No matter what type of meat you're cooking, from the cheapest chicken thighs to the priciest cut of Kobe beef, all types of meat taste best when they're cooked to a state of melting tenderness. As some cuts of meat can be tougher than others, sometimes you might need to do a little work to tenderize your meat before you cook it. Tenderizing usually falls into one of two categories — either you beat it into submission with a mallet (also a fun way to blow off some excess aggression) or else you marinate it in something acidic (say wine or lemon juice) or enzymatic (papaya or pineapple juice). You can also make your meat more tender by cooking it low and slow or by cutting it against the grain (via SheKnows).
But if you're looking for an easy, one-ingredient method that will ensure even the toughest of meats will wind up fork-tender, there's one tenderizing trick that involves using something you might not have thought of: baking soda. According to Cook's Illustrated, baking soda's alkalinity raises the pH of the meat's surface, which in turn makes it more difficult for the proteins to bond. If we lost you at the science-y stuff, that's okay. Just trust us — the baking soda method really works to tenderize your meat, and it costs just pennies to try.
How to tenderize meat with baking soda
If you're trying to tenderize a large cut of meat, one you might be intending to pan-sear or grill, Tasting Table advises simply sprinkling it all over with baking soda. Rub the baking soda (be sure you've grabbed the soda instead of the baking powder as there is a big difference) into the meat, then refrigerate it for three to five hours. Rinse off the baking soda, then season and cook as desired.
Smaller cuts of meat, or meat that's been chunked or sliced, should be soaked in a baking soda/water solution. For each 12 ounces of meat, combine 1 teaspoon of baking soda with 1/2 cup of water, then let the meat soak for 15 minutes. (A longer soak is not necessary, but according to Cook's Illustrated, it won't really hurt the meat.) Drain the meat, and then rinse it to get all of the baking soda off. Again, season, cook, and enjoy.
The baking soda hack can also work to tenderize ground beef used in chili. Just mix 3/4 teaspoon of baking soda, 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt, and 2 tablespoons of water with each 2 pounds of beef, let it sit for 20 minutes, and then go ahead and use it in your chili, no rinsing needed. The longer cooking time, plus all of the other ingredients and spices, make it so you can't taste the baking soda at all.