Can Vinegar Tenderize Meat? Is It Quick? How Much Do You Need?

Some meat can often be very tough and while there are people who like a good ol’ tough steak, most people don’t want to spend eons chewing just one bite of meat – they want to enjoy their food to the fullest. It is thus that meat tenderization comes into play. There are special tenderizers and kitchen tools you can buy for that, but we’re going to talk about a whole different kind of tenderization. We’re going to discuss a very handy and usually readily available meat tenderizer – vinegar. So let’s answer the question upfront: does vinegar tenderize meat?

Vinegar can definitely tenderize your meat. Its acidic properties have a positive effect on the fibers of your meat and will tenderize it relatively quickly if properly marinated.

In this article, we are going to talk about the tenderizing effect vinegar has on meat. We are going to explain to you how you can do it, how vinegar actually affects the meat, and what types of vinegar are best suited for tenderizing your steaks and other meat. So, keep reading to find out more!

Can You Use Vinegar To Tenderize Meat?

Meat comes in practically all shapes and sizes. Some meats are naturally more tender, such as certain cuts of beef, while others are a little tougher, like venison. Some people like their meat tough, but most people try to avoid the endless chewing of one piece of meat, preferring tender meat as it’s easier to chew, savor, and digest. The process of tenderizing meat is very well known and today, you can even buy special meat tenderizers in your local store. But if you prefer to use natural methods, there are multiple ingredients you can use, one of them being vinegar.

Vinegar is the aqueous solution of acetic acid that contains between 5% to 8% acid per volume. Vinegar is often flavored and there are many types, distinguished most often by flavor and method of production. While a very commonly used ingredient in cooking, it also has a variety of other applications.

The acid in the vinegar breaks down the fibers of the meat, thereby making it more tender and flavorful. The following sections will explain that in more detail.

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How Can Vinegar Tenderize Meat?

This is a simple and straightforward chemical reaction where the acid in the vinegar reacts with the fibers in the meat. How can we describe the process?

As mentioned, vinegar is very acidic, possessing a low pH value somewhere between 2.5 and 5 depending on the type of vinegar. Acid has a very strong reaction with the amino acids present in proteins that are an integral part of the meat. Meat has a lot of fat and other connective tissues, but the amino acids are the most important factor here. The acid actually degrades the proteins which ends up making the meat a lot softer.

You have to be very careful when marinating meat in vinegar. This is because marinating the meat in the acidic vinegar has a very similar effect to actually cooking it, but without the heat. This means that after a time, the vinegar will dry the meat and remove the moisture – similar to what happens when you cook it – which will actually make it tougher than it was. This is why you need to know exactly how long you have to marinate your meat in vinegar to have it actually tenderized and not become tougher.

How Long Should You Soak The Meat In Vinegar To Have It Tenderized?

As we’ve stated in the preceding section, this is an essential question when you’re using vinegar to tenderize your meat. Due to its acidic properties and the fact that a strong marinade (and vinegar marinade is very strong) is much more concentrated than other liquids, this leads to the extraction of some of the water via the process of osmosis. This means that you can achieve a counter effect while trying to tenderize your meat; you might get it tougher than it was before.

There is no exact formula we can extract when it comes to tenderizing your meat with vinegar. It depends on a lot of factors – the type of meat, the size of your pieces, the type of vinegar, etc.

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If you’re using a stronger type of vinegar, then it’s not advised to marinate your meat for too long. The same goes for smaller pieces, while bigger pieces of meat take more time to tenderize. As far as types of meat go, tougher meat (like steaks) obviously need more time.

What we can safely say is that you’ll certainly need to leave your meat for some hours, but definitely not as long as 24 hours, because that is too much, regardless of what meat you’re actually using. If soaked purely in vinegar, you are probably looking at only a couple hours – if that.

If you are including a few teaspoons or tablespoons of vinegar in an overall marinade that also has olive oil and other less acidic liquids, and the steak is not completely submerged, the standard 24 hours should be safe. White vinegar is usually recommended for this length of margination though.

How Much Vinegar Do You Need To Tenderize Meat?

This depends on the method of preparation you’re using. You can apply vinegar while cooking or you can soak your meat in it before cooking. The volume of vinegar is directly related to this choice.

If you choose to apply vinegar while cooking or preparing your meat in some other way, you won’t need that much. While cooking, you should apply one to two tablespoons of vinegar by pouring them in your basic cooking liquid. This may not seem like much, but with the added heat and other ingredients, it will certainly do its job and tenderize your meat.

If you choose to tenderize your meat before cooking or preparing it, you’ll need a lot more vinegar because the procedure is completely different. It depends on the size of the meat. You’ll need to put the meat in a dish where it can actually fit. Then, you have to pour in enough vinegar to completely cover the piece of meat to tenderize the whole piece equally.

This depends on the volume of your dish and the size of the meat, so we cannot give you a precise amount, but you’ll know you’ve poured enough when the meat “drowns” in the vinegar so that it can soak completely.

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What Types Of Vinegar Are Best For Tenderizing Meat?

Well, you can technically use almost any type of vinegar to tenderize your meat, but some types are naturally better than others because they not only tenderize your meat, but contribute to the flavor. Some of the better types of vinegar you can use are – of course – balsamic vinegar (aceto balsamico), apple cider vinegar, and common household white vinegar. You can, however, also try wine vinegar (red or white) as it will prove good in both tenderizing and flavor.

Related Questions

1) Does Vinegar Kill The Bacteria On Meat?

This is a fairly legitimate question since vinegar potentially has such properties due to its generally high acidity. While vinegar does have such effects on the meat and will likely kill some bacteria, it is definitely not enough to be considered a disinfectant. Research for using it as a simple disinfectant on surfaces, for example, could not prove it useful consistently for usage as such. The only thing we have to say about this is while it may help, you should not rely on it as a way to actually disinfect your meat. Heating it to high temperatures is still the way to go.

2) Can You Use Vinegar To Prepare Fish? Which Types?

So we’ve discussed using vinegar with meat. But what about fish? Can you use vinegar with fish and if yes – what type? The answer is, as expected, yes – you can use vinegar with fish.

It has a multiple benefits, the most notable of them being an added flavor and the reduction of the fishy aroma that bothers so many of us. As far as the type, there is no general rule. The most obvious and commonly used type would be malt vinegar, but since there really is no rule, you can pick whichever suits you best. Whether it’s balsamic vinegar or (red) wine vinegar, the world is truly your oyster when picking the right type is concerned so take your time to experiment and indulge in the different flavors each vinegar can provide.


This covers everything you need to know about tenderizing your meat with vinegar. We’ve explained why and how vinegar tenderizes your meat, but we’ve also provided you with some practical tips concerning the quantity and the time you need.