Honey Tenderize Meat: Does This Method Really Work?

Have you ever used honey as a meat tenderizer? It might be one of the lesser-known methods, but it’s worth a second look. Our guide will take you through the finer points of this sweet (pun intended) technique.

Honey Tenderize Meat

Honey works as a tenderizer by breaking down the larger proteins on the meat’s surface. It also imparts a naturally sweet flavor and a brown, crispy exterior. When honey is one of the primary ingredients in a marinade, it’s important to use the raw variety. Pasteurized honey doesn’t contain the enzymes that are essential to the process.

Does Honey Tenderize Meat?

The short answer is yes. It’s possible to use honey as a meat tenderizer, but you have to be sure to use real honey.

There are a number of copycat ingredients available, and you might not even realize the difference unless you’ve tasted the real thing. Honey-flavored rice syrup is one cheap imitation. Some people also use sorghum syrup as a substitute, and that won’t work if your goal is to tenderize meat for grilling.

You also need to be sure to buy honey that’s unfiltered and raw. Most mass-produced honey has been pasteurized, which prolongs its shelf life but kills off a number of important nutrients at the same time. Raw honey, meanwhile, is a useful and versatile ingredient that has multiple health benefits.

We should point out that it’s fine to use mass-produced honey in marinade recipes if you’re just hoping for a flavor boost. However, if your goal is to tenderize the meat, you’ll need to use the raw product.

How It Works

Marinade is intended to imbue the meat with flavor, in addition to acting as a tenderizer. The ingredients might not be able to penetrate too deeply beneath the surface, but the process can turn an average cut of meat into an extraordinary meal.

Good marinades include a combination of acid, salt, and oil. The acid is designed to break down the tough fibers in the meat, while the salt keeps it from drying out. Meanwhile, the oil helps the ingredients cling to the meat’s surface, so it doesn’t lose any of the flavor you’re trying to achieve.

You might not think of honey as an acidic ingredient. However, it contains protein enzymes that break down other proteins. These enzymes are also present in the human body, where they speed along the digestive process.

When you apply honey to the surface of the meat, the enzymes go to work breaking down the larger proteins. In time, this will make the meat more tender.

These enzymes are some of the casualties of pasteurization that we mentioned earlier. That’s why it’s important to use unfiltered honey, and not the generic stuff from the supermarket.

That said, even mass-produced honey can help to create a nice dark crust on the surface of your grilled meat. That’s why it’s all right to use it in small quantities, especially if your marinade recipe includes another primary tenderizing ingredient.

What Meats Work Best With a Honey Marinade?

You can use honey as a marinade ingredient for various meats, even steak. If honey is one of your primary tenderizing ingredients, though, it works best with milder-flavored meats.

Some of our favorite honey-based marinades are excellent partners for chicken, whether you’re grill-roasting a whole bird or just grilling up a batch of thighs. Honey will also complement the flavor of firm-fleshed fish, such as salmon and swordfish.

Boneless pork chops are another good option. The next time you’re thinking about dry-brining your pork chops for a few hours, consider putting them in a honey marinade instead. The end result will be similar in terms of texture, and the pork will get an extra dose of flavor in the bargain.

How To Make Grill-Roasted Honey-Marinated Chicken

Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken (3-1/2 to 4 pounds)
  • 1 cup raw, unfiltered honey
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Directions

1. In a medium nonreactive bowl, whisk together the honey, tamari, garlic, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Slowly whisk in the oil until the mixture is well-combined.

2. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and set it in a large bowl. Pour the marinade all over the chicken, turning once to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Tip: If you have a zip-top bag large enough to fit the whole chicken along with the marinade, use that instead. Just be sure to squeeze out any excess air before sealing the bag.

3. Take the chicken out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before putting it on the grill.

4. Preheat a gas grill to medium-high, or build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill. If you’re cooking with a pellet grill, set the temperature to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

5. Remove the bird from the marinade and let any excess liquid drip off, then set the chicken on a plate.

6. Use a vertical roaster to position the chicken on the grill with the legs on the bottom, so the bird looks like it’s standing up. If you don’t have a vertical roaster, you can use a half-empty can of beer to hold the chicken in place. Tee-totaling households can substitute root beer.

7. Roast the chicken for at least 1 hour, keeping an eye on the grill temperature to ensure that it’s holding steady at 350-400 degrees. Don’t be tempted to lift the lid to check your progress, or you’ll lose some of the heat and the bird will take much longer to cook.

8. After 1 hour, insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the bird’s thigh. If it registers 160 degrees or higher, it’s safe to take it off the grill. The temperature will continue to rise during the resting period, bringing it to the USDA’s recommended temp of 165 degrees.

9. Let the chicken rest, covered loosely with foil, for 15 to 20 minutes.

10. Carve the chicken and serve alongside whatever seasonal accompaniments you desire.

Final Thoughts

Honey is a useful meat tenderizer that also imparts a sweet flavor and promotes browning. The next time you want to shake up your grilling routine, consider using a honey-based marinade for your chicken, fish, or pork chops.

Best of luck, and happy grilling!

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