Sparkling Water Is The Best Budget Meat Tenderizer

Fizzy drinks can lift more than just your mood. Sparkling water, club soda, and even Coca-Cola can actually tenderize tough meat. Carbonated beverages, which are usually more acidic than water and can contain sodium bicarbonate, help soften proteins before they hit the heat.

Social media users have already put the viral trick to the test, soaking steak in sparkling water for an hour before cooking it. The drink, which can cost as little as $4 for a 12-pack, lived up to the hype. Tasters declared the grilled meat tender after a bath in the clear liquid.


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Home cooks new to the idea may be surprised to realize the budget ingredient quietly plays a role in marinades around the world. Incorporating seltzer or cola, depending on the flavors of the dish, can redeem chewy proteins without much culinary effort. Plus, the bubbles work fast and pair well with other flavors, so you can tease out even more of a melt-in-your-mouth texture by combining forces with acidic fruits to further tenderize your meal.

Carbonation's softening effect

Carbon dioxide, the bubbles in fizzy water, is acidic. And when it comes to breaking down meat (aka denaturing), this is exactly what home cooks want. Though seltzers and sparkling waters range in acidity, especially if they have tart flavor additives like citric acid, the carbonation as a whole aids in the marinating process and ultimately yields a more supple cut of meat.

If you decide to spring for a 99-cent bottle of club soda, rather than sparkling water, you'll gain an added helper. The slightly salty bubbly contains sodium bicarbonate, aka baking soda. Many recipes use the white powder in a process called "velveting," which essentially helps the meat retain its juiciness and brown during cooking. Here, though you won't achieve exactly the same effect as a concentrated scoop of the stuff, you'll still see similar benefits.

Many syrupy sodas skew even more acidic, as they contain additional flavorings and preservatives, making them a strong choice for a quick soak. Their low pH can even beat out other tenderizing go-tos like lemons. Cooks at home may choose to pair flavorful colas and root beer with complex red meat marinades and save citrusy sodas for lighter dishes.

Cooking (and marinating) with gas

Sparkling water and its bubbly counterparts can stand up to more than just steak. Chef Susur Lee of famed "Iron Chef," for example, uses the carbonation, along with salty seasonings, as the base for his Thanksgiving turkey brine. And in Russia, cooks use seltzer to prepare lamb for a kebab dish called shashlik. Club soda can even help with seafood — calamari fans have been known to use it to tenderize finicky squid before frying.

Lighter sodas also have their place in the kitchen. Instagram's Dan Pelosi of @GrossyPelosi uses a spicy ginger beer to flavor and tenderize his chicken wings. Other cooks opt for Sprite or 7UP to prepare poultry for high heat, embracing the hints of sugar and acid, which ultimately mellow during the cooking process.

Heavier colas are a popular choice of braising liquid for tough beef and pork and a flavorful addition to grilled meats. One approach to cooking brisket, for example, is to douse the meat in Coca-Cola before it heads to the oven. Marinades for beef kalbi, a Korean marinated short rib dish, often call for a glug to aid the tenderizing process. And some carnitas rely on the canned drink to help soften the pork shoulder, as well as imbue notes of caramel.