Does Beer Tenderize Meat? (Steak, Chicken, Pork, Lamb, Turkey, Etc)

Beer: the ideal drink to accompany you while you take in a sports game, celebrate a special occasion or just relax in a bar with some friends.

A good beer is cold and refreshing, and there are so many different brands that you are sure to find the right one for you. Everyone knows that beer goes great with any meal, but especially dishes that feature a load of expertly-cooked meat. 

What you might not be aware of is that you can also use beer effectively in the cooking itself. With certain meats, it can actually help to tenderize them, transforming them from chewy to deliciously succulent in just a few steps.

Here, we will tell you how it works and which meats it works best with, so you can try it for yourself and become the new Mr. or Mrs. Versatile in the kitchen!

Why Should You Use Beer To Tenderize Meat?

Beer contains alpha acids and tannins that work together to break down the natural fibers found in meat. These fibers can be tough and difficult to chew through, so once you eliminate them, your meat will be much more tender.

Tender meat equals a pleasant eating experience – there are various ways of tenderizing meat, but this one is a hot favorite.

Most people will have a can of beer around the house somewhere anyway, so you don’t even need to make any special preparations or buy ingredients that are difficult to find. 

Using beer in conjunction with other tenderizing methods often produces best results, so there are a couple things you can do beforehand to help you along.

Use a food mallet to carefully beat the meat first, which can start the process of breaking down muscle fibers. You can also cut the meat into smaller chunks to absorb the marinade more quickly, if you don’t need to serve it whole.

Place the meat in a ziplock bag with the beer, which will allow it to access the meat without excess air getting in the way.

What Beer Works Best?

This question isn’t that simple to answer, since different beers should be used with different meats for best results. Here are some handy tips to help you identify what beer you should use and when:

  • Normal lagers are great for fish, as they can give it a classy twist – you can even use it in batter to give the fish a crisp, crunchy casing. 
  • For steak and lamb, use a rich stout to bring out some deep chocolatey notes and emphasize the meat’s luxurious flavor. 
  • When cooking chicken or other poultry, consider an IPA – this type of bitter lager complements white and game meat perfectly. 
  • If you have pork or a particularly tough joint of meat, a Pilsner will work beautifully here and add a light, yeasty flavor.

At this point it is necessary to state that if you don’t like a certain beer when you drink it, you still won’t like it when it’s cooked.

This means that, regardless of what type of meat you have, it is vital to find a beer that you personally enjoy the taste of, so all that time and effort doesn’t go to waste. After all, a significant amount of the beer will be used in the marination process.

How Long Does It Take?

It is vital to get the timing right when marinating meat in beer, as it can’t work its magic straight away. If you leave it for less than 2 hours, the beer will not have any effect, but over 12 hours will make the meat lose its flavor and look grey.

Again, different meats will need different time scales, so these are just general guidelines. Steak should be marinated for no longer than 8 hours, pork no longer than 10, and poultry no longer than 12.

Many people choose to leave their marinade overnight, so that it’s ready for the next day – just bear the recommended timings in mind if you choose to do this.

If you do over-marinate your meat, you will notice that the beer overwhelms the meat and becomes all you can taste.

You may be thinking that’s not a problem if you love beer anyway, but it’s not especially appealing for those that aren’t big beer drinkers.

We also don’t recommend feeding beer-marinated meats to children – even though some of the alcohol evaporates during the cooking process, it is often not as much as people think. 

Can You Use Beer In Other Cooking?

Even if you don’t eat meat or you’re cooking for vegetarians, you can still use beer in a similar way to improve your dishes.

You do need to be aware that vegetarian and vegan meat products have a different makeup to actual meat, and they don’t contain the same natural fibers.

This means that they break down and lose their structural integrity much more quickly, so you shouldn’t marinate them as long as your flesh meats. Taking poultry times as a guide, marinate your meat substitutes for half as long and you should be fine. 

Does Alcohol-Free Beer Work Too?

Contrary to popular belief, alcohol itself isn’t what makes meat tender. In fact, the alcohol content can actually make it more difficult for the meat to absorb the marinade.

The most important property for a liquid to have to be able to tenderize meat effectively is acidity – this is what breaks down the tough fibers and makes it easier to eat. 

Alcohol-free beer should therefore work as well as regular beer, since it is also acidic. It will give you the same yeasty flavor that you are looking for, just with none of the associated alcohol.

This is good news for people who don’t drink alcohol, either for religious or personal reasons, and meals made this way are also child-friendly.

Just take care to find a non-alcoholic beer that doesn’t have any bitter overtones, and as always – make sure you actually like the taste when you drink it.

Conclusion

Beer can certainly be used as an effective marinade for tenderizing meat, as long as you adhere to the optimal timing guidelines for each meat.

The acidity in the beer will break down tough fibers and leave you with a delicious tender piece of meat that you can enjoy – it doesn’t even require any special techniques to achieve!

Next time you’re cracking open a cold one with the boys, maybe keep some aside to prepare a wonderful meal for later. You’ll wonder why you took so long to try it in the first place!

Jess Smith
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