The name “meat tenderizer” seems pretty self-explanatory, but have you ever wondered how meat tenderizer works? Doesn’t the tenderness of the meat just depend on the quality or how long it’s cooked? Obviously a filet mignon is more tender than a sirloin, right? It’s not quite that simple. You can use meat tenderizer to make tougher cuts of meat softer, and this is actually a chemical process!
You CAN tenderize meat through force, using a tool that looks something like this:
But there are many other effective methods of meat tenderizing that involve using a store-bought meat tenderizer, other substances such as baking soda or yogurt, or marinating the meat using acidic substances such as tomato juice or vinegar.
Here are the ingredients listed for a popular basic meat tenderizer made by McCormick:
Ingredients: Salt, dextrose, bromelain (tenderizer), and calcium silicate (added to make free flowing).
You can see that the main ingredient is Bromelain. Bromelain is made from pineapple and is just one kind of proteolytic enzyme that is commonly used in meat tenderizers. A proteolytic enzyme (aka protease) is a protein that digests other proteins by breaking them down into smaller pieces.
Other proteolytic enzymes include Papain, which is made from papaya, and Ficin, which is made from figs.
You might be wondering, what do enzymes even do? Here is a basic illustration of how enzymes work:
Are enzymes only used in meat tenderizer? Of course not!
PREDICT: How do you think enzymes work in YOUR body?
Check this video out to find out more about what enzymes do for YOU!
They both break down bonds in the meat, but enzymatic meat tenderizers use enzymes to break down the connective tissue in meats while acidic substances use acid to break down that same tissue.
PREDICT: Which meat tenderizer will be most effective?
YOU WILL NEED:
- One large steak
- McCormick (or other brand) Meat Tenderizer
- Meat Tenderizing tool
- Baking soda
- Six small tupperware containers
- Masking tape
HERE’S WHAT TO DO:
- Make sure you have an adult to help you cut the steak.
- Wash your hands and prepare a clean cooking space. Place the steak on a clean surface.
- Cut the steak into six equal pieces.
- Place each piece into a separate container.
- Sprinkle a teaspoon of baking soda onto the first piece. Rub the baking soda into the meat. Label the container using the masking tape and a pen and place in the refrigerator. Make sure you label each container right away so you can keep the pieces of meat straight.
- Sprinkle meat tenderizer onto the second piece of meat, label the container, and place in the refrigerator.
- Cover the third piece of meat in yogurt, label, and refrigerate.
- Douse the fourth piece of meat in vinegar, label, and refrigerate.
- Tenderize the fifth piece of meat by hitting it with the meat tenderizer tool for two minutes, label, and refrigerate.
- Do not do anything to the sixth piece of meat. Label the container and place in the refrigerator.
- Leave all pieces of meat in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
- Remember to clean up and wash your hands!!! It’s very important to wash your hands after handling raw meat.
- Make your prediction! Which piece of meat will be the tenderest?
- After 24 hours, have an adult help you cook the meat. Make sure each piece of meat is cooked in the same way for the same amount of time.
- In order to keep the pieces organized after cooking, you could use separate plates and label each with the masking tape and pen.
- After each piece is done, it’s time to sample!
- Grab a few friends to help you sample the meat and have them each rate the pieces from toughest to tenderest.
- Create a visual representation to report your findings.
Have you ever heard that Coca-Cola can dissolve a steak? Try it out and see if it works! Start by making predictions: How long will it take? Why is the Coca-Cola able to break down a whole steak? Is the Coca-Cola breaking the steak down through acid or enzymes?
Check the steak and record your observations every 8 hours for the first 24 hours and then every 24 hours after that. What changes is the steak going through? Did the steak ever fully dissolve? How long did it take?
Image and video credits, in order of appearance:
dumbledad, 2008. Flatten pork steaks-01. Uploaded from Wikimedia Commons on 9/18/2016.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/0f/Flatten_pork_steaks-01.jpg/1024px-Flatten_pork_steaks-01.jpg File used in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. No changes were made.
Shafee, T., 2015. Hexokinase induced fit. Uploaded from Wikimedia Commons on 9/18/2016.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f5/Hexokinase_induced_fit.svg/800px-Hexokinase_induced_fit.svg.png File used in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. No changes were made.
Ricochet Science, 2015. How Enzymes Work. Uploaded from YouTube on 9/18/2016.