Before I go any further, I want to be sure to mention a couple of things. The first is that the meat pounder is mainly known as a meat tenderizer, or sometimes it's called a meat mallet.

When you search "meat tenderizer" online, though, you'll see results for both the pounding type tenderizer, and mixes or marinades that will break down the meat through food and other chemical reactions.

So, instead of calling it a meat tenderizer, I'll call it a meat pounder or mallet.

The other thing is that it's important to keep the meat pounder very, very clean, just as you do any cutting board that you cut meat on. After using soap and water, and scrubbing any toothed surfaces, wet the pounder or mallet down with vinegar and set it aside to air dry. Vinegar is an excellent and very handy kitchen disinfectant, and would work fine for keeping your cutting board sanitary, too.

OK, on to the good stuff.

I'm not a big fan of kitchen utensils that have only one purpose. I think that's one reason why I like to watch Alton Brown's TV cooking show, even if he is a little goofy; we feel the same way about cluttering up the kitchen with specialized gadgets.

The metal meat pounder or mallet (don't use one made of wood) is a good example of a multi-purpose utensil. There are several different types of meat pounders, and they all do a great job on the meat. (While some mallets have a side with large teeth, and small teeth on the other side, I'm talking about pounders or mallets that have a toothed side and a smooth side.)

For pounding, I tend to like the heavy meat pounder that is gripped in the fist like a big rubber stamp and has interchangeable heads. I like it mostly because it's easy on my wrist and has enough weight to do the job well.

However, most people prefer the mallet style meat pounder, which is held like a hammer. Some have said that the mallet style is easier on the wrist. So I guess it depends on the wrist.

An offset style of metal meat pounder is also offered for sale, but I have never used one or seen one used. (Pictures of all three main styles are shown below in the Amazon section.)

Abalone can be tenderized with a meat mallet


Pounded by a meat mallet - Abalone and asparagus
Source: Naotake Murayama
How to use a meat pounder or mallet

You can, of course, use the smooth side of your pounder to flatten chicken, beef, pork, veal or other tender cuts of meat, and seafood, such as salmon. If you haven't used your pounder to flatten meat, instructions are in the video below.

While the smooth side of a meat mallet is used for a lot of different meats, I think that it's used most often at home to flatten the thickest part of a chicken breast so it's the same thickness as the outer edges. With the meat having a uniform thickness after it's flattened, it cooks evenly and avoids dryness in what would have been the thinner part of the meat.

The toothed surface of meat mallets or pounders are especially useful on meat that's good quality, but dense and not fatty. It works great on grass-fed beef and on wild game. A friend's husband goes deer hunting every year to fill the larder, and she uses her mallet when she's preparing the deer meat. It's wonderful!

You also use the toothed surface to pound the cheaper, tougher cuts of meat, such as skirt steak. While they are tough, they are usually very flavorful, and worth the extra effort.

The first video below shows how to use the smooth surface to pound chicken, but it basically works the same for pork medallions or other boneless cuts of tender meat. The second video shows how to use the toothed side to pound steaks and other tougher cuts of meat.

Tenderizing tough or very dense meat with the toothed surface of a mallet is pretty straightforward, as long as you work from the center of the meat outward. It works great if you want to break up tough meat fibers. (Be careful not to pound hard enough that you pierce the meat clear through.)

Using the smooth surface requires a little more technique. I checked several videos on how to pound chicken meat flat, and I like this one the best, because she doesn't pound the chicken breast hard to flatten it, but opts for lighter, more frequent strokes. Her downward strokes are not straight up and down, but move slightly toward the outer side when she's pounding. When pounding the meat, you're spreading the meat tissue out so it's a flat, uniform surface. So you don't have to wear yourself out by pounding hard. This technique works for all tender meats and seafood that you want to flatten, either because you want a more uniform thickness, or you'd like to roll the flattened meat around other ingredients.

(I've added a link to the Food Network below, where 31 recipes use a meat pounder. These will give you some great meal ideas.)

When I'm using a meat pounder to flatten meat, I like to use a double thickness of saran wrap on the top. A hint for adding herbs - just before you've pounded the meat for the last few times, sprinkle minced garlic, spices or dried herbs on the surface of the meat.