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The meat tenderizer is the hero of the budget cook. These simple tools, and a little elbow grease, take a tough cut of chuck or chicken and transform it into a softer-to-chew, flavorful protein by physically breaking down dense tissue and fibers.
“Meat tenderizers are great to use for steaks that are lean, have tough muscle fibers, and come from frequently utilized muscles of the cow, such as flank, skirt, and tri-tip, as well as lean game meats,” says David Rose, the executive chef for Omaha Steaks. “Tenderizing the meat prior to seasoning and marinating allows the steaks to absorb more of the flavor."
There are a couple considerations to make when shopping for a meat tenderizer that will properly turn tough cuts into ready-to-cook meats that taste as tender as more expensive varieties. Look for a model that sits comfortably in your grip and is not too heavy to avoid hand fatigue. Also, keep in mind the types of tasks you will perform. If you prefer creating cuts in the meat to help marinades and seasonings get in deep, go for the bladed or needled models. If you are a fan of schnitzel and piccata preparations, be sure to get one of the mallet-style tenderizers. If you want something easy, you should also consider a dishwasher-safe version.
From models with retractable blades and safety locks to traditional double-faced mallets, these are the best meat tenderizers.
Best Overall: Oxo Good Grips Bladed Meat Tenderizer
Safety lock for blades
Not easy to clean all parts
Take your steak from tough and chewy to tender and juicy with the help of a tenderizer, such as this bladed version from Oxo. It has 50 sharp blades that slice through the meat's tough fibers to create channels for marinades to penetrate easily. The rounded top fits comfortably in the palm, so it’s easy to tackle enough steaks for a whole dinner party. A clear base makes it easy to control the placement of the blades for even tenderizing. When it’s time to store the tenderizer, a toggle lock keeps the blades covered, and because the lock is recessed, it won’t unlock accidentally. It’s dishwasher safe and comes apart for more thorough cleaning.
Dimensions: 2 x 3 x 4.5 inches | Weight: 4 ounces | Dishwasher Safe: Yes
Best Budget: Norpro Professional Meat Tenderizer
Easy to operate
Sharp prongs for adding flavor
Creates holes somewhat large in meat
Get the job done with this budget tenderizer made from plastic and no moving parts. Rather than thin blades, it has spikes that leave larger holes to hold marinades and spices. Since the spikes aren’t as hard or sharp as metal blades, this tenderizer can be left loose in the kitchen gadget drawer without worrying about accidental cuts. The top handle is comfortable to hold when pressing the tenderizer into the meat, and it’s safe enough for kids to use. When it’s not being used for steaks, this tenderizer can be used to poke holes in potatoes or dock dough before baking. It should be washed by hand.
Dimensions: 7.5 x 2 x 2 inches | Weight: 4 ounces | Dishwasher Safe: No
Best Hammer: Oxo Meat Tenderizer
Two surfaces for pounding and tenderizing
Angled head offers precision
May rust/corrode over time
Mallet-style meat tenderizers are quite popular and easy to use. This one can be wielded one-handed or with one hand over the other for a bit more power or control. There's a smooth side for flattening meat without creating any holes and a side with pyramid-shaped teeth for tenderizing. The head is angled so it hits the meat flatly while using a normal hammering motion. Like other Oxo products, this tenderizer has a comfortable, soft-touch handle.
Dimensions: 1.85 x 2.4 x 9.75 inches | Weight: 0.5 pounds | Dishwasher Safe: No
“My favorite type of meat tenderizer is the old-fashioned mallet style with a textured face. The textured face being repeatedly pounded into tougher pork chops, flank steaks, top or bottom round steaks, skirt steaks, and even tough chicken breasts can help break down the tough fibers within the meat.” — Jessica Randhawa, Head Chef and Owner of The Forked Spoon.
Best With Blades: Jaccard Meat Maximizer Tenderizer
Double-sided blades for extra tenderizing
Easy to operate
Meat comes out very flavorful
One of the original bladed meat tenderizers for home use, this updated model has 45 blades that plunge all the way through a steak, chop, or boneless chicken breast for more tender, easy-to-marinate meat. Since it has so many blades, this tool makes short easy work of tenderizing meat. Just press down to send the blades out, and they retract automatically as the tenderizer is lifted away from the meat. While this doesn’t flatten meat like a mallet-style tenderizer, the meat can get a little thinner as the meat relaxes and spreads out. This can be washed in the top rack of the dishwasher, and for a more thorough cleaning, the blade assembly can be removed to be cleaned separately.
Dimensions: 4.5 x 6 x 2 inches | Weight: 10.6 ounces | Dishwasher Safe: Yes, top rack only
Best Pounder: Norpro Grip-EZ Reversible Tenderizer/Pounder
Ample surface area
Not easy to clean
Similar to a hammer-style tenderizer, but perhaps easier on the wrists, this tool has a dual-sided round base that screws onto the handle. The flat side of the base pounds and flattens meat, and the other side has spikes to tenderize. To use, simply hold it by the Santoprene handle and pound straight down, a motion that's a bit more precise than swinging a hammer. The base is wider than most mallet-style tenderizers, so less pounding is needed before breading pork for your favorite schnitzel recipe. The Norpro should be hand washed.
