There’s no denying that a juicy, tender steak is one of life’s greatest pleasures. But sometimes with cheaper cuts of meat, no matter how well you cook it, your steak can end up being a little tough. You may have heard about tenderizing your steak beforehand by using a fork to poke holes in it or pummeling it with your fists. But do these methods actually work?
Poking holes in your steak with a fork does help tenderize steak to some degree. The method breaks up the stringy protein fibers in steak, making it seem more tender and easier to eat. The same thing happens when you hit the meat with your fists, a rolling pin, or a meat mallet.
Using a fork or your fists to tenderize is very quick so if you’re short on time, these techniques work well. You don’t need any special equipment so works great particularly if you have nothing else to use.
I decided to try and discover more about these methods, how well they work, and some alternative mechanical techniques for tenderizing steak that you may find useful. Read on to see what I found out.
Does Poking Meat Make It Tender?
Poking holes in meat to make it tender is one of those traditional techniques that has doubters and supporters.
But there is some science behind why it works: to make a steak more tender, we need to break down the muscle fibers in the meat.
If you look at a steak, you will notice these muscle fibers running in lines through the meat, like tough pieces of rope. If we are to cut or break up these pieces of rope, it instantly becomes weaker and easier to manage.
Much like when people say to slice your steak “against the grain” – this means to cut the meat against the way the fibers are running. This forces you to chew the fibers in small pieces rather than one long stringy piece. This is how it can make a tough piece of meat feel much more tender in the mouth.
By jabbing meat all over many times with a fork or bashing it with something hard, you are going some way toward breaking up these fibrous strands. Of course, you may have to work quite hard and poke it many times to get the desired effect, but it certainly works.
There are several other methods that will give a better result such as dry-aging or using a meat tenderizer tool (from Amazon), but if you have nothing else to hand, piercing the meat with a fork is the next best thing.
Does Poking Holes Help With Marinating?
Another benefit of puncturing meat is that it’s one of the methods I use to help a marinade penetrate further so that the steak, chops, or chicken breast soaks up more of the wonderful flavors.
Marinades also contain acids that help tenderize meat by breaking down protein. Check out my post on 11 juices that tenderize meat to read more about this.
If you’re using your marinade to help with the tenderization process, the poking of holes in the meat will also give that a boost as well.
How Do You Tenderize A Steak With A Fork?
To tenderize steak with a fork, take a dinner fork and place the meat on a board resting on a solid surface. Poke holes in the steak as many times as you can on both sides. You need to prick it quite a few times so that you make lots of tiny holes.
Aim to pierce the meat enough so that you break up the muscle fibers. You can flip the steak over as many times as you like to pierce more holes.
If the meat is very tough or of poor quality then do more holes, but don’t overdo a steak that is already reasonably tender as it can lose its nice texture.
For better results, buy a needle tenderizer from Amazon to use instead. This device has many small, very sharp blades that do a similar thing as a fork, but much more efficiently.
All you need to do is gently stamp the tenderizer down all over both sides of the meat and the blades will make lots of tiny cuts deep into the flesh. This type of tool is highly reviewed and can tenderize steaks better than using a meat mallet.
Once I’m done with making holes I like to add a good amount of salt and pepper as seasoning (or a spicy rub if you prefer) and let it rest while the steak comes up to room temperature. The seasoning will get into all the little cuts or holes you’ve made and get to work.
Salt tenderizes meat in its own way and is another good tool to use. Read more about the timings in my article on marinating with salt added.
What Can I Use If I Don’t Have A Meat Tenderizer Tool?
If you don’t have a meat tenderizer tool, try one of these
- A fork
- Your fist or knuckles
- Rolling pin
- Cocktail muddler
- Potato masher
One popular method is to use your knuckles or the side of your hand to give the steak a good whack all over. This works in a comparable way to poking it with a fork as it also helps break down those internal fibers making the steak more tender.
If using your fist to punch your steak is not really you, there are other things you can use such as a rolling pin, cocktail muddler, or masher. Anything that’s hard and can apply some force. I often use my cocktail muddler as the end has a nice textured surface good for tenderizing. Just be careful not to overdo it as you don’t want to turn your steak into mush.
Does Hitting Meat Make It Tender?
Bashing meat to make it more tender is one of the oldest techniques in the book and is still used today as it is easy to do and works well.
You can use your knuckles as a quick go-to method or buy a meat mallet for the ultimate tenderizing experience.
Even butchers are quite keen on this method as it’s a quick way to get a tough cut of meat ready for sale. All they need to do is give it a hammer with a meat mallet and the meat will soon be more tender. You might have seen these thin steaks for sale.
While this method does work, there are some drawbacks. The main one being that the meat changes texture fairly drastically. A thick steak becomes thin and loses that satisfying feel in the mouth.
So, if you do decide to bash your meat, be careful and check that you don’t flattened it completely unless you want that result.
Another downside of this method is that it can make the meat quite ragged and uneven. So, if you’re looking for perfectly shaped steak as your finished product, this might not be the best method for you.
What Is The Fastest Way To Tenderize Meat?
Without a doubt, the fastest way to tenderize meat and get great results is to pound it with a meat mallet or similar object.
A hammer-style meat tenderizer usually has a flat side and a textured side. Use the flat face for flattening out veal cutlets or chicken, and the textured face for tougher cuts like skirt or flank steaks.
If you want to give it a go, all you need to do is place your meat on a board or other solid surface, cover it with heavy plastic wrap or baking parchment and give it a good whack all over with your mallet or whatever you’re using.
Don’t use too much force, just enough to start flattening out the meat. Continue for around a minute, making sure the meat is an even thickness.
There you have it, a guide to tenderizing meat by poking it with a humble fork or punching it with your fists. Certainly, if you don’t have the proper tools handy these are two methods where you can get results wherever you are.
It’s really quite surprising how well these techniques work and both offer a very quick solution if you’re short on time.
Give it a test; buy three cheapish steaks that look good enough quality and try forking one and pounding the other while leaving one untouched. Then cook them to the level you prefer and try each one to see which you like best. Get your partner or friend to try each one without knowing which is which and see what they think.
Have any questions? Ask me in the comment section below and I’ll get back to you.
Sometimes when making a liquid-based recipe like a soup or stew, you may notice that an unappetizing slick of oil gathers on the top as it's cooking. This often happens when you have meat or some...
Fancy a quick bowl of spaghetti but don't have any sauce to go with it? I know how you feel. I have often been left scratching my head wondering what I can use from my store cupboard to make my...