Easy to grip, sturdy handle. Includes extremely sharp 48 stainless steel blades, yielding good results with minimal pressure applied. Owners appreciate device's easy-to-clean design.
Price is a little higher than some other options. Some people report cutting themselves with sharp blades.
Owners love the high quality. Has a protective cover when storing this popular device. Low price point. An extremely easy-to-use kitchen tool.
Too small for tenderizing large pieces of meat. Some customers say cleaning the tenderizer is difficult.
Customers like the size and grip quality of the handle. Simple design means cleaning this mallet couldn't be easier. Lasts a long time with a good build quality.
Tool's small size may not work for everyone, but it does make it easy to store.
Two-sided mallet design includes a flat side and a textured side. Owners say weight of the mallet simplifies any tenderizing task. Dishwasher safe.
Dull teeth on textured side. Extremely short handle. Customers report bits of meat sticking inside metal seam.
Tiny blades easily penetrate meat with minimal pressure. Tenderizes meat in a short amount of time. High performance level and good build quality.
Expensive. Customers say tiny blades could cut your skin, so handle the tool with care at all times.
Many meat enthusiasts have thick ribeye steak dreams but thin flank steak budgets. The options in the grocery store meat aisle seem limited to high-end Porterhouse steaks or budget-friendly slabs of top round sirloin or skirt steaks. These inexpensive cuts of meat may be economical, but they can also be challenging to prepare. Fortunately, there is a kitchen tool that can quickly turn a manager’s special into a tender and flavorful entree: a mechanical meat tenderizer.
A mechanical meat tenderizer uses special blades or needles or a ridged mallet head to break up the fibrous muscle tissue that can make less expensive cuts of meat tough to enjoy. It may not magically convert a bottom round steak into filet mignon, but it does soften the meat and allow marinades or seasonings to create more flavor. A good meat tenderizer can also reduce the overall cooking time by creating heat channels. Thick roasts and whole poultry will also benefit from the use of a meat tenderizer, since the blades push seasonings and rubs deeper into the meat. It can also reduce the overall cooking time by creating heat channels.
Shopping for a new mechanical meat tenderizer doesn’t have to be difficult, and BestReviews is here to help. We’ve created an in-depth shopping guide so you can make a more informed decision. If you crave a juicy, tender ribeye steak but your wallet stops at chuck roast, consider the benefits a good meat tenderizer can offer!
There are several different approaches to tenderizing tougher or less expensive cuts of meat, each with advantages and disadvantages. Here are the three most common methods:
This method is commonly use by home cooks to help tenderize a less expensive cut of sirloin or bottom round steak. The tenderizing powder contains special enzymes or acids that soften the meat by breaking it down chemically. In a sense, these seasoned tenderizers partially “digest” the meat before it’s cooked. The main advantage of an enzymatic meat tenderizer is affordability. These products are readily available on store shelves at a good price point. One disadvantage is that the texture of the meat can become too soft from the process.
One popular technique for tenderizing veal or chicken cutlets involves a heavy kitchen tool called a meat mallet or pounder. The meat is placed on a sturdy surface, covered with plastic wrap, and pounded thin with a smooth or ridged “hammer.” This method will successfully break up the meat’s tough muscle tissue and make the product thin enough for pan-frying, but it can be very messy. The integrity of the meat may also be affected if the tenderizing process goes past the point of no return. This method does not work with thicker cuts of beef or a whole turkey.
Needle or blade
This tool uses a set of needles or blades to penetrate meat and slice through the tough strands of muscle tissue. The blades also create channels that allow seasonings, rubs, and marinades to penetrate deeper into the meat, which can improve the flavor of the finished product. These channels have an additional benefit of reducing the total cooking time by as much as 40%.
Some home cooks use this form of mechanical meat tenderizer without realizing it. Stabbing a less expensive cut of beef or pork with a dinner fork is the same principle. Commercial meat tenderizers can be used on a variety of meat products, from chicken to fish to beef.
At first glance, a meat tenderizer appears to be one of those specialized kitchen gadgets with few moving parts and one major function. One model should fit the bill as much as any other model. It may not come out of the drawer as often as a vegetable peeler or wine opener, but a meat tenderizer will be used fairly regularly by home cooks who want to save money by buying less expensive cuts of meat. There are several elements to consider when shopping for a the ideal mechanical meat tenderizer.
Most meat tenderizers have a few elements in common, since they all have the same goal in mind. Some have a array of sharp metal blades that penetrate the meat. Others use a heavy mallet head to pulverize the meat and break up muscle tissue. We don’t find that one particular design element is clearly preferable to another, but we recommend that consumers take different models out for a test spin to find the one that works best.
Tenderizing surface: Some meat tenderizers arrange the blades in a tight circle, which is a nice feature in terms of storage and sanitation. Others use a more linear style, with a single line of blades penetrating the meat. This style is easier to control during use, but may be more time-consuming during larger jobs.
Mallet-style tenderizers often include a smooth side for pounding meats such as chicken or veal, and a knobbed side for softening tougher or thicker cuts of beef.
Handle: Another design consideration is the handle shape. Many models are promoted as being ergonomically designed, but this isn’t always an indication of user-friendliness. A good meat tenderizer should feel secure in the hand, since accidental slippage during use can result in a fairly serious injury. Many handles contain a spring-loaded mechanism for blade retraction, so users should decide if the tension level is acceptable. Hand fatigue is always a consideration with any kitchen tool or gadget.
When using a meat mallet or pounder, the tool should feel secure in the hand. A nonslip handle grip is preferable, since the handle can get slippery during the tenderizing process. The weight of the mallet head is not as much as of a consideration as good ergonomic design.
