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How to Tenderize Tough Cuts of Meat | Velveting Meat

Is there anything worse than biting into a piece of beef, just to find yourself chewing … and chewing … and chewing? 

I’m picky about my beef, and almost always buy grass-fed cuts through ButcherBox or Wild Pastures (when I’m unable to find them locally of course). But I’m also trying to stay frugal, and I often end up with some of those tough cuts of meat.

How to Save Money on Meat

Who has the money to buy beef tenderloin and filet mignon? Not me. 

Even chicken can get a little hard to chew sometimes (although often that’s a result of overcooking, not the cut itself). 

A new email subscriber recently brought to my attention the process of “velveting” meat to save money on meat and tenderize cheaper cuts of meat, and I was totally intrigued!

RELATED: How to stretch your meat to save money!

cooked steak

How to Tenderize Meat with Baking Soda

Velveting meat is simply marinating the meat in a baking soda solution for about 30 minutes.

You can mix the baking soda in with other marinade ingredients for flavor, or use it by itself simply to tenderize tough cuts of meat. 

The baking soda raises the pH level of the outside of the meat, discouraging the proteins from bonding together and thus making the tough meat tender and easier to chew!

By the way, this is the same way the McCormick’s bottle of meat tenderizer works, only it uses bromelain. Bromelain is an enzyme also found in pineapple juice which breaks down the muscle fibers in the meat.

Using fruit juices will impart a fruity flavor to your meat, and I don’t know about you, but I’m more likely to have baking soda on hand in my pantry!

By using baking soda, we can not only flavor the meat how we want but also avoid the yeast extract and corn maltodextrin [sugar!] in the bottled stuff.

What Tough Cuts of Meat Should I Velvet?

When using this method, it’s going to make the most difference on the tough, budget-friendly cuts of beef!

Examples are:

  • Hanger steak
  • Flank steak
  • Round bottom
  • London broil
  • Less-expensive sirloin cuts
  • Porterhouse (T-bone) 
  • Blade steak
  • Chuck roast & round roast (need to cut into smaller pieces like stew meat)
  • Stew meat
raw steak

Why Is My Stir-Fried Meat So Tough?

It is possible to velvet chicken, turkey, pork, and even fish; many Asian dishes are done this way.

Usually, they are marinated in cornstarch, egg white, and rice wine, and then blanched in oil before being used in a stir-fry. The cornstarch works the same way as the baking soda in raising the pH levels of the meat. This may be why we don’t spend an arm and a leg for Chinese take-out, and yet the meat is cooked very quickly over high heat – but isn’t chewy!

While the cornstarch method works well for meats you want to sauce (like many take-out Chinese dishes), my subscriber warned me it isn’t good for meat you want a crust on, like a good steak! For getting that beautiful brown crust on tougher cuts of steak, the baking soda method is the way to go

How to Velvet a Tough Cut of Meat

For 1 ½ to 2 pounds of beef, do the following:

  1. Poke the meat all over with a fork, so the marinade will sink into the beef, for larger cuts OR slice the meat against the grain into thin slices (for stir-fries, etc). 
  2. Sprinkle with about 1 teaspoon of baking soda per pound of meat and toss to coat.
  3. Cover, refrigerate, and let sit for 30-40 minutes. 
  4. Rinse the baking soda off the meat and pat dry.
  5. Proceed with the recipe you want to make – even if it involves other marinades.
stir fry

If you want to velvet chicken, pork, or seafood, here is the process to follow!

  1. Cut the protein into chunks or strips.
  2. Combine 1 egg white, 1 Tablespoon rice wine vinegar, 1 Tablespoon cornstarch, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Whisk together, then coat the meat in the slurry. 
  3. Cover and refrigerate for 30-40 minutes.
  4. Bring a pot of water to a boil, then add 1 teaspoon of oil. Reduce heat to medium.
  5. Add meat, using a spoon to break it apart if needed. Boil for about 45 seconds. The outside of the pieces should look opaque, but you don’t want the insides to cook. 
  6. Drain using a colander and let dry or pat dry with towels.
  7. Proceed with your stir-fry or other recipe!

I don’t usually use cornstarch, but a simple search says arrowroot powder or tapioca flour make fine alternatives, and the science magic happening actually comes from the egg white in velveting with cornstarch. Just like baking soda, egg whites are alkaline and raise the pH level of the meat. 

You learn something new every day!

Recipes for More Tender Meat

I’d love to hear if you’ve ever used this method to tenderize tough cuts of meat! 

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

2 thoughts on “How to Tenderize Tough Cuts of Meat | Velveting Meat”

  1. Interesting! I’ve just always used the vinegar method of brining, as that starts to break down the meat before cooking and helps it be more tender. I’m curious to try baking soda for a tough roast! The rinsing would seem important, lest it end up having a bitter flavor to it, right? We use baking soda with beans or other starches a lot, but it’s always rinsed heavily.

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