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Tenderizing meat with Coke???

  • w

I have seen the suggestion that many Asian restaurants tenderize beef by marinating in Coca-Cola.

I've had some miraculously tender bulgogi and "beef with broccoli", so tender I just can't picture off-the-shelf meat being that way.

True? How long to marinate? Do you do it?


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    Professor Salt

    Chinese cooks sometimes use baking soda to tenderize meat. Perhaps "Coca Cola" was a mistaken synonym for "soda?"

    2 Replies
    1. re: Professor Salt

      It may be possible that this is how it originated, but I have been making what one of my children named "Coke Steak" for years.

      Back in my most poverty-struck (i.e. post-divorce) years, I could only afford the cheapest, toughest cuts of meat. I would I would take the meat (typically a pound of round steak), cut it into serving sized pieces, coat them in a flour/salt/pepper mixture, brown them in oil, and then simmer on low heat with a cut-up onion, a couple of tablespoons of catsup (almost my sole use for this), and around a cup & a half of Coke. I'd simmer until it was tender, usually about 45 minutes.

      Diet Coke didnt work nearly as well; I would guess that the sugar/corn syrup has something to do with the chemistry of the whole process. I never tried it with an un-cola.

      1. re: Fydeaux
        Hungry Celeste

        I frequently cook round steak--top round, bottom round, seven steak, whatever's on sale--in roughly the same way, sans Coke. The meat is tenderized by the low, slow cooking, regardless of what cooking liquid is used or whether it is salty or sugary. At times, I've used apple juice, amber beer, beef stock, plain water, tomato juice, or even the drained canning liquid from peas or green beans. I do use Coke in my baked brisket recipe, but the Coke adds flavor...the brisket is tenderized by 10 hrs in the oven.

        Is the acidity in Coke really enough to truly tenderize meat? What IS Coke's Ph, anyway?

    2. Basically, anything with acid will do the trick. Some swear by Coca Cola, others by 7Up. I've had Korean friends tell me their mothers use kiwis, pineapples, oranges, lemons, etc. Chinese restaurants often do use baking soda as a very quick tenderizer, massaged into strips of beef right before cooking. However, baking soda gives the meat a rubbery texture if used too liberally.

      Personally, I use whatever I have on hand, and sparingly. For a half gallon tub of meat (and that's a lot of meat, at least 2-3 lbs.), I would use no more than half a can of Coke, the juice of half a lemon, or one pulped kiwi. Let it sit for four hours to a day in the fridge depending on how much acid you used, but after the 24 hour point the meat will start to deteriorate past deliciousness.

      13 Replies
      1. re: nooodles

        Baking soda is an alkali, not an acid. Alkali are much more effective at breaking down cell walls than acids, which actually tend to toughen them. But alkali can render things mushy.

        That's why, for example, soda is sometimes added to the parboiling water for old dried legumes, whereas one waits until beans are tender to add acidic ingredients like tomatoes.

        1. re: Karl S

          Sorry, wasn't clear on separating the baking soda from the alkali. It does work much more quickly, which is why it's massaged in right before cooking and not used in a marinade. And again, used very sparingly. I can't stress that enough. You will end up with rubber meat if you use too much.

          1. re: Karl S

            If I wanted to make refried beans then, maybe I should use a tsp of baking soda to the mix to ensure they are soft and easy to mash? For whatever reason, my beans never seem to tenderize quite enough for soft smooth refried beans. Probably I'm getting old beans...

            great tip, thanks.

            1. re: adamclyde

              Only use the soda in the parboiling water, and discard the water before finishing your dish.

              1. re: adamclyde

                Actually I never have any trouble with refried beans - just boil 'em, no baking soda. When they're pleasantly tender (eat one and see) use a food processor to mash them thoroughly (save a little cooking water to moisten the mixture enough to keep moving in the processor). Sooner or later they'll be creamy, if you cooked the beans enough to be soft-to-the-bite.

                If I'm in the mood for "chunky style" I save some whole beans aside to add after processing, or even add a few whole beans toward the end of processing and a few more after processing.

                I don't trouble with lard or with poost-mash-cooking. Seasonings: Salt, cumin, garlic, and whatever tomatoey stuff is in the fridge getting old.

                1. re: adamclyde

                  I dont know about tenderness of beans, but baking soda is supposed to cut the "toots" when you soak your beans in it before cooking :)

                  Hows that for an FYI?!!! Maybe TMI? LOL!

              2. re: nooodles

                Hi Noodles -

                Both Kiwi fruit and Pear mashed are pretty good meat tenderizers.

                1. re: SWISSAIRE

                  Kiwi, yes -- it has a tenderizing enzyme.

                  but pear?

                  1. re: sunshine842

                    Pineapple does as well (I think).

                    1. re: Westy

                      Yes to pineapple, that is the main ingredient in Adolph's Meat Tenderizer.

                    2. re: sunshine842

                      One of the kind salesladies at " S-Mart " gave us a recipe cooking using Pear for thin beef.

                      Pear, sugar, Mirin, sesame seed, and soy sauce (more wheat-less soybean), or Tamari sauce (less wheat-more soybean).

                      She advised to marinate ONLY 30 minutes, or it would "turn the meat mushy." Even at 15 minutes, it was tasty, but very soft, sweet, and tenderized.

                      Papaya and Mango mashed and rubbed onto meat will also tenderize.

                      1. re: SWISSAIRE

                        That sounds like a typical korean bulgolgi sauce....

                        1. re: Ttrockwood

                          You are correct.

                          I tried the dish with and without the pear, and I prefer it without.