By design, a needle- or blade-type meat tenderizer is one of the more intimidating prep tools in a cook’s arsenal. Dozens of razor-sharp blades penetrate meats and slice through tough muscle fibers, which is not an easy task. The better tenderizer designs definitely have an eye toward user safety.
Mallet-style mechanical tenderizers also present some safety challenges. These are essentially hammers that have been designed for kitchen use, which means they are heavy by nature. They can cause serious injury to your hands if not used with caution.
Retractable blades: One safety feature to look for in blade-style tenderizers is retractable blades or needles. Some antique tenderizers have a permanent array of blades that remain exposed at all times. Consumers should avoid these at all costs. Modern tenderizers usually have a spring-loaded mechanism in the handle that allows the blades to retract when not in use. This spring action will not necessarily prevent the blades from becoming exposed between uses, but it will keep them out of harm’s way during storage.
Lock: Another common safety feature is a locking mechanism on the handle. This allows users to select an open or closed option during use or storage. Once the lock is twisted into the desired position, the blades will not be able to move from that position. This can be a tactical advantage during the tenderizing process, since the blades will be locked in place, and also an important safety feature when the tenderizer is tucked away in a drawer.
Guard: The final safety feature found on most needle-style meat tenderizers today is a safety guard over the blades. A special plastic cap fits snugly over the blade section while the tenderizer is in storage, which prevents any accidental contact with the blades. This cap will also protect the blades from any contamination or damage during storage. A meat mallet won’t necessarily arrive with such a safety feature, but the pounding surfaces are not nearly as hazardous to the user as the blades of a needle-style tenderizer.
Ease of use
The original mechanical meat tenderizer probably consisted of a dinner fork, elbow grease, and tremendous patience. Fortunately, modern versions have taken a lot of the labor out of the process. A quality tenderizer should penetrate the meat with minimal effort, which is why the blades or needles should be exceptionally sharp. Stainless steel is a great source material when it comes to ease of use. The handle should feel comfortable in the hand, and the blade array should cover a lot of surface area per pass. This is why we recommend models with a generous number of blades.
Another important consideration is sanitation. These kitchen tools must make contact with raw meat, which means there’s the potential for cross contamination and other biological hazards. The better tenderizers are easy to clean with a brush and hot soapy water between uses, and should also be top-rack dishwasher safe for maximum sanitation. Mallet-style meat tenderizers should also be properly washed and sanitized between uses, and most are also dishwasher safe.
Most meat tenderizers are relatively inexpensive, from under $10 to over $25, but might be challenging to find in traditional department stores. There really are no bad meat tenderizers, just good and better. Even the cheapest models generally deliver on their premise of converting tougher cuts of meat into softer cuts of meat. Here are some suggested price ranges, along with a few notes on what to expect at each price point.
Inexpensive: Meat tenderizers that cost $10 or less are generally competing with lightweight meat mallets and enzymatic/acidic powdered tenderizers. The blade count may be lower, but the blades themselves should be sharp and in an efficient round array. This is a good range for cooks with occasional meat tenderizing needs but little room for kitchen gadgets.
Mid-range: The “sweet spot” of meat tenderizers is the $10 to $25 price range. Most of the popular models on the market fall into this price category, and the product ratings are generally good. Some professional-grade meat mallets or pounders are also in this range, but many professional cooks highly recommend using mechanical meat tenderizers whenever possible. Meat mallets tend to damage the meat’s structure. Some models in this range feature 50 or more high-quality stainless blades.
Try using a meat tenderizer on larger or thicker cuts of meat. A large beef roast or an entire turkey can benefit from tenderizing just as much as a slab of steak or a thick-cut pork chop.
Try using a meat tenderizer on an expensive cut of meat. Many people limit the use of mechanical tenderizing to less expensive cuts, but almost all cuts of meat can benefit from the process.
Use a meat tenderizer to drive dry rubs or seasoning blends deeper into the meat. This will improve the overall flavor of the cooked meat.
Use separate meat tenderizers for different types of raw meat. This will avoid cross contamination. Many manufacturers offer a variety of colors so you can designate a specific color for each type of meat.
Q. I’m always concerned about cross contamination when preparing raw meats. Is it safe for me to use a meat tenderizer on raw beef and chicken at the same time?
A. Most meat tenderizers are dishwasher safe on the top rack, so we recommend running the tool through a dishwashing cycle before using it on a second raw meat. Cooking both meats thoroughly should greatly reduce the risk of cross contamination, but it does pay to be extra cautious when working with raw meats. Some home cooks use different meat tenderizing tools for different types of meat to avoid any confusion or cross contamination.
Q. Mechanical meat tenderizers scare me a little with all of those sharp needles. Is this a safe appliance to keep in a child-accessible kitchen drawer?
A. All kitchen tools and gadgets with sharp blades do present a safety hazard, but most meat tenderizers have at least two effective safety features. The needle array generally retracts into the handle when not in use, and a spring-loaded mechanism holds it in place. There may also be a locking mechanism that prevents the blades from being deployed accidentally. A blade cover completes the safety equation. However, adults with curious children might want to store a meat tenderizer out of range just to be sure.
Q. Are there some meats I shouldn’t try to tenderize with a mechanical meat tenderizer?
A. Not all types of meat products will benefit from mechanical meat tenderizing. More expensive cuts of steak, for example, contain a significant amount of fat (marbling) that works as a natural tenderizer. Some thinner cuts of chicken or pork may lose their structure completely after aggressive tenderizing. Fish cut into steaks, such as swordfish or tuna, may benefit from tenderizing, but more delicate, flaky varieties (salmon, trout, bass) will not. Sometimes using a different cooking method can achieve the same results as mechanical or chemical meat tenderizers.
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