Straight to the Point
A meat pounder is definitely in the running to be the kitchen tool that most resembles something medieval. And it's super effective at specific tasks. While you can use a rolling pin or the underside of a cast iron skillet for similar tasks (e.g. turning graham crackers to crumbs or crushing garlic cloves and lemongrass), having a dedicated utensil just for these purposes (as well as for, rather obviously, flattening cuts of meat for dishes like chicken schnitzel or tonkatsu) is a real boon for the home cook.
We selected 9 meat pounders to test, focusing on three different types: some were mallet-style, meaning they look and work like hammers (only with a double-sided head); some were short handled, with a heavy puck and a stubby handle sticking out of the center; and some were offset, with a heavy, horizontal paddle attached to a handle that bends in two places.
Although many brands label these tools as meat tenderizers, the designated tenderizing side is the one with several rows of teeth. We tested models that featured at least one flat side. We did not evaluate the tenderizing sides of any of the pounders as we wanted to specifically focus on their ability to flatten, not tenderize.
The Winners, at a Glance
The Best Mallet-Style Meat Pounder: OXO Good Grips Meat Tenderizer
This compact, well-balanced model packs a punch and made quick work of flattening pork and chicken cutlets. We loved how comfortable and balanced it felt to hold, and how little effort it took to swing.
The Best Short-Handled Meat Pounder: HIC Dual Sided Meat Tenderizer
This model produced the most even cutlets in the least amount of time, but some users might find it slightly heavy, loud, and not as comfortable as a mallet-style pounder.
- Chicken Test: We used each pounder to flatten half a chicken breast to a 1/4-inch thickness. We timed how long the pounder took to complete the task, then evaluated how even the cut was and noted if there was any tearing.
- Pork Test: Each pounder was then used to flatten a 3-ounce pork cutlet to a 1/4-inch thickness, also documenting time elapsed and cutlet evenness.
- Graham Cracker Crumbs Test (Winners-Only): Using only the three pounders that excelled in the previous two tests (our two winners as well as the KitchenAid model), we placed 8.75 ounces of graham crackers into a plastic zipper bag and timed how long it took for the pounder to crush the crackers into fine crumbs. We then noted how consistent the crumb size was.
- Usability Tests: Throughout testing, we considered how easy each pounder was to use and how comfortable they were to hold.
- Cleanup Tests: Over the course of testing, we evaluated how easy each pounder was to hand-wash with warm, soapy water and a sponge.
What We Learned
Mallet Models Were Easiest to Use
Mallet-style meat pounders have a long handle and double-sided head (one flat side and one tenderizing side with rows of teeth). Their heavy head and long handle gives the user more force when swinging than offset- and short-handle-style meat pounders. With short handle meat pounders, we found that all the force was coming from an up and down motion, and it was relying only on the weight of the heavy disc attached to the handle, which is why these models were heavier than the mallets. Same goes for offset pounders like Rösle and Norpro, which were awkward and unwieldy to hold and required a lot of force to pick up and slam down. That being said, people with wrist concerns might want to opt for a short-handle pounder as those keep the wrist straight and unmoving, unlike the mallet and offset styles that required more bending.
Mallet models across the board tended to move the meat around in smaller areas with each swing, pushing the flesh out and away. The other two styles just pressed down on the entire chicken breast or pork cutlet with their wider heads, making the whole process more difficult and time-consuming.
Surface Area Was Key to Evenly Flattened Cutlets
Inversely, we found that the smallest model we tested, from Aliglow, was by far the easiest and among the fastest to flatten the cuts of meat. However, the tiny pounder created divots in the cutlets and was prone to tearing the meat. This is because its head was only about an inch or so around, whereas the models that produced the most even cutlets tended to be ones with wider heads like the HIC and Rösle. Our other winner, the OXO Good Grips, seemed to have a wide enough head to avoid divots and produce a flat cut of meat that was pretty even and without tears.
