Home » 6 Quick & Easy Ways to Tenderise Meat Before Cooking in Pellet Smoker

6 Quick & Easy Ways to Tenderise Meat Before Cooking in Pellet Smoker

It pays to know the different ways to tenderise meat before it goes inside the pellet smoker, especially when planning a big party at home. I will never forget that one barbecue party I hosted where the meat was not as tender as expected. While my guests were polite enough not to complain, it was still an embarrassing moment that I didn’t want to experience again. 

There are several ways to tenderise meat before it goes into the pellet smoker. Mechanical tenderisation, using naturally occurring enzymes, marinating, and the process of cooking are some of the ways to make chewy meat tender and juicy. 

Finding the right cut can also help eliminate the need to tenderise meat

Why Some Pieces Of Meat Are Tough?

There are several reasons why meat becomes tough. The first reason is that not all types of meat are naturally tender. Depending on the cut, some parts are naturally chewier than others. For instance, cuts such as flank and chuck are tougher because these parts come from the shoulders and legs.

The more an animal uses the muscle, the tougher it becomes. The shoulders and legs are used to support the weight of the animals and for walking. This means cuts from those body parts tend to be tougher.

Muscles also have different structures. They are made of fibres that are grouped in bundles that are covered with collagen. Bundles with more fibres make the meat coarser which makes them tougher to eat. In general, bundles that have thicker and longer muscle fibres are chewier. This is why it is important to know which cuts are tough and which are tender. Below is a guide to help you out.

Tender CutsTough Cuts
T-bone SteakShort Ribs
Rib-eye steakShoulder Roast
Strip LoinBrisket
Strip SteakChuck roast
Standing Rib RoastEye of Round
Porterhouse SteakTop Round
Tri-tipBottom Round
Sirloin SteakRump Roast

Aside from the list above, some cuts are right between tough and tender. Examples of these cuts are top blade steak, chuck steak, flank steak, and skirt steak. Next time you buy your meat, you’ll have an idea of which cuts need tenderising.

Another reason why meat becomes tough is when it is overcooked or improperly cooked. Even a naturally tender cut can be tough when overcooked. The reason for this is that heat firms up the proteins, making the meat tough.

Aside from that, when meat is overcooked, it becomes dry because moisture is squeezed out of the meat. Loss of moisture can cause the meat to be tough. However, even a perfectly cooked meat on a pellet smoker can lose its moisture if you don’t let it sit for a few minutes before slicing. 

6 Ways To Tenderise Tough Meat

No matter how tough your meat is, there’s always a way to tenderise it. So, here are some helpful tips you can try before you cook it on your pellet smoker.

1. Use A Meat Mallet

Using a meat mallet is one of the easiest ways to tenderise meat. This can come in handy if you have a chuck steak. A meat mallet can break down tough muscle fibres. To use this method, simply place your meat on a clean cutting board and pound the meat.

Now, you don’t have to smash the meat with all your might. Light pounding will do. You can start in the middle part of the meat until you reach the edges. Flip the meat and do the same on the other side. If you don’t have a meat mallet, you can use a knife or fork to prick little holes in the meat.

2. Baking Soda

It is no secret that baking soda has many uses aside from baking. Most people use it also to remove stains and clean surfaces. But apart from that, you can also use it to make meat more tender.

The explanation behind this is that baking soda helps alkalize the meat, which makes it difficult for proteins to bind together. This technique can be used for both large pieces of meat and smaller cuts. 

For smaller cuts, mix baking soda with water to dissolve it. The ratio is for every half cup of water, mix in 1 teaspoon of baking soda. Get your meat and submerge it in the mixture for 15 minutes. Rinse the meat and cook. For bigger chunks of meat, rub the baking soda on the meat’s surface. Put it inside the fridge and let it rest for at least 3-5 hours. Rinse and cook. 

3. Salt

Another kitchen staple that can help tenderise meat is salt. Applying salt to the meat before cooking will draw out the water from the meat. The water will then dissolve the salt and some of it will be reabsorbed by the meat.

Once the salt has been absorbed inside the meat, it will break down the protein cells. When using salt to tenderise meat, rub each side of the meat with at least 1 teaspoon of salt. It’s best to use coarse sea salt or kosher salt. 

4. Cut Against The Grain

One way to chew meat effortlessly is by cutting it against the grain. If you take a closer look at the meat you will notice long muscle fibres. If you cut against the grain, it will break up the muscle fibres, thus making your meat more tender. 

5. Cook It Slow

While some meats can be cooked over high heat in a few minutes, others may test your patience such as chuck roast and pork shoulder. Budget cuts require slow cooking at low temperatures.

Cooking meat low and slow will soften tough meat by breaking down the collagen and separating the fibres. When using budget cuts, be sure to allot more cooking time. It can normally take 4 hours or longer when braising in a slow cooker. 

6. Marinate The Meat

Marinating the meat can help break up tough proteins. Adding some acidic ingredients can do wonders in tenderising the meat. For your marinade, be sure to add some lemon juice, buttermilk, or vinegar.

It will not only tenderise your meat; it can also add a tangy flavour to it. However, do not marinate meat for more than two hours or your meat can become mushy. 

Natural Meat Tenderisers You Can Find At Home

Let’s face it, not all of us can always afford expensive cuts, so sometimes we have to settle for more affordable cuts which most of the time are tougher. Luckily, there are natural meat tenderisers that are readily available in your kitchen.


Coffee is known to be acidic and soaking your meat in it can help break down the proteins. To use coffee as a meat tenderiser, brew a strong pot of your favourite coffee. Let it cool and soak the meat for at least 24 hours. 


Make at least 2 cups of strong tea (black tea works better). Wait for it to cool down and soak the meat for 24 hours or more. The longer you leave it soaked in the tea, the more tender the meat will be. 

Pineapple and Kiwis

Both of these fruits contain enzymes called papain which is a common ingredient in commercial tenderising condiments. Similar to how acid and salt work, the enzymes break up the meat’s muscle fibres. You can either mash or slice the fruits and apply them to the meat. Let it sit for a few hours. Fruits work better when used on thin beef.

Wine or Beer

Both of these drinks contain tannins and acids which we know by now are great tenderisers. Before cooking your meat, soak it in wine or beer for about 1 hour. These drinks will not only make your meat tender but can also add a distinct flavour to your food. Plus, it gives you a good excuse to drink while waiting for your meat to get tender. 


Another enzyme that breaks meat protein naturally is proteolytic, which ginger contains. Adding slices or pulps of ginger on the meat’s surface for not less than two hours can help meat become more tender. Using ginger is perfect if you want to add a unique spicy kick to your meat. 


For a more tender and spiced caramel flavour, use cola to tenderise your meat. The acid from the cola is an excellent tenderiser. Just soak the meat in Coke for at least 30 minutes or more. However, don’t marinate it in cola for more than 24 hours or you’ll be disappointed with the result. Also, regular coke works the best, don’t use diet coke.

Related Questions

How do chefs tenderise meat?

Chefs have different techniques when it comes to tenderising meat. However, one technique that many chefs practice is the use of baking soda. Baking soda makes it hard for proteins to bond by alkalizing the surface of the meat. When proteins don’t bond, it helps make the meat more tender when cooked.

Does vinegar tenderise meat?

Vinegar does help tenderise meat. Since vinegar has a high acidity level, it can weaken the protein and collagen in the meat. As proteins break down, they can trap more liquid in the meat. With enough moisture or juice, the meat becomes more tender and juicier.

David Frangos
Latest posts by David Frangos (see all)