There are times when the cook wants the meat to be thin or a consistent thickness for a given recipe. Perhaps it is a tougher piece of meat that needs to be tenderized. The meat mallet was designed for the cook to do those steps at home by mechanical tenderization. In other words, not using a marinade or meat tenderizer to do the job.
How does it work?
There are 2 types of mallets, one tenderizes the meats by using spikes, the other uses a flat surface to spread the cut of meat out making it thinner. The tenderizer breaks up the grain of the meat and makes it much easier to cut and chew.
Cube steak is top round or top sirloin that the butcher has tenderized for you.
Flank steaks, chuck steaks and skirt steaks also benefit from mechanical tenderization.
To tenderize the beef, pat it dry and lay on a flat surface. Starting in the middle and working your way out, begin pounding the meat. As you can see from the image below, you are not trying to punch holes, simply leave dents that are breaking up the grain.
A flat mallet uses it’s weight to pound the meat thin.
Pat the meat dry and place on a flat surface. This time cover or wrap the meat in parchment paper, wax paper, cellophane or a Ziplock bag. using the flat iron, start in the middle and pound in an outwards direction. This means do not pound straight down on the cut of meat. It is more a down and pushing action.
If you find the meat is 1/2 an inch thick, it is easiest to start by butterflying the meat. Using a sharp knife, place a hand on top of the meat to hold it in place. Put the blade of the knife on the side in the middle to begin cutting it in half as you would a bagel. Do not cut all the way through, you want to leave a hinge on the back side. This allows you to flip the top half over leaving a thin piece of meat that now resembles butterfly wings.
Is it multi purpose?
Not really, but mallets can be used in a pinch to break open nuts. Some companies provide a system of sorts where the handle accepts different tenderizers and flat irons.
How much does it cost?
A cheap wooden one can start at $3 while a stainless steel mallet on average run from $15 to $50.
How do brands and features differ?
WOOD: Mallets come either as solid wood or metal with a wooden handle. However, there are 2 major concerns with a wooden mallet. The first is the lack of weight. If you have a light mallet then you have to do all the work to tenderize or flatten the meat. Not only is this harder on the cook, if the handle is whimpy it can break. The second concern is being able to clean it. Wood can harbor bacteria and you must be very careful in cleaning it to ensure you are keeping your family safe. Over time, soaking the wood in a sanitize solution or running through the dishwasher can lead to the wood cracking and warping.
METAL: Aluminum, stainless steel and surgical stainless steel are used to make modern mallets with the steel versions weighing the most. Surgical steel is believed by some to be the safest to use as it prevents any leeching into the food. Not sure how much leeching occurs when pounding out meat, so that becomes a personal decision. Metal mallets can be easily sanitized and run through the dishwasher. Some come with rubber handles and the manufacture will recommend if it is dishwasher safe.
HAMMER: Often mallets provide the flat iron as well as the tenderizer. Some are a solid piece of metal from the top all the way through the handle. Others have the handle attached or were welded on. Just as with a good knife, a solid piece of metal will last longer.
POUNDER: This version works by grasping the handle tight with your hands and pounding on the meat as if you were using the side of your fist. For some people with arthritis or carpel tunnel, this may be the easiest version to use.
SWATTER: This version work more like a fly swatter and is easy for little ones to use without fear of putting a dent in your counter.
BLADES: While this is not a mallet, it does tenderize the meat so I wanted to be sure to include it. When you buy cube steak it has been chopped by blades in a machine. In recent years this has been produced for the home cook as well. It works similar to a stamp you may have in the office where you place it over the meat, and as you push down the blades come out and cut the meat.
The key to buying a good one is to look for the number of blades. The more blades you have the better job it will do and the faster it will go.
How much space does it require?
Versions with a long handle can be kept in your tool jar on the counter. The pounders and blades will take up about 6 square inches in a drawer.
Will I actually use it?
Certain recipes like Chicken Parmesan really need meat to be flattened. Over the years I tried all the suggestions for making do from a frying pan to a vegetable can. I hated every last one of the. I may not use my mallet every month, but when I need it I am so glad it is there.
Please let me know if you have any questions. Happy cooking!