Handle and Cleanup Differences
Usability factors sometimes came into play when deciding between two high-performers. Our winner, the OXO Good Grips, had intense competition from the KitchenAid pounder. But since the OXO was both dishwasher-safe and had a rounded, silicone handle—while KitchenAid was hand wash-only and had a squared-off handle—it came out on top. Rounded handles covered in a silicone grip were much more comfortable to use for extended periods of time and offered more control. And since these tools will likely come into contact with raw meat, it’s nice to know it can be thoroughly sanitized in a dishwasher.
The Criteria: What We Look for in a Good Meat Pounder
For home cooks who want the most versatile meat pounder, we recommend going with the mallet-style. A great mallet meat pounder easily flattened pork and chicken cutlets and crushed graham crackers, and can handle things like cracking lobster shells or smashing garlic cloves with ease. Short-handled pounders were only particularly well-suited for flattening meat. We preferred models with a very heavy mallet head and a lighter handle, which gave them a more powerful swing with less effort. Find a model whose pounding surface area is small enough to give you precise and accurate aim, but not too small as to be more ineffective and leave dents in the meat. Models with a rounded, silicone covered grip on the handle were very comfortable to hold for long periods of use, easy to control, and prevented slips and drops.
The Best Mallet-Style Meat Pounder: OXO Good Grips Meat Tenderizer
What we liked: The OXO Good Grips Meat Tenderizer provided the perfect combination of power, comfort, accuracy, and consistency. It placed just seven seconds behind the winner in the chicken test (flattening a cutlet in 43 seconds) and won the pork test outright, taking just 35 seconds to flatten the meat. Using this model couldn’t have been easier, with a compact frame that was easy to wield, a perfectly balanced weight distribution that gave it a powerful swing without too much effort, and a rounded silicone handle with grippers that made it comfortable and secure to grasp. Its head is big enough that it didn’t leave divots in the meat like some smaller models, but small enough that you could push the meat around in specific areas, which seemed to be the key to quicker flattening.
Even when crushing graham crackers in a plastic bag for two minutes, our arm and wrist never got sore. It even produced a more consistent graham crumb than our other winner, the short-handled HIC, and completed the task 1-minute and 15 seconds faster. That being said, the other top model we tested with graham crackers, the KitchenAid, produced a similar crumb consistency in almost the same exact time.
We love that this model is dishwasher-safe (the other OXO model we tested is not) and small enough to fit in most kitchen drawers, unlike the huge Rösle and Norpro offset pounders. Plus, at $12, it is the second-most affordable pounder on this list.
What we didn’t like: While this model checked all of our boxes, some short-handle models did flatten meat more consistently. Also, three other models were faster in the chicken test, although just by a few seconds.
Price at time of publish: $12.
- Materials: ABS plastic with a solid steel core
- Weight: 13.2 ounces
- Dishwasher-safe: Yes
The Best Short-Handle Meat Pounder: HIC Dual Sided Meat Tenderizer
What we liked: This sleek model is constructed of chrome-plated zinc and features an interesting design not shared by any of the others in our test. Its short, almond-shaped handle screws into the heavy disc base two ways: the flat or tenderizing side can face down. The HIC pounder was excellent at flattening the meat very evenly, and with almost no tearing or breakage, thanks to its 3 1/8-inch wide disc. And it did it quickly—finishing third in both the chicken and pork tests with times of 40 and 42 seconds respectively. The handle is rounded and comfortable to hold, it’s dishwasher safe, and at $20 it’s $5 cheaper than the other short-handle model we tested.
What we didn’t like: Because of the short-handle design all the pounder’s force comes from its higher weight and your lifting it up and slamming it down, whereas the mallet-style with its heavy head and light handle creates much more force more easily in a circular swinging motion. Its design and weight both mean the HIC requires way effort to use than mallet styles, tiring out this tester’s arm much faster. Plus, thanks to its weight and the large surface area of its pounding disc, the HIC is very loud. (This was also a problem with the two offset models from Norpro and Rösle.)
While the design of the screw-on tenderizing/flat head is clever, it also means that you might have to take it apart to clean it thoroughly. Plus, the tenderizing side of the head is very sharp, which can be difficult to handle.
Price at time of publish: $20.
