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Jul 26, 2013 11:35 AM

Baking soda to keep meat moist and tender

Recently an ATK episode used a 15 minute soak in one tsp baking soda mixed into 4 oz water to ensure that the bite-sized slices of pork and chicken in stir-fried dishes would not seize up into chewy pucks. There's an alchemy in the interaction of the baking soda with meat enzymes that keeps the protein strands from forcing out moisture as they contract.

The meat must be thoroughly rinsed, then patted dry, after the soaking. I tried it for the first time yesterday, making a stir-fried dinner with slices of boneless center cut pork chop. This is very lean meat and has always been chewy in the past. But this time the texture was very nice, and not mushy the way pork treated with Adolph's tenderizer is. The baking soda did not affect the taste of the meat.

I'm keeping this trick in my everyday cooking holster. ATK did not mention whether or not it helps with larger pieces of meat, like a whole pork chop, or if it benefits beef. I will try it next time I make a pork chop or something using beef round steak (which is quite lean and tends to get tough), like Swiss steak.

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  1. Hm. Sounds like the sodium in the NaCo2 did a quick brine. I'm interested to try it!

    1 Reply
    1. re: guitargirlcbr

      My understand is that this has less to do with Na and more to do with HCO3.

    2. A thorough rinse is very important.

      I've been told that the baking soda does leach out nutrients though. Any mention of this in the ATK segment?

      More about baking soda to tenderize:

      3 Replies
      1. re: Melanie Wong

        They did not mention any effect on nutrients but the first thread in your search link includes a statement that baking soda reduces the thiamine content of the meat, but that this should not be a concern in a well-rounded modern diet.

        Some of those other posts conflate baking soda with velveting (which uses cornstarch, not baking soda) and with a baking powder rub to make crispy chicken skin. Many of the posts about baking soda as a tenderizer call for spreading the powder directly on the meat, or rubbing it in as a paste made with water, then complain that it leaves a bad aftertaste, which is not unexpected. Happily, the amounts in the ATK soak/rinse/dry directions avoid that.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Correct! It does reduce iron nutrient levels from beef. Under NY law it is actually illegal for restaurants to do this - a law which dates to an earlier era when our diets were more meager.

          1. re: scoopG

            <Correct! It does reduce iron nutrient levels from beef. >

            This is a big claim. I have not heard of this? Do you have any source/evidence for this? Calcium bicarbonate may be, but not sodium bicarbonate. Everything I know as tell me that either it has no effect or the effect is the other way around, but I could be wrong. Thanks.

            Edited. I did a search. I think I have find the evidences now. Thanks. It seems it is the antiacid effect.

        2. Baking soda is a fairly popular method to tenderize meat, especially for Chinese stir fry style meat. I know it can make the meat tender, but I don't think it can make it moist.

          <ATK did not mention whether or not it helps with larger pieces of meat, like a whole pork chop>

          Most do not believe so -- e.g. it won't help because baking soda cannot penetrate this deep. It will definitely benefit any meat from beef to pork or chicken pieces, but not huge pieces.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            Baking soda is not needed for chicken as only over cooking it will make it tough. A simple egg-white coat on chicken is enough to protect it in the wok.

            1. re: scoopG

              <Baking soda is not needed for chicken as only over cooking it will make it tough>

              I agree. I was just saying the science is the same. Baking soda will tenderize the meat. You may not want to do it to chicken because you don't need to, but the chemistry is the same.

          2. I tried this today with a beef chuck blade steak for pan-searing. I cut out the sinew before soaking, so there were two pieces, each a scant 3/4" square by 4" long. The steak was very tender and juicy. Full disclosure: it was medium rare. And I suppose I should have been more scientific, soaking only one half. I'll do that next time.

            1. hi greygirl, thx to google i was able to find this thread of yours, which i remembered. I thought you might enjoy this baking soda explanation:


              I found this info because I was googling 'maillard reaction' after reading a helpful post from maillard.