The Ideal Cuts Of Meat To Tenderize With Your Favorite Soda

Soda isn't just for sipping. It's also great for preparing meat. Along with adding a world of zesty flavor, a can of cola or bottle of grape soda can even tenderize tough proteins. Depending on the brand, the sweet and bubbly beverages can fall between 2 and 4 on the pH scale, making them highly acidic. It's precisely this level of acidity that breaks down fibrous proteins and connective tissues, resulting in softer textures. Yet, even though all types of meat can reap the benefits of soda, this magical ingredient is best reserved for more finicky cuts. 

Let's be honest, some pieces of meat are far too tough and sinewy to be cooked as is. This is where marinating and braising (or a combination of the two) come in to help turn things around. Using soda to execute these techniques, cuts of meat like collagen-laced brisket or ultra-lean pork ribs can easily transform from chewy and nearly inedible to meltable and decadent. Similarly, the weight-bearing muscles, such as the shank or shoulder of any animal, can also become more palatable with the addition of soda.

Straightforward as tenderizing with soda may seem, there are still a few things to keep in mind to maximize the potential of the carbonated drink.

A basic guide to using soda as a meat tenderizer

Just about any variety of soda can be used to tender up a knotty cut, but remember that each will bring its own unique aromas and flavors to the mix. For example, colas will give beef nuanced flavors of caramel and vanilla, whereas root beer or Dr. Pepper will offer a spicier zing. In contrast, citrusy lemon-lime soda like 7-Up or peppery ginger ale can balance earthy lamb, whereas fresh and fruity pineapple-flavored soda will complement fatty pork. You could also use club soda — it won't add flavor, but it can be a great option for tenderizing protein that's already coated in seasoning.

After selecting the fizzy drink of your choice, you can start to break down your cut by building a marinade. As for the amount of soda necessary, this depends on the amount of protein you're breaking down, but a 12-ounce can is typically appropriate for about 2 pounds. Then, simply let the soda work its magic for a few hours, making sure not to surpass the 24-hour mark as acidity can start to fully denature meat and turn it to mush. 

After marinating, soda can even be used to braise cuts that prove exceedingly tough. For fall-off-the-bone results, cover meat in cola and let it slowly simmer over low heat. As the soda's water content evaporates, the meat will eventually develop a caramelized glaze, all the while remaining juicy on the inside.