Whether you’re preparing a roast, steak, chicken, or any other type of meat, it should be succulent and tender. To ensure that your meat cuts meet your expectations, you may want to use a meat tenderizer. Meat tenderizers physically break down the dense protein bonds, allowing moisture to easily permeate through the meat while it cooks. Meat tenderizers use sharpened needles and blades or blunt-force mallets to break apart these bonds, producing a much more palatable meal.
Several factors go into choosing a meat tenderizer including, but not limited to, the size and thickness of the meat, the amount of counter space you have to work with, and necessary protective features to help you use the tenderizer safely. Take a look at the top products listed below, then read on to find out what you should know before choosing the best meat tenderizer for your kitchen.
- BEST OVERALL: KitchenAid Gourmet Meat Tenderizer
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Checkered Chef Meat Tenderizer
- BEST MALLET: Aliglow Meat Tenderizer Hammer/Mallet Tool/Pounder
- BEST NEEDLE: ZXZ Meat Tenderizer, 48 Stainless Steel Sharp Needle
- BEST BLADE: XSpecial Meat Tenderizer Tool 48 Blades Stainless
Types of Meat Tenderizers
Meat tenderizers fall into three categories: mallet, needle, or blade. A breakdown of each category is included below.
Mallets are the most traditional tool used to tenderize beef, pork, and thick cuts of poultry. Mallets typically have two sides: One side features several small, pyramid-shaped points that are ideal for breaking apart the tough muscle fiber. The other side is smooth and flat and can be used to flatten the meat so that it cooks more evenly. These kitchen tools are effective and simple to use. Just choose a side and strike the meat with the mallet as though it’s a hammer.
Remember: You’ll need enough space to swing the mallet without making a mess. You may want to wear an apron or cover your countertops, too. This is because the meat can splatter when it’s being tenderized.
Needle meat tenderizers use a set of razor-sharp metal needles to pierce the meat to a depth of 1.5 to 2 inches. The needles tear apart muscle tissue and provide narrow channels for seasonings, rubs, and marinades to penetrate. These piercing cuts can also reduce cooking time, as heat and moisture are able to permeate through the muscle fibers.
Needle meat tenderizers are not suitable for thinner cuts of meat. This is because the piercing needles can tear the meat apart instead of simply tenderizing it. Some tenderizers also include safety features like retractable needles or a guard to prevent accidents.
Function-wise, blade tenderizers are similar to needle meat tenderizers. Blade tenderizers use a series of piercing blades to cut through the tissue of the meat in order to increase its tenderness while creating channels for seasoning, rubs, and other flavors to permeate. Blade meat tenderizers have a wider cutting blade that is better suited for large, thick cuts of meat.
These tenderizers also share the same inherent risks that come with using needle meat tenderizers, so it’d be best to invest in a product that offers safety features. Refer to the manufacturer’s directions to determine the best way to clean your tenderizer.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Meat Tenderizer
Before you begin shopping for a meat tenderizer, here are a few things to keep in mind.
When looking for a new meat tenderizer, you should prioritize quality over everything else. Mallets that have seams or a poor balance between the handle and the mallet head, for example, should be avoided as they’re easily breakable and can be difficult to control.
Meat tenderizers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Broad, heavy tenderizers are great for large cuts of meat, while smaller meat tenderizers are better for poultry and thin pieces of pork or beef. You should also consider whether you want a meat tenderizer that can be washed in the dishwasher or if you’re OK with handwashing it.
The blades of a needle or blade meat tenderizer are another important factor to consider. Your blades should be durable and sharp to ensure maximum efficacy as a kitchen tool. Weak blades are likely to break after you’ve used them several times or if you try to use them on a very tough piece of meat. If the blades are not sharp enough, then they can actually become stuck in the meat, ultimately requiring you to remove them.
You should also consider the number of blades on the meat tenderizer. The more blades, the easier it is to tenderize the meat. However, a large number of blades will tear apart smaller cuts of meat, so they’re not always appropriate.
The handle of the meat tenderizer should be designed with an ergonomic shape that fits your hand. This way, you’ll have the best control possible while tenderizing. You can also opt for a tenderizer with a nonslip grip—an especially important feature for mallets.
Needle and blade meat tenderizers are designed with horizontal handles. To use them, just grab and press down. Mallet handles are typically made to swing the head of the mallet on an arc, with your hand acting as the fulcrum. However, there are also mallets with vertical handles, (called pounders) that can be used to tenderize the meat with a downward motion of your clenched fist.
Another aspect that’s easily forgotten is how you should clean, dry, and store the tenderizer. Most mallets and some needle and blade meat tenderizers can be washed in the dishwasher. Before you put anything into the dishwasher, you should ensure that the gaps between the blades, needles, and pyramid-shaped points are free of debris, including tiny pieces of raw meat.
Meat tenderizers that cannot be washed in the dishwasher should be washed by hand using a durable brush. This helps remove any remaining pieces of food and protect your hands from accidental cuts. Some products may even come with a specially designed brush that perfectly fits the size and shape of the blades, needles, or points.