Dimensions: 5.75 x 3.25 x 3.25 inches | Weight: 1.5 pounds | Dishwasher Safe: No
Best Splurge: Rösle Meat Tenderizer
Easy to clean
Large surface area
Hard to achieve precision
Wrist may fatigue with prolonged use
This stainless steel tenderizer works similarly to a meat mallet, but its base is wide and flat, like a spatula. This allows the tool to hit a wider portion of the meat with each blow for even results—great when working with uneven cuts, like chicken breasts. The heavy weight provides extra power, so fewer hits are needed to flatten the meat for breading or quick pan-frying. There's a loop at the end of the handle for hanging, but it also fits easily into a drawer alongside spatulas. The joint between the base and handle is seamless, so food won’t get stuck, and it’s dishwasher safe.
Dimensions: 12.3 x 3.5 x 3.5 inches | Weight: 1.6 pounds | Dishwasher Safe: Yes
Best Cuber: Weston Manual Meat Cuber-Tenderizer
Easy to operate
Can be mounted to the counter
Combs included for clearing jams
Perfect for making steaks at home, this manual cuber is easy to operate and handy for cube steaks, Swiss steaks, chicken-fried steaks, and more. There will be no need to look for certain steaks at the grocer or ask the butcher to run one through his machine—you can do it at home with any meat you have, whether steak, pork, chicken, or game meat. It works like a pasta roller: Just feed the meat in at the top, crank the handle, and the meat meets 31 stainless steel blades that pierce and tenderize it. This cuber can handle meats up to 5 inches wide and 1.25 inches thick, and it disassembles easily for cleanup when the work is done.
Dimensions: 6.75 x 13.5 x 13.75 inches | Weight: 9.86 pounds | Dishwasher Safe: No
The Oxo Good Grips Bladed Meat Tenderizer (view at Amazon) is our top choice because of its razor-sharp cuts that maximize tenderizing and safety features, such as retractable blades that lock in place and a non-slip grip to keep it stable while in use. If you are looking for a meat tenderizer that will both pound meat thin and create divots for marinade, go for the Oxo Mallet Meat Tenderizer (view at Williams Sonoma)—the grip is comfortable, the construction is lightweight, but durable, and the reversible, angled head offers precision when pounding or tenderizing.
What to Look for in Meat Tenderizers
Even within this category, there are a few considerations. One is safety, especially with models that have blades. Be sure to look for a model that is non-slip if you choose a bladed version to ensure there is no slippage while in use. Sometimes hands can be wet or have food residue on them, and you want to be very careful with sharp blades.
Another aspect of design is the type of tenderizer. Mallets often have two sides so you can pound meat cuts thin and then switch to the gridded side to create pockets for marinade. Look for one that fits comfortably in your hand, provides enough heft to get the job done, but is also lightweight enough to not cause hand fatigue on bigger tasks.
For bladed or needled models, retractable blades are an important safety feature, and keep in mind that the more blades it has, the quicker tenderizing happens. This is also job-specific: If you have a smaller cut of meat, too many blades will tear it apart. Another important consideration with bladed and needled models is to be sure the blades are durable and sharp. Dull blades and needles, like knives, can tear the meat. Other great safety features to look for are blade locks and guards, which help keep injuries at bay.
Ease of Cleaning
A meat tenderizer you can throw in the dishwasher is probably the easiest to maintain. If convenience is important, be sure to look for the dishwasher-safe designation on the packaging. On the contrary, hand washing is not that burdensome, and sometimes, especially with blade or needle models, you can get a more thorough cleaning of all those nooks and crannies if you do it manually.
With all kitchen tools, including meat tenderizers, look for something that fits comfortably in your grip and offers the amount of control you need for your tasks. Beyond that, there are two types of handles: the ones built into the body of blade or needle styles that you depress to tenderize and the ones that extend out from the head of the tenderizers that you grasp to swing manually against the cut of meat, much like the action of a hammer. At this point, it becomes about the purpose of the tool. If you intend to pound a chicken cutlet thin for piccata, a mallet-style tenderizer is the right choice. If you have a tough cut of pork shoulder, a bladed or needled version will offer enough space for marinades to sink in.
What types of meat can you tenderize?
According to Devan Cameron, the chef and owner of Braised & Deglazed, “Meat tenderizers work best with tough, thin cuts of meat. Buy large, tougher cuts of meat, and then slice them into thinner pieces that can then be tenderized for maximum effectiveness. A few examples of meat cuts that will become tender with a tenderizer are pork shoulder, beef brisket, and chicken breast (as in schnitzel)."
When should you use a meat tenderizer?
When you have cuts of meat with tough muscle tissue, a tenderizer breaks down that tissue yielding a softer, easier to chew protein. Chef Cameron says to “only use a meat tenderizer on tough cuts of meat, like shoulder, brisket, or chuck, for best results.”
What is meat tenderizer seasoning?
If you do not have or want to buy a meat tenderizing tool, this seasoning blend can be used in its place. It is a seasoning salt containing natural enzymes that help to break down tough meat fibers without physical force. You can get a similar effect using a marinade of acidic liquids, like lemon juice, papaya juice, or pineapple juice.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Donna Currie, is a product tester and writer for The Spruce Eats. The cookbook author specializes in kitchen tools and gadgets for our site.
Carrie Honaker is a food writer who loves turning a budget cut of meat into something extravagantly soft. As a restaurateur and avid home cook, she knows the importance of tenderizing meat for maximum seasoning penetration. She personally owns the Oxo Mallet model from this list and uses it regularly to make chicken piccata at home. Carrie's work has appeared in many publications, including Bon Appetit, Allrecipes, and Wine Enthusiast.