For individuals who love grilling and barbecuing meat, one of the biggest fears is biting into a steak only to realize that it’s not tender enough.
This is especially a major problem with tougher meats, such as beef. While you can buy certain cuts of beef that are naturally tender, those are usually more expensive. However, you don’t need to worry; there are several ways to tenderize regular cuts of meat.
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What Makes Certain Cuts of Meat Chewy and Tough?
You might be wondering why some cuts of meat are tough and chewy, while some are tender even when they come from the same animal. Well, this is primarily due to the anatomy of four-legged animals like pigs, cows, lambs, etc.
The more affordable cuts of meat, such as briskets and chucks, come from the working parts of the body. These include the legs, the neck, and various other lower muscles that are stronger and sinewy. As a result, these cuts of meat are much chewier.
The meat around the backbone and the ribs tend to be softer as these muscles have to work relatively less and have a lot of fat and marbling. You’d usually have to buy premium cuts like tenderloin and prime rib to get these tender areas.
So, how do you tenderize meat before you barbecue it? The tough muscle fibers are surrounded by collagen, a gelatinous substance. Depending on how you treat the meat before putting it on the grill, the collagen can either help make the meat tender or juicy or turn it dry and chewy.
How to Tenderize Tough Pieces of Meat?
Knowing the right techniques can help you make juicy and tender pieces of steak on the BBQ grill. There are several ways in which you can tenderize the meat, such as:
1. Cut it Right
One of the simplest ways to make softer steak is to make the right cuts before putting it on the grill. Always make these cuts against the muscle fibers, not parallel to them. This will make the meat much easier to chew. Also, let the meat rest for about ten minutes after grilling before you start cutting it up.
If you cut it immediately, the juices will leak out and leave the meat dry and chewy. Allowing the meat to absorb the juices properly will also make it more delicious.
2. Marinate the Meat
Using marinades happens to be an extremely popular and effective way to tenderize meats. For beef and other tough varieties of meat, it is advisable to use acidic marinades like vinegar, lemon, wine, buttermilk, etc.
Besides making the meat softer by breaking down the proteins, these marinades will also add strong flavors to the meat. However, remember that marinating meat for more than two hours can make it too soft and mushy.
3. Pound the Meat
Another way to make your steak tender is to break down the muscle fibers manually by pounding the meat. To do this, you need a tool called a meat mallet a small hammer with a special head designed for this purpose. One side of the hammer’s head has sharp, raised spikes that can easily break the tough muscle fibers.
Simply place the meat on a cutting board and start hammering it with the mallet. The print of the spikes appearing on the meat indicates that it has become sufficiently soft.
Overdoing this technique can turn the meat too mushy by crushing the soft meat tissues. You may use a rolling pin or the bottom of a glass if you don’t have a meat mallet.
4. Score the Meat
Scoring is a technique to cut through the muscle fibers rather than breaking them down. All you have to do is take a sharp knife and make shallow but firm incisions in a crosshatch pattern.
Remember to keep these incisions against the grain, i.e., the direction of the muscle fibers. By cutting up the fibers into tiny pieces, you can reduce the meat’s chewiness to a great extent.
5. Dry Brining
If you are in a hurry or do not have a mallet or marinade available, you can dry brine the meat using salt instead. Besides adding the necessary saltiness to the meat, it also helps reabsorb the natural juices to keep the meat tender.
To dry brine the meat, you need to take a generous amount of kosher or sea salt and spread it over all sides of the meat. The salt will first draw out the juices and dissolve them, resulting in a brining solution. The meat will then absorb this brine and become tender.
However, remember to rinse the meat well and pat dry it before putting it on the grill to remove the excess salt. Avoid using table salt as it dissolves too quickly and will make the meat too salty to eat.
6. Add Fruit Enzymes to the Marinade
When you marinate the meat, you may add certain fruit enzymes to it to tenderize the fibers better. Fruits like kiwi, mango, pineapple, papaya, Asian pear, etc., carry an enzyme called protease, which can effectively break down meat protein.
Use about two tablespoons of mashed fruit or fruit juice per cup of marinade. Be careful when using pineapple, as its enzymes are powerful and can turn the meat into mush if you marinate it too much.
The grilling technique you use while barbecuing the meat determines the tenderness of the final product too. Slow cook the meat at temperatures between 160° to 205°F so that the collagen can gelatinize and soften the meat. At higher temperatures, the collagen would shrink and squeeze out the juices in the meat.
You can use various slow cooking methods, like grilling, smoking, braising, or stewing, as per your preferences. Hopefully, now that you have learned its secrets, you can now enjoy a perfectly cooked tender steak.