Tenderizing Meat with a Baking Soda Solution

By Cook's Illustrated Published November 2013

In some of our recipes, meat is treated with baking soda dissolved in water to keep it tender. What happens if you leave the solution on the meat longer than the 15 to 20 minutes we call for?

Briefly soaking meat in a solution of baking soda and water raises the pH on the meat’s surface, making it more difficult for the proteins to bond excessively, which keeps the meat tender and moist when it’s cooked. Our recipes typically call for a 15- to 20-minute treatment, but what if your dinner prep is interrupted and that time is doubled or even tripled?

To find out if a soak longer than 15 to 20 minutes would do more harm than good, we treated 12 ounces each of ground beef, sliced chicken breast, and sliced pork with baking soda—¼ teaspoon for the beef and 1 teaspoon for the sliced meats—for different lengths of time before cooking them. We were surprised to find that samples that were treated for 45 minutes were identical to those treated for only 15 minutes.

Here’s why: The acid/base reaction happens very quickly and does not build much over time. In fact, when we weighed the samples of treated ground beef before and after cooking, we found that the sample that had been treated for 45 minutes retained a mere 3 percent more moisture when cooked than meat that was treated for only 15 minutes.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Fifteen minutes is long enough to reap the benefits of a baking soda treatment, but don’t worry if your dinner prep gets interrupted and you have to extend that time a bit.