Do you tenderize your chicken when you cook it?
If you don't, you could end up with something that tastes like cardboard and feels like leather.
Cooking chicken can be a tough balancing act. You need ensure it is thoroughly cooked the whole way through... without the thinner edges becoming dry or even burnt.
One way to keep your chicken from drying out is to tenderize it before cooking. In this post I will show you 4 different ways how to tenderize chicken.
Say goodbye to dry, chalky chicken forever!
How to Tenderize Chicken with a Meat Tenderizer or Mallet
- Decide if you want the skin on or off: If you really like skin, try removing it from the breast and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cut them into 2cm squares or 1/2”. Cook them slowly in a hot pan until they are crispy. These are a great garnish.
- Cover the meat before you pound it: Wrap the meat in plastic wrap or a zip lock bag. This keeps the juices in the meat. Don’t use waxed paper or foil as this can tear. A zip lock bag can be handy if you are going to brine or marinate the meat afterwards.
- Pound the Chicken: Using your mallet or meat tenderizing tool, pound your chicken. Pound with even pressure over the entire surface. Keep going back over the meat until it's your ideal thickness. I suggest 1/2 inch.
Mallets tend to tear the meat. Don’t hit it like a hammer just gently hit the thicker part of the breast, continue until it 2-3 cm or 3/4
How To Tenderize Chicken Without A Mallet
If you don't have a mallet or meat tenderizer you are in luck! It is still possible to pound your chicken tender.
- Follow steps 1 & 2 above.
- Get Creative: When it comes to pounding your chicken instead of using a meat tenderizing tool or a mallet get a solid cast iron saucepan or skillet.
- Pounding Your Chicken: Gently pound your chicken keeping your skillet as flat and even as you can.
- Keep Pounding: Continue to pound your chicken evenly until it is at your desired thickness.
Tenderizing Chicken Using Marinades
Tenderizing chicken with a marinade is a great way to keep your chicken tender and juicy. A marinade also adds in lots of flavour.
One of my favourite ways to keep my chicken tender is with a buttermilk marinade. This also works well with plain yogurt if you can't get hold of buttermilk.
Why does this method work?
Both buttermilk and plain yogurt have specific acids and enzymes come together to breakdown the chicken.
The acids and enzymes work together to breakdown the proteins in the chicken. Once the proteins have been broken down you are left with a (delicious) tender piece of chicken ready for cooking.
This method works very well and is gaining a lot of popularity. You might even notice some restaurants advertising 'buttermilk' chicken.
There are a tonne of different marinades out there. Keep in mind that not all marinades will tenderize your chicken. The buttermilk or yogurt method only works so well because of the acids and enzymes within these ingredients.
How To Tenderize Chicken With Buttermilk
- Trim your selected chicken breast: I would also suggest removing the skin. You can leave whole or cut into smaller pieces depending on how you want to cook your chicken.
- Place your chicken in a zip lock bag or sealable container.
- Add enough buttermilk or plain yogurt to completely cover the chicken. A good rule of thumb is 1/2 cup per chicken breast.
- Seal tightly and place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour: For best results I would leave in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
- Your chicken is ready to cook!
How to Make Your Own Buttermilk
You can very easily make your own buttermilk at home from everyday ingredients. All you need is:
- 2 Tablespoon vinegar (30ml)
- 1 Cup Milk (whole milk or low fat)
- Pour 1 cup of milk into a measuring cup
- Add 2 tablespoon of vinegar. Mix well to combine. You an use lemon juice if you would like to add in a little bit of extra zing!
- Now simply let this mixture sit for around 30 minutes.
- Use as you would normal butter milk.
Yogurt works well for breaking down the proteins in chicken. If you want to add a little bit of flavor while marinading I suggest trying different flavors of yogurt. Think along the lines of coconut, lemon or lime!
