15 Meat Tenderizer Substitutes That You Can Use

If you love to cook, trying out new recipes and techniques is something you love. 

There are times when a certain recipe calls for a specific tool or ingredient that might not be easily available to you, or might cost a lot. In such situations, it is prudent to look for meat tenderizer substitutes to help you achieve the same results.

There are many different types of meat tenderizers available, but if you do not want to spend money on them and would instead use something else, plenty of things can act as substitutes. 

Before we get into the list of meat tenderizer alternatives, it’s important to note that some of these things work better in some cases than others. Depending on your personal tastes and the type of meat you are making, one might work better than another. 

Here are some substitutes for meat tenderizers: meat mallet, baking soda, heating, figs, tea, coffee, and more.

How Does a Meat Tenderizer Work?

Using enzymes and other ingredients, meat tenderizer breaks down the interior fibers of meat to make it easier to eat and digest. 

This is quite helpful in many circumstances whether you’re cooking a tough cut of steak or thinly sliced chicken that can easily overcook. 

The naturally derived enzymes in powdered meat tenderizers are sprinkled on the meat and start to break down the connective tissues even before you start cooking.

The same result comes from marinating the meat in any of the options listed later in this article. 

Does a Meat Tenderizer Make a Difference?

Absolutely. We all find ourselves with a tight budget at some point and a meat tenderizer can make the difference between dealing with a budget cut of meat and a really good meal.

Most people love when they put that first fork full of meat in their mouth and find that feeling of it melting on their tongue. That melt-in-your-mouth feeling that we all crave is due to the tenderizing process. 

What Can I Use Instead of Meat Tenderizer?

1. Meat Mallet

Probably the easiest way to tenderize meat is using a meat mallet.

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This metal or wood utensil is designed to break down the fibers and connective tissues in meat through force. 

Cut your chosen meat into smaller pieces and place them between a plastic sheet before hammering. 

2. Baking Soda

For a longer, slower process give baking soda a try as a meat tenderizer substitute. 

Whether you rub it in dry or make a paste, the baking soda must sit on your meat for several hours. 

It helps if you cut your meat across the grain to get full exposure to the baking soda and the slices should be thin.

Worried about that taste? You need to rinse off all of the baking soda before you start cooking. Or, try adding baking soda to your favorite marinade. 

3. Citrus Fruits

Lemon, Lime, and orange juices are also good meat tenderizer alternatives but don’t use them in a marinade for more than an hour or two. 

Letting your meat sit in these juices too long will cause the acidity in these fruits to make your meat tough.

4. Heating

Whether you’re grilling over dry heat or braising over wet heat, heating also breaks down those connective tissues. 

Heating slowly either in a broth or over a bed of vegetables and herbs will make meat what’s called fork tender. 

Tenderized beef should be cooked rapidly with high heat. 

5. Figs

With their super helpful enzyme ficin, figs serve as an excellent meat tenderizer alternative. 

With a unique flavor, these fruits can add a high-end flavor profile while softening those fibers.

Slice your figs and lay them on top of your chosen meat.

6. Tea

The natural tannins in black tea are a tenderizer. 

Soak your meat, beef especially, in 1-2 cups of strong, black tea for up to 24 hours. 

The longer you let your meat sit in the tea, the more tender it becomes. 

7. Coffee

Another natural tenderizer, coffee adds flavor while it breaks down those fibers.

Strange golden smoke taking away from coffee seeds

You’ll want to brew a strong pot of coffee and allow it to cool before using it as a meat tenderizer alternative. Soak your meat for up to 24 hours for that perfect texture. 

8. Cola

The reason carbonated beverages, especially cola get a bad rap is because of the acid content. 

That acid content makes cola an excellent substitute for meat tenderizers. 

You’ll want to use the sugared cola products, not diet, for your tenderizing marinade. 

Cola needs a minimum of 30 minutes to work its magic, but can be left for up to 24 hours. The subtle caramel flavors of the soda will come out in your meat. 

9. Ginger

Ginger is a common additive in meat marinades due to its distinctive spicy flavor. Ginger also contains proteolytic enzymes that break down the protein fibers in meat. 

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Add slices of ginger or ginger pulp to the surface of your meat and leave it there for a minimum of 2 hours.

