- Lamb shoulder chops
However, for ultra-tender cuts like tenderloin or ribeye, tenderizer powder is unnecessary and won't make much difference.
Since the enzymes only penetrate the outer 1⁄4-1⁄2 inch of meat, tenderizer powder works better for thinner steaks, chops, and other quick-cooking cuts.
For thick roasts and larger cuts intended for braising, tenderizing powder will help improve the outer surface but not dramatically impact tenderness of the interior meat. Supplement it by cooking low and slow through moist heat methods.
Marinades vs Dry Rubs with Tenderizer Powder
Meat tenderizer powder is versatile enough to use with both wet marinades and dry rubs:
- Marinade: Whisk 1-2 tsps tenderizer powder into the marinade liquid along with other ingredients. Marinate meat for 1-8 hours. The enzymes will help tenderize while the marinade adds flavor.
- Dry rub: Instead of just sprinkling tenderizer powder directly onto meat, combine it with spices, herbs, salt, pepper, brown sugar etc to make a flavorful dry rub. Coat meat with the spice mix then let sit for 15-60 minutes before cooking.
When adding it to a marinade or rub, use about 1 tsp of tenderizer powder per 1 lb of meat. Reduce the marinating or sitting time slightly compared to using the powder alone.
Key Takeaway: Incorporate 1-2 tsps of tenderizer powder per lb of meat into wet marinades or dry rub spice mixes for extra tender and flavorful results.
Meat Hammer vs Tenderizer Powder
Pounding meat with a meat mallet is another easy way to help tenderize tougher cuts. The repeated blunt force trauma physically tears muscle fibers apart, making the meat less dense and easier to chew, like tenderizer powder does chemically.
For best results, use a two-pronged approach:
- First, firmly pound the meat on both sides with a meat mallet, tenderizer hammer, or even a heavy skillet to break down fibers.
- Then coat pounded meat with tenderizer powder, pierce throughly with a fork, and let sit before cooking per usual.
Combining mechanical pounding and enzymatic powder gives multiple ways for the meat proteins to break down, exponentially improving tenderness compared to either method alone.
Does tenderizer powder improve flavor or just texture?
Tenderizer powder itself has little to no flavor. It only affects the structural proteins in meat. To infuse flavor, either use a seasoned tenderizer powder blend or add to a marinade/rub.
Can you over-tenderize meat with powder?
Yes, if left on too long it will chemically "digest" the meat completely making it mushy. Don't exceed 1 hour before cooking. Thin cuts need even less time.
Should you rinse tenderizer powder off before cooking?
It's a good idea to lightly rinse cuts to remove clumps or piles of powder residue. But minor amounts clinging to the meat help ensure thorough coverage.
What powder thickness can the enzymes penetrate?
Tenderizer powder enzymes only penetrate about 1⁄4-1⁄2 inch deep from the meat surface. So results are most dramatic on thinner steaks, chops etc rather than huge roasts.
Can I add more tenderizer powder if 15 minutes isn't tenderizing enough?
No, adding more powder won't make meat more tender. Max tenderization occurs within 30-60 mins. Exceeding that risks over-tenderizing into mush. Manage expectations for very tough cuts.
While often overlooked, meat tenderizer powder is an invaluable kitchen tool for transforming cheap, tough cuts of meat into tender masterpieces perfect for anything from quick weeknight meals to low and slow weekend barbecue.