How to Tenderize Chicken with Baking Soda
I know baking soda seems to have a never ending list of uses. I am going to add another use to this list. It is true that you can tenderize chicken with baking soda.
Why Does This Work?
Essentially baking soda mixed with water raise the Ph level of the meats surface.
A higher Ph level makes it harder for the proteins within the meat to bond together. Once you have soaked your chicken in a baking soda and water mixture for only 15 minutes you will be left with a more tender piece of meat ready to cook.
There are two different methods for tenderizing chicken with baking soda.
How To Tenderize Smaller Pieces of Chicken With Baking Soda
This recipe is for 1kg of cut chicken.
- 3 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 1/2 cups water
- Measure out 1 1/2 cups of water and mix in 3 teaspoons of baking soda until dissolved.
- Add your chicken and let sit for 15 minutes.
- Remove from the mixture and rinse clean.
- Cook chicken as normal.
How To Tenderize Large Pieces of Chicken With Baking Soda
For this method I would recommend using when cooking whole chicken breasts or chicken thighs.
- Baking soda
- 1+ chicken breast or thigh
- Pat your piece of chicken dry.
- Coat the top of your chicken with 1 teaspoon of baking soda and rub thoroughly until your pice is completely covered. (You can also use a ziplock bag if you don't want to get your hands covered in chicken juice).
- Rinse thoroughly and cook as normal.
How To Tenderize Chicken By Cooking It
It is actually possible to cook chicken juicy and tender without going out of your way to tenderize it.
It all comes down to smart organised cooking. Below are 4 rules of thumb that you can follow to ensure your chicken is juicy and tender every time.
Cook Using the Low & Slow Method
The low and slow methods is one of the easiest and tastiest ways to ensure that you are left with tender and juicy chicken.
Cooking low and slow breaks down the proteins in the chicken slowly over several hours. Cooking this way allows your chicken to take on an incredible amount of flavor.
Low & slow cooking is where you cook over a low heat for a long period of time. This can be anything from a couple of hours right up to 12 - 18 hours.
My favourite ways to cook low and slow chicken are:
- In a slow cooker
- On the BBQ
- In a smoker
- As a warming winter casserole
Not Overcooking Your Chicken
One of the most common errors in cooking chicken is over cooking it. Often we are too scared to cook chicken to perfection because we are scared of getting sick.
The best way to ensure that you are not overcooking your chicken is to check the internal temperature. You need your chicken to be 165 °F right in the centre of the thickest part.
Let Your Chicken Rest
Even if you use one of the above tenderizing methods resting your chicken is very important.
Resting allows the proteins & juices to disperse back through the meat.
You want to let your chicken rest for at least 10 minutes after cooking. Make sure you cover with foil while resting.
Slicing Your Chicken In Half
Another way to ensure you don't even up with tough chicken breasts is to slice them in half before cooking.
Before you start ensure you have a sharp meat carving knife. To slice a chicken breast:
- Place the breast on a chopping board flat.
- Place your hand on the top of the breast.
- Using a sharp knife starting at the furtherest point make an incision halfway through the breast or thigh.
- Continue to slowly cut towards yourself making sure to keep the knife level.
- Cut all the way through until the knife is completely through the chicken.
Be sure to use caution when using a knife and always practice safe barbecuing.
Charlies Final Thoughts on How To Tenderize Chicken
No one likes a dry piece of chicken, even my boys who eat like human garbage cans.
They knew I could do better chicken than that I was producing. So I did some research. I decided I needed to find out how to tenderize chicken to come away with the best results.
So I set off on a quest to discover how create juicy chicken through tenderizing. This post has covered everything that I have learnt. Throughout my quest I have found some amazing blogs.
For those of you who are new to the barbecuing world, I have compiled a list of the blogs that I have been referencing for the past few years. These blogs really have helped me get me where I am today. I call this list the best BBQ blogs of 2019.
I highly recommend you give them a look. They are full of recipes, reviews and tips & tricks from some of the best in the game.
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