For flattening chicken and pork cutlets, we want a tool that combines force and finesse.
Published Apr. 15, 2020. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 22: Shareable Spanish Fare
We use meat pounders to flatten boneless pieces of meat or poultry into evenly thin cutlets so that they can cook through quickly and consistently. There are three basic styles: short-handled pounders; long-handled (or offset) pounders; and mallet-style pounder/tenderizers, which look like small hammers with heads that have a flat side for pounding and a bumpy side for tenderizing. It had been a while since we last tested any of these tools, and we wanted to know if our former favorite, the short-handled Norpro Grip EZ Meat Pounder, was still the best option available. So we bought eight models, priced from about $11 to about $125—three short-handled meat pounders (including our former favorite), three long-handled meat pounders, and two mallet-style meat pounders/tenderizers—and had a variety of testers use them to pound chicken breasts and pork tenderloins into ¼-inch-thick cutlets.
Differences emerged immediately. The style of the pounder—and the corresponding shape and size of its head—was critical to performance. While short- and long-handled pounders yielded evenly flattened cutlets, mallet-style pounders/tenderizers produced more ragged, uneven ones. In the past, we’ve found that the textured side of a mallet’s head tends to mangle, not tenderize, so we decided against using it while testing. But we were surprised to find that the mallets’ flat sides were almost as bad: If we weren’t careful, the corners of their square heads dug into the food, gouging it or tearing small holes. By comparison, the circular heads on the short- and long-handled pounders had no such corners and thus inflicted no damage, keeping the cutlets intact and smooth.
In addition, the heads on the mallet-style pounders/tenderizers were quite small, providing just 3 to 4 square inches of surface area for pounding; the heads of the short- and long-handled pounders were two to three times as big. Contrary to what we’d expected, these smaller heads didn’t slow us down—it took about the same amount of time to flatten cutlets with the mallets as it did to flatten them with some of the pounders that had much larger heads. But because their smaller heads could cover only a relatively small area at a time, they did make it harder to ensure that the cutlets were pounded to the same thickness from end to end. The larger heads on the short- and long-handled pounders covered more ground at a time, flattening bigger areas to the same thickness.
However, the mallets did have one advantage: They were the easiest and most comfortable of the pounders to use. Weighing just ...
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Miye is a senior editor for ATK Reviews. She covers booze, blades, and gadgets of questionable value.