Cooking With Coffee: Using Your Best Brew As a Meat Tenderizer

Cooking with Coffee

The other day, I shared dinner with friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. It was a comforting and savory roast, paired with lots of grilled root vegetables. They loved the meal as a whole, but what they raved about the rich flavor and melt-in-your-mouth texture of the roast. Roast is hard - no one can do it quite like mom or grandma, right?

When I shared my secret ingredient — coffee — they were pretty surprised. You’ve heard of coffee cake, and probably even a shot of espresso in your favorite chili… but meat? I had to take a few minutes to explain my process and reasoning. There are many ways to tenderize meats (basically, you’re just relaxing the muscle fibers for cooking), but coffee contains natural acids, which made it an obvious choice for me when planning my meal. And of course, I always have an abundance of coffee in my house. I had to put it to work.

There are three types of natural meat tenderizers: salt, enzymes, and acids. In the salt category, both salt and baking soda break down the proteins in beef. Applied one hour before cooking, they will draw water from the meat and allow the salt to sink into the cut of meat, helping to improve the texture. Enzymes typically come from fruits and roots, like pineapple, papaya, ginger or kiwis, which break down tough muscle fibers and proteins. Mash or slice them, and spread them on top of the meat. Coffee, however, falls into the acidic category, which also includes wine, beer, and tea.

If you choose to experiment with coffee or tea when marinating meat, keep in mind that any beverage you brew should be quite strong, and needs to cool before being poured over the meat and stored in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. We would also recommend a glass dish if you’re baking your dish in the oven - stainless steel can react with acids and impact the flavor in a not-so-delicious way.

Coffee grounds also make an outstanding rub for different cuts of beef or pork, especially if it’s something you’re putting in a slow cooker or on the grill. If you’re like me and normally don’t plan meals too far in advance, use fresh leftover grounds for a rich, earthy flavor. The grounds also intensify the natural flavors of your meat, enhancing whatever added spices you’ve selected, and providing a luxurious liquid that can be left alone or - even better - turned into a gravy.

I should note: it’s recommended to use the ground coffee for recipes that will be cooked. When the grounds are used as a marinade or in a sauce, the grainy texture can be overpowering. If you want to make a stew or sauce that will enhance your meal, try using brewed coffee instead of the grounds.

If you're ready to try cooking with coffee, try this slow-cooked coffee beef, which combines fresh mushrooms, green onions, cloves, chili powder, salt, pepper, and coffee. After browning the roast and sauteeing the veggies, combine everything in the slow cooker for eight to ten hours and let us know how you like it in the comments. Of course, if you need to order coffee, contact us here at Zoka - our specialty blends could add an even more unique and exciting flavor profile to your meals.