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Nov 22, 2008 12:16 AM

Confusion over needle tenderizers - thoughts?

I've noticed some notable chefs giving a lot of praise for the needle tenderizers - those hand held devices full of sharp pins.

On the one hand, I can see it being a good device to tenderize flat strips of meat by basically drilling scores of holes in the structure.

On the other hand, it seems to run counter to the basic rules of cooking meats... not poking, stabbing, messing with the juices.

And what if you have time to use food-based tenderizing techniques?

Are there any guiding rules as to when/how you'd employ such a technique versus marinades, etc? I can see it being used for veal scallops, for example, but not steak. Hence the confusion.


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  1. One thing to be careful about when tenderizing that way.
    Any bacteria on the surface of the meat gets INJECTED throughout the meat when doing that.
    That pretty much excludes cooking anything rare or medium. Same as the concern with chopped meat.

    1. I have used one of those for years and it is a great tool, especially on large, or thick cuts of meat. If you are piercing the meat then whatever you use to marinate the meat with will get into it better. Before I had one whenever I made a roast I would put my seasoning on the roast and then poke it with a large fork to get the seasoning down into the meat. Now I use the tenderizer. I don't use it on steaks I know are going to be tender, or on the ones that I have a special marinade that takes 12 hours or more, but anything else I do. You aren't messing with the juices, you are justing breaking down connective tissue. After the meat cooks, or while it is cooking, that is when you don't want to be poking at it.

      1 Reply
      1. re: danhole

        great on tougher cuts of meat, like fresh venison or wild turkey. agree with danhole 100%.

      2. They are a "home version" of equipment that has been used by traditional butchers for decades. Ever bought a "minute steak" at a butcher shop? If you have, you've had meat tenderized by that process.

        They are specifically designed for thin cuts of meat that have the "grain" running lengthwise, such as a skirt steak. If a piece of meat is prepared for sale by cutting it across the grain such as many pot roasts (7 bone roast, etc.), the tenderizer isn't going to do anything to make the meat more tender. But those cuts of meat are traditionally braised, and that is a cooking process aimed at producing tender meat from a tough cut.

        Nearly all "steaks" are cross cuts of the beef tissue, therefore the mechanical tenderizers will do little good. Those are the cuts that are best "tenderized" by using chemical tenderizers, often made with papaya enzymes. Or you can toss a peeled seeded fresh papaya in the blender with some garlic and whatever other flavorings turn you on and use it as a meat marinade. If you bought a really good papaya, don't marinade overnight as you'll risk turning your meat to mush. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of "beef squishy."

        The mechanical tenderizers do a great job on what they are intended for, but they are not the "end all" of meat tenderizing. For that, you need the whole arsenal of chef's techniques!