For the longest time, I thought the meat tenderizer was an unnecessary kitchen tool. Even after pounding out dozens of chicken breasts in culinary school for schnitzel day, I thought my kitchen hack—using a heavy bottomed pot–was the superior method.
Still, I didn’t really have any scientific evidence to back this up. While I’ve used both methods in the professional kitchen, I had never compared the results side-by-side.
It was time to see which method worked best. I choose a classic model–the highly rated KitchenAid Meat Tenderizer ($15.00 on Amazon)–and put it to the test. After pounding out dozens of chicken breasts, we definitely had a winner in the schnitzel competition. The results might certainly surprised me!
Before we go any further, let’s clear up what exactly we mean by meat tenderizing. We’re not talking about the powders that use papaya and pineapple enzymes to break down meat proteins. And we didn’t mess with those horror-movie looking needle contraptions that punch the meat full of holes to shorten marinade time.
We tested the classic meat mallet that is used to break down tough muscle fibers. These mallets also work wonders in flattening meat, allowing it to cook more evenly. You’ll notice there are two sides – one side with spikes to work out tough cuts of meat like eye of round or chuck steak. The other side is the one we were most interested in for this test. The flat side is perfect for hammering out the meat into a think, uniform cutlets.
To use a meat tenderizer, it’s best to cover the meat with plastic wrap to avoid making a huge mess. Then, you work the meat by pounding in gentle, even strokes. It works best if you move from the center out and avoid hammering too hard—that's a great way to get holes in your meat! Flip the meat halfway through and continue pounding until the meat is the desired shape and thickness.
Without a meat mallet, I’ve always used a heavy bottomed pot to flatten out chicken breasts. It’s especially helpful to cover the chicken breast with plastic wrap when using this method. I find that my aim is never very precise, which can lead to a messy kitchen counter without the wrap.
Once your chicken is wrapped, gently pound it using the same principle as the mallet–gentle, center-out strokes. After a few minutes, flip the chicken over and continue pounding on the other side. Keep going until the chicken reaches the desired thickness.
Both methods absolutely worked to flatten out the chicken, but the meat tenderizer was able to create a thinner chicken breast in almost half the time. The meat tenderizer made quick work of the chicken, flattening it out in only 5 minutes. By comparison, after 9 minutes of arm-tiring pounding with the pot, my chicken was flatter but not as thin as I would like it.
It was significantly easier to pinpoint the areas that needed the most pounding using the mallet, which certainly helped reduce the pounding time. When I cooked up both chicken breasts, the thinner one (made by the meat tenderizer) cooked more quickly and evenly than the pot-pounded chicken.
Considering that a meat tenderizer is about $15, this gadget is totally worth buying. It was quicker and easier to use than my kitchen hack and it was also easier on my muscles. The mallet had a comfortable handle and was ergonomically designed to balance the weight between the handle and the hammer's head.
If you don’t have space in the gadget drawer for a meat tenderizer, go ahead and use the kitchen hack method - just get ready to bulk up your muscles in the process!