News Flash—Sugar Is the Natural Tenderizer Your Meat Has Been Missing
When it comes to cooking, I love to pair sweet and savory. Adding a sweet component to an otherwise savory dish brings that extra, can't-put-a-finger-on-it quality that guests adore. I've received countless requests for the recipe for my soy-glazed stir fry. The secret ingredient? Maple syrup.
But in addition to lending flavor, sugar can play an important role in the chemistry of your food—specifically when you're cooking meat. Whether you're searing steak or pork chops, braising brisket, or roasting a turkey, sugar might just be the secret ingredient you're missing.
You probably already know that a nice sprinkling of salt helps to tenderize meat. "Soaking meat in a salty brine helps the meat muscles absorb more water, thus retaining moisture," writes Southern Living Food Editor Patricia York. "Through a process called 'denaturing,' salt causes protein in the meat to uncoil and form strings, which link to water." But did you know that pairing your salt seasoning with sugar works double-duty to tenderize the meat?
It can be tricky to achieve a steak that's charred on the outside and still pink on the inside. That's where the sugar comes in. The sugar coating the exterior of the meat caramelizes in the pan, encouraging the meat to brown and develop a nice crust. This ensures that you'll have a well-charred steak that's still cooked to a nice medium-rare on the inside.
As a general rule, use one part sugar to two parts salt to tenderize your meat. (Be sure to add some black pepper in there too.) If you're doing a dry rub, we recommend using granulated sugar or brown sugar (like in this recipe for Seared Steak-and-Field Pea Salad). If you're making a marinade or slow roasting your meat, feel free to get creative with different ways to bring sugar into the dish. The marinade for our Watermelon-Braised Shoulder Steaks is sweetened with honey, as are our Slow Cooker Asian-Ginger Wings.
So, the next time you're cooking meat, season it with a little bit of sugar. It really is as simple as that. This technique works no matter how you're preparing your meat, from a cast iron sear or grill to a slow-roast, or what type of meat you're working with. You'll be calling yourself the grill master in no time.