When you’re using a kitchen tool that’s designed to damage and tenderize meat, you need to be very careful to ensure that you don’t hurt yourself. Some simple safety features that can help avoid injuries include retractable blades, blade locks, and guards.
- Retractable blades are a common feature on most needle and blade meat tenderizers, though some manual products are still available. This feature ensures that the blades retract back up into the tenderizer when pressure is no longer being applied.
- Blade locks keep the blades or needles locked in place. This includes locking them in the tenderizer so that accidental pressure doesn’t push them out, but it can also lock them in the out position if you need to tenderize quickly.
- Guards can be used on all types of meat tenderizers and are typically made of a durable plastic that fits neatly over the blades or the pointed head of a mallet.
Our Top Picks
Now that you’re better informed about the features of meat tenderizers, check out the top picks below to find a new addition to your kitchen arsenal.
Improve the quality, texture, and even the taste of your food with this impressive mallet meat tenderizer. It’s made with a durable (and lightweight) aluminum construction that won’t break after repeated uses. One side of the mallet has a flat face and can be used for flattening meat or alternative cooking purposes, like crushing nuts or ice. The textured side of the mallet has several rows of sharp spikes that can easily cut through the meat tissues and tenderize your food. It also has a hole in its handle, making it easy to store.
This mallet shouldn’t be washed in the dishwasher. Instead, scrub the spikes with a soft brush. Wash the rest of the mallet with your hands or a cloth before drying it and putting it away.
The Checkered Chef Meat Tenderizer has a sleek black design and an aesthetic appeal that can help give your kitchen a more modern appearance. Use the flat side or the spiked side of this mallet meat tenderizer to prepare your food for the frying pan, oven, or grill, and experience the difference a tenderizer can make in the taste, texture, and overall quality.
This tenderizer has an ergonomic handle that’s wrapped in nonslip rubber, so you won’t have to worry about it slipping from your hand. It’s also made so that both left- and right-handed individuals can use the mallet without a problem. When you’re done, just rinse it off and then put it in the dishwasher for easy cleanup.
This mallet meat tenderizer is double sided so that you can flatten your meat with one side and tenderize it with the other. The tenderizer is made of a single piece of solid alloy steel so you won’t have to worry about it breaking after repeated uses. It can also be washed safely in the dishwasher; just be sure to rinse it off first.
The handle has a smooth, rounded shape that makes it easier to hold and allows for comfortable use regardless of your handedness. The handle also has a cushioned surface to help absorb the impact from your strikes and to create an anti-slip surface so the tenderizer won’t slip out of your hand.
The needles of this meat tenderizer have been sharpened to a razor point so that they pierce the meat with very little effort when pressure is applied to the handle. The needles can then retract back into the tenderizer, reducing the risk of cuts and keeping you safe while you prepare your meal. The handle of this meat tenderizer has a grip that’s easy to hold on to and apply even pressure so that you have full control while you’re tenderizing the meat.
When you finish with the tenderizer, the bottom can be removed so that the exposed needles can be properly cleaned. This product comes with a cleaning brush to help you remove any remaining meat from the blade or the base of the tenderizer. Once the initial scrub is done, you can handwash the tenderizer or put it into the dishwasher. It also comes with a protective cover, so you can store it safely until you use it again.
Instead of relying on a mallet tenderizer, you can use this 48-blade meat tenderizer to quickly and efficiently cut narrow slices into the meat. The blades of the tenderizer pierce the meat when pressure is applied to the handle. After the pressure is relieved, the blades retract back into the tenderizer so that you don’t accidentally cut yourself.
This tenderizer has a smooth, contoured handle that’s easy to grip and operate with just one hand using a simple up-and-down motion. This method also reduces the cooking time by up to 40 percent. When you’re done you can either wash it by hand or put it in the dishwasher.
FAQs About Meat Tenderizers
If you still have questions about meat tenderizers, keep reading for answers to some of the most commonly asked questions.
Q. What should I put on meat to help tenderize it?
To tenderize meat you can use naturally occurring enzymes present in several popular fruits, including papaya, pineapple, and kiwi fruit. You can also use vinegar, wine, lemon juice, buttermilk, and yogurt.
Q. What can I use instead of a meat tenderizer?
If you don’t have a meat tenderizer on hand, then you can use heavier items in your kitchen to serve as a makeshift tenderizer. These items could include a rolling pin, a thick wine bottle, a pot, or a heavy pan. However, keep in mind that none of these items will perform as well as an actual meat tenderizer.
Q. What other methods are used to tenderize meat?
You can tenderize meat by marinating it in acidic solutions, like lemon juice, lime juice, or vinegar. You could similarly marinate it in natural enzymes found in papaya juice, pineapple juice, and kiwi fruit.
If you don’t want to marinate the meat, then you can use a slow cooker to gradually break down the tough bonds between the muscle fibers over a long period at a low heat.