Biting into a piece of delicious, savory beef should be an event that makes your taste buds rejoice. The feeling of a steak or piece of lamb so soft that it melts in your mouth with barely any chewing is so heavenly. But this melt-in-your-mouth sensation is difficult to replicate for the home cooks if they don’t know about tenderizing meat. Many ways to tenderize meat exist, but most involve buying extra ingredients that the average home cook might not use again for a while. But what if there is a beer in the back of your fridge? Can beer tenderize meat?
Yes, under the right conditions, beer can tenderize all types of meat and make it soft enough for a one-year-old baby to eat. But be careful when using beer as a meat tenderizer, as the beer’s flavor will influence the taste of the meat. Depending on the beer and the meat, a piece of meat may not be affected by flavor at all, may develop a rich, complex flavor, or might ruin it altogether. But using stronger alcohol can be disastrous, so stick with beer when making marinades.
Does Beer Tenderize Meat?
Yes, beer can tenderize meat, including lamb, chicken, pork, beef, goat, fish, duck, goose, lobster, clams, crab, and turkey. Beer has been a popular marinade ingredient for thousands of years. Every culture that developed beer has had at least one beer-based marinade in its collection of recipes. Long before water purification ever existed, very light 2%-4% beer was consumed instead of plain water. Choosing to drink beer instead of water was based on survival and helped avoid spreading sickness from dirty water. The fermentation process killed the bacteria lurking in the water.
It is possible to use beer to tenderize vegan meat, but it is not necessary at all. If a vegan recipe calls for a beer-marinade, the beer is needed for the complex flavors it will add to the dish. When using beer to tenderize vegan meat, don’t leave the faux meat in the marinade as long as you would leave a piece of chicken or beef. The vegan meat might break down too much and become mushy.
Can all Alcohol Tenderize Meat?
Beer should be considered in a class all on its own. The alcohol in a beer is different from alcohol in malt liquor, wine, and hard liquor, and it will affect the meat differently.
How Does Beer Tenderize Meat?
When meat is placed in a marinade with a beer as an ingredient, here’s what happens:
Depending on the beer used in the marinade, alpha acids, tannins, or fruit-based enzymes containing bromelain breaks down the protein strands and muscle fibers in the meat.
The length of time a piece of meat needs to sit in a marinade depends on its toughness. The collagen in the fat begins to turn into a gelatin-like state, but fat truly begins to break down when exposed to heat.
Now, if you leave the meat in a beer marinade for too long, the surface will turn grey. But the color may not affect the taste, especially if you use a dark beer.
Tannins are found in dark beers and red wine. Since tannins break down fat molecules and release trapped flavor and water, it is no wonder why red wine and cheese go well together.
I’ve Heard that Alcohol “Cooks” Meat. Is that True?
In a sense, yes, it is true. Alcohol does trigger some processes that also happen during the cooking process. And with the wrong alcohol, your meat could be completely ruined and as tough as a leather shoe.
But what does it mean when we say that alcohol “cooks” meat? We do not mean that alcohol will cook meat all the way through so it is ready to eat. It will still be completely raw.
We’re also not talking about adding wine to beef bourguignon while it is cooking on the stove. When meat is added to a marinade with a high alcohol content of 10% or higher, the strength of the alcohol will cause the surface of the meat to first soften and break down, then toughen as the protein strands inside the meat shrink.
So this is what meat guides mean when they inform their readers that a marinade with high alcohol will “cook” meat. On the stove or in the oven, the process of roasting or cooking, the rising heat causes the proteins to break down, and the collagen releases the water trapped inside the muscle.
Excessive water loss and protein toughening that occur with high alcohol marinades are the main reasons why there are so many beer-based marinades but not as many wine or hard liquor-based marinades.
When wine or liquor is added to a recipe, the dish is usually in the cooking process when the wine is added. The heat will cook off most of the alcohol.
Which Beers Can Be Paired with Which Meats?
Now, this is the question we have been eager to answer! Pairing the right beer with the right meat can transform the dish into something truly tantalizing.
If you want as little beer taste as possible in the flavor of your meat, then use a lager style beer or a common beer popular in America, like Budweiser or a Corona. People often joke that these beers taste close to water, so their flavor is nowhere near as strong as ale or a Guinness.
- Pork – wheat lager
- Beef – Stout/Guinness or Dark Lager
- Chicken/turkey – light beer
- Seafood – pale lager
- Lamb – Stout
- Duck and goose – Ale
Now, this is just a simple list to make it easy for new cooks to pick beers to add to their meat marinades. But the truth is that the flavor of the beer needed depends on the dish. When making teriyaki chicken, a dark stout can be added to the teriyaki marinade. Light wheat beer can be used to make Mediterranean-style lamb. There are so many ways to incorporate beer into your marinades.
Tips to Know when Tenderizing Meat with Alcohol
- Pairing a strong beer with light meat will cause the meat to taste just like the beer. The beer flavor will overpower every other seasoning. Don’t pair dark ales with tilapia or turkey with chocolate stouts.
- Don’t include strong alcohol in an uncooked marinade. As we discussed above, strong alcohols will first tenderize the meat and break down its proteins. Then the alcohol will draw the water out of the meat and cause the broken protein strands to shrink and develop a gamey texture. If you do not remove the meat from your non-beer-based alcohol marinade in time, you could end up with an extremely tough piece of meat that not even a caveman could eat. If you want to use harder alcohol in your marinade, remove the meat sooner than the recipe calls for.
- Water loss and protein toughening do not have to happen if the alcohol is cooked and reduced before the meat goes into the marinade. The next time you add wine or hard liquor to your marinade, pour the marinade into a small pot and cook it for almost half an hour. Then, allow it to cool down. If you do not let it cool down, you accidentally cook your piece of meat! Once it is room temperature, add your meat to the marinade and cover it.
- If there is no time to cook off the hard alcohol in the marinade, then remove the alcohol altogether, replace the harder liquor or wine with a dark beer, or purchase a non-alcoholic wine the next time you’re at the grocery store.
- To enhance the tenderization of meat in beer marinades, hit your meat with a meat tenderizer mallet before adding it to the liquid. The Mallet will make small cuts into the meat so the marinade can sink deeper and break down the muscle fibers further.
Can All Alcohol Tenderize Meat?
Yes, all alcohols that are above 3% alcohol content can tenderize meat. The speed at which the meat tenderizes depends on the alcohol content. Alcoholic beverages that have a higher alcohol content will tenderize the meat faster.
But as we said above, after the tenderizing process is finished, marinades made with a high alcohol content will draw water out of the meat, and the proteins and collagen will toughen up. Since beer is usually five to seven percent, and some are as low as 3%, it is an ideal alcoholic ingredient.
Final Thoughts / Tips – Can Beer Tenderize Meat?
Choosing alcohol as an ingredient in a marinade is tricky. If a piece of meat sits in a marinade with high alcohol content for too long, the meat will become gamey and hard to chew. Different types of beer flavors go with different Meats, so be sure to reference the section above to choose the best beer for the meat you want to cook.
If you want to add wine or another hard liquor to your marinade, it is best to cook the marinade first for about half an hour, so the alcohol breaks down. Then allow the marinade to cool, and then place the meat inside.
The low amount of alcohol in beer makes this ancient drink the best alcoholic ingredient to add to a marinade. The low alcohol content will not turn the meat tough and gamey, even if the meat is left in the marinade for 24 hours.