What can be better than a meat tenderizer substitute that also adds an amazing flavor at the same time?

10. Vinegar

Whether it’s balsamic, apple cider, or red wine, vinegar is an excellent addition to a marinade for tenderizing purposes. 

The acetic acid in vinegar breaks down those pesky fibers while adding flavor. 

The best way to incorporate vinegar? Add a tablespoon to your cooking liquids or marinade your meat for a short time before you cook.

Beware of using metal pans when using acidic tenderizers as they may react poorly. 

11. Beer or Wine

Beer contains alpha acids and tanning much like wine and both work on breaking down those connective tissues and fibers for a soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture to your meat. 

Beer and wine are one of those meat tenderizer substitutes that also add amazing flavor in tandem with their tenderizing qualities.

12. Papaya Pulp

If you look at the ingredients of most powdered meat tenderizers you’d likely see ‘papain’ in the list.

Papain is derived from the papaya fruit and you can use it too. 

Scoop out the de-seeded flesh of papaya, mash it and coat the surface of your meat. You’d need about 2 teaspoons of pulp for every pound of meat. 

Papaya juice can be used too.

Piercing the meat first with a fork or knife will help the papain reach the center of the meat giving an even distribution to the tenderization process. 

Don’t leave this fruity marinade on too long though. If you don’t cook your meat within a couple of hours, you might end up with a protein mush or slime. 

13. Pineapple Juice

Another enzyme you’ll commonly find in commercial tenderizers is bromelain. 

This particular enzyme is derived from pineapples, so why not go straight to the source?

After removing the rind, put the flesh of a pineapple in a blender and blend it into a pulp.

Apply this pulp over the surface of your meat. Depending on the meat, you can also pour pineapple juice over it and marinate it for an hour or two in the refrigerator. 

Don’t try and cut corners using canned or cooked pineapple though. The heating process kills the enzymes so nothing will happen.

14. Yellow Kiwi

Kiwi fruit has the enzyme actinidin. 

If you don’t have pineapple pulp or don’t like the flavor, yellow kiwi pulp will break down those connective tissues without the problem of mush or slime from over-marinating. 

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15. Dairy-based Marinades

These marinades can be considered the best alternative to commercial meat tenderizers. 

Dairy-based marinades are more tenderizing than any fruit juices or their acidic alternatives.

In Indian cuisine, many marinades are based on yogurt.

Buttermilk is a popular marinade for chicken.

In Italian cuisine, many types of meat are milk-braised and come out more tender than those cooked in wine or with tomatoes. 

What is the Best Way to Tenderize Meat?

The best way to tenderize your meat really depends on the meat in question.

If you’re looking for something fast and easy, a meat mallet would be the answer.

The pounding of the meat breaks down the tough fibers and flattens out your meat. The thinner meat cooks faster meaning it will stay juicier rather than drying out. 

Juicy meat is tender compared to dry meat, so not only are the connective tissues broken down, it will cook up to a more tender result as well. 

Related Questions

How can I tenderize steak quickly?

A meat mallet and a little bit of salt. About an hour before you intend to cook, salt your steak and apply a meat mallet. Salt doesn’t just add flavor but also begins the process of breaking down those tough protein fibers.

Is meat tenderizer safe to eat?

Many commercially produced meat tenderizers contain additives like preservatives, salt, and MSG (monosodium glutamate). 

While MSG has been declared safe by the FDA, excessive consumption has been linked to side effects like headaches, swelling, tingling or burning sensations in the face and neck, and more. 

Excess salt in your diet can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and kidney diseases via high blood pressure. 

Does pounding meat make it tender?

Pounding is a quick and easy way to tenderize meat. As listed above, a meat tenderizer is a handy kitchen tool designed specifically for this process. 


Meat tenderizers are great when you need to break down the internal connective tissues of meat, but they’re not the only options available.

Because there are so many great meat tenderizer substitutes out there, you can make almost any dish that calls for meat tenderizer taste even better. 

And if you’re looking for the best meat tenderizer substitutes for your cooking, you can’t go wrong with these options. From beverages and methods to fruits and vegetables, there are plenty of options. 

Try them out and enjoy making your favorite recipes even tastier, while keeping your wallet in check too!