                2. I marinate my chicken breast and sometimes steak with Moxie or Coke. What I like about it with chicken is the sugar from the Moxie or Coke gives the outside a nice carmelized look and taste.

                  1. d
                    Diane in Bexley

                    Have been using this recipe for fajitas for 10 years now with excellent results: Mix 2 cups Coke (I use diet), juice from 2 limes, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 3 T worchestershire sauce, 1/4 cup sherry for marinade. In large container with cover, slice 2 large onion and place half in bottom. Layer 2 lbs. skirt steak seasoned with salt, garlic, pepper and remaining sliced onions. Pour marinade over and put in fridge for 8-12 hours, turning over a couple of times if you remember. You can also add green pepper. While you grill the meat, panfry onions and heat up flour tortillas. Serve with salsa, chopped avocado, sour cream, cheese and other condiments as you desire. Be sure to slice the skirt steak against the grain or it will be tough. The Coke is definitely a meat tenderizer here.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Diane in Bexley

                      Does the cut HAVE to be skirt?


                      1. re: Zaheen

                        I use Flank with this similar recipe and results!!!

                      2. BAKING SODA DOES IT BEST. Soak the meat in water and baking soda for 20 minutes, then rinse it VERY WELL..marinate as usual..this works well for tough cuts specially if you want it cubed or thick cut. It will not be rubber or moosh, just follow the instructiuons..my father in law worked in a hotel restaurant as a chef for over 15 years. Make sure it us rinsed WELL, or it will leave an undesirable flavor..(the kind you get with beef brocolli at the mall)

                        1. I'm so bummed, I came across a recipe recently for Korean short ribs that uses Cola, looked everywhere and can't find it. Sad.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Funwithfood

                            Cindy's Supper club has one.

                            As does this (combining the aforementioned kiwi as well: http://www.recipelink.com/msgbrd/boar...

                          2. dunno, but Coke makes an excellent glaze for ham or anything roasted.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: hill food

                              I've used a bottle of Coke to steam a country ham before. Sweet from the coke and salty from the ham- delicious.

                            2. My Chinese grandfather was a chef and he used baking soda. I have never heard of any Asian group that used Coca Cola.

                              My mother-in-law who is a teacher says they used to do an experiment with teeth. The kids would bring in their baby teeth that had fallen out and they left it in Coke. The Coke ate away at the teeth. I've heard from a couple of people that Coke can be used to clean blood off a sidewalk. I don't know that I believe that, but I guess the message is that Coke eats away at things, so it must be a decent tenderizer. I am pretty positive it's not used in traditional bulgogi. My grandparents used b.s. to make their beef broccoli. This I know.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: jindomommy

                                Way back when, they used to say that Coke would eat the chrome off your car bumpers too. Don't have to worry about that anymore I guess. I always wondered, why Coke only and not Pepsi?

                                1. re: coll

                                  On Dr. Oz the other day, to persuade a woman to break her dozen-cans-a-day soda habit, he cleaned a rusty car battery with cola and a rag - it worked very quickly. That show can go overboard at times, but the idea that this much cola is hard on the GI tract seems valid.

                                  1. re: greygarious

                                    Oh, God, not that old warhorse again. The acid already in your stomach is something like 100 times stronger than anything you'd be allowed to sell.

                                    1. re: acgold7

                                      but the point being that 12 cans of soda a day cannot be good for you....

                              2. No, but Coke works great for taking tar off your fenders and leaching calcium from your bones.

                                1. I can't speak to Coke being a non-traditional but widely used item in the Korean kitchen, per se, but I do know that my Korean cookin' buddies have adapted a huge variety of nontraditional items to their cuisine: ketchup and the like. I've seen it used in a recipe for Carnitas as well. And my understanding is that it's the citric acid in the soda that does the tenderizing. One of the best Bulkogis I ever had had a crazy mahogany glaze that my friend confided was part cola.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: mamachef

                                    We should ask Chemicalkinetics, but I think it's the PHOSPHORIC acid that tenderizes meat and leaches your bones.

                                    1. re: kaleokahu

                                      wow, two for the price of one! meat tenderizer and calcium stripper (which probably means it would clean calcium and lime deposits, now that I think of it.) And yes, I think you're right that it's phosphoric, not citric acid.

                                      1. re: mamachef

                                        I saw something not too long ago where they did a comparison of various sodas cola and not, diet and regular and all the ones that contained phosphoric acid had this effect.

                                        1. re: hill food

                                          Hello please can you tell me where can i see the evidence for phosphoric acid of coke doing the tenderising effect? I need it for my school project, please help! Thanks :)

                                          1. re: scienceproject

                                            there's this, if it can chew tooth enamel, how is beef far behind, but I have a sly hunch you've already searched this


                                            it's also about how sugar breaks down protein fibers. the processes behind gravlax and BBQ are another place to look.

                                  2. I have used a marinade with coke, garlic, soy and worcestershire sauces, oil and some spices. Its wonderful if you do it to flank steak. Seriously delicious. I think I got the idea off Cooks.com if I recall. It takes a long time, but it will be very tender.

                                    I hear the baking soda trick is a quick way to get softer meat, it was suggested to me 15-20 minutes with 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp corn starch, and 1/2 tsp rice wine for a large 10 oz chicken breast. Sounds like a plan for the next time I get stuck with some tough meat (which seems to happen far too often!)

                                    1. Ive never heard asian but bbq smokers use cola, root beer, 7up

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: daislander

                                        I make pulled pork in the crock-pot with root beer (one 12-oz can/bottle for a 3-4lb pork shoulder). Works great.

                                      2. Grady Spears hasa Dr. Pepper steak recipe. Looks good.