- Materials: Chrome-plated zinc
- Weight: 1 lbs 14 ounces
- Dishwasher-safe: Yes
Still Pretty Good!
- KitchenAid Gourmet Meat Tenderizer: In many ways, this mallet-style model matched our winning OXO model in performance. It flattened a chicken cutlet four seconds faster, but lagged behind by 12 seconds in the pork test. Plus, it crushed up graham crackers to the same consistency, and in the same amount of time, as the OXO. It lost points, however, for being less comfortable to hold, slightly harder to hand-wash, and not being dishwasher-safe.
- Aliglow Meat Tenderizer: This miniature model was a delight to use, pounding meat out and away in small, 1.5-inch sections with almost no effort. (Surprisingly, it was the fastest model to flatten the chicken in just 36 seconds.) However, because all the force was concentrated in that small pounding surface, it had a tendency to create small divots and tear the meat.
- OXO Good Grips Die Cast Meat Tenderizer: This model gets the job done. It’s light, well-balanced, and easy on the wrist, but it doesn’t really pack a punch. The other OXO model was faster at pounding out both meat cuts and this model kind of tore up the chicken cutlet. And it’s not dishwasher-safe.
- Spring Chef Meat Tenderizer: This was the worst mallet-style pounder. It lagged behind in the meat cut tests, placing last in the pork test, and tended to leave marks on the flattened cutlets. That in combination with its awkwardly thin handle make it hard to recommend.
- Norpro Grip-EZ Stainless Steel Meat Pounder: This was the only other short handle-style model in our lineup, but it didn’t perform as well as the HIC in terms of speed and cutlet evenness. This could be because its two ounces lighter than the HIC. Considering that the HIC has an option to switch to a tenderizer, and the fact that this model isn’t dishwasher-safe, we wouldn’t choose this equally loud option.
- Norpro Meat Pounder: One of two offset meat pounders, this offering left this tester wondering why any home cook would want such a massive, unwieldy, heavy, frighteningly-loud gadget taking up space in their kitchen. This model was awkward to hold and swing, lagged behind in both meat cut tests. A large surface area meant that the cutlets were very even, but because it was so heavy, it tore the chicken.
- Rösle Meat Tenderizer: Most of the cons of the Norpro Meat Pounder also apply here. This model has an even bigger pounding surface area, which made it even louder. It is slightly easier to swing thanks to the handle not being as heavy as Norpro’s, but its offset angle makes it so that it hit the cutlets with the heel of the pounding surface and left dents. And at $45, it’s the most expensive model by about $20.
What’s the difference between a meat tenderizer and a meat pounder?
A meat tenderizer is any tool that helps break down the muscle fibers of a cut of meat, with the goal of making the meat less tough and more tender. Meat pounders, like the ones we are testing, are just one of those tools. As you can see on some of the models we tested, pounders sometimes come with a specific tenderizing side, featuring rows of teeth that are either sharp cones or pyramid-shaped. The flat side still tenderizes the meat by squishing it, though, and are perfect for turning cutlets into thin sheets so that no part is under or over-cooked—especially for shallow-frying things like chicken schnitzel or tonkatsu. Then there are blade or needle meat tenderizers. These are spring-loaded devices that shoot several rows of thin blades or needles into the meat, creating punctures that help marinade penetrate. There are also rolling tenderizers that roll over meat like a paint roller, puncturing it with sharp teeth, as well as crank machine tenderizers that feed the meat through a puncturing roller.
Is buying a meat pounder worth it?
The answer: probably! If you are someone who loves making dishes like chicken parmesan, tonkatsu, and schnitzel, then definitely buy one . If you often find yourself breaking out the food processor to crush graham crackers, or regularly chop up nuts only to have them fly all over your kitchen, yes. They’re also great for smashing the tough fibers of lemongrass, or crushing a lot of garlic cloves. However, for everything besides flattening meat, you could probably get away with using a rolling pin or even the underside of a cast iron skillet. So if you work in a small kitchen, or just don’t have drawer space to spare, you can probably go without one for many tasks.