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Baking Soda & Baking Powder

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    Baking Soda & Baking Powder

    Baking soda and baking powder are common ingredients in baked goods, and they also have an interesting role to play in cooking meat. Many people think they tenderize the meat but it is probably the rough handling that chefs give the meat when treating it with baking soda or baking powder as well as their ability to help retain water that makes the meat seem more tender.

    In baked goods. Baking soda is the common name for sodium bicarbonate, (a.k.a. bicarbonate of soda), NaHCO3, an antacid, and when it is mixed with an acid like buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, vinegar, or lemon juice, it rapidly releases CO2 gas. It is commonly used as a leavening in baked goods to help them rise and reduce density. It also improves browning and weakens gluten bonds so cookies will spread out.

    Baking powder has sodium bicarbonate but it also has a powdered acid, usually cream of tartar, which is a byproduct of winemaking (that’s what’s in the crystals stuck to the underside of the cork). To activate, all it needs is a water-based liquid like water or milk. No acid needed. It starts belching CO2 as soon as the water hits it and produces more when it is heated in the oven. That’s why most baking powder is labeled "double-acting."

    Because the acidity of a baked goods recipe can vary significantly, you often need both baking powder and baking soda to get the right texture and flavor. But you have to be careful: They can be quite bitter if you use too much. And baking soda can neutralize the zing that comes from buttermilk and yogurt. This is where baking recipe developers earn their keep, figuring out how much of each to use.

    On meat
    When applied to meat, baking soda alters the acidity of the surface, the structure of the proteins, and in it’s water retention. It’s all about pH. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14. A pH of 7 is neutral. A pH less than 7 is acidic. A pH greater than 7 is alkaline or basic. Fresh meat is usually slightly acidic, a bit under 6. Remember, baking soda is an antacid. It reduces acidity of the surface of the meat raising the pH above 7. It creates negative charges to the protein molecules which then repel each other and refuse to bond.

    The increased pH makes it harder for the proteins to bond to each other and that helps prevent meat from getting tough.
    Of course Chinese chefs discovered this long ago and that is one of the reasons the meats of Chinese stir fried dishes are so tender and slippery in texture. They often take bite sized cuts and treat them with baking soda mixed with water. To enhance the process they abuse the meat rubbing it in, squeezing it, throwing it into a bowl.

    Baking soda works fast, in as little as 15 minutes, while enzymatic tenderizers can take hours. But it works only on the surface of the meat. It can’t penetrate. But all that rubbing and pounding can drive it into the tiny cracks and pores in the surface.

    On small pieces of meat
    This works best on thin sliced meats, 1/2-inch or less, without skin or surface fat, and even shrimp. After 15 minutes any excess must be rinsed off the surface or it can make the meat bitter. Then you need to pat the surface dry. And if you use it in combination with salt, cut back a bit on the salt because there is sodium in sodium bicarbonate. Here’s the method:
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    2 tablespoons water
    1 pound meat, surface fat removed completely, cut into 1/2-inch slices or less

    Mix the baking soda and water and then mix it with the meat. Coat it thoroughly and work the meat roughly with your hands, massaging it in, and let it sit for at least 15 minutes, but an hour or two is better. Then rinse off the excess with plenty of cool water and pat the meat dry. You can now cook it. The results are obvious. It works on most meats, even ground beef. For more on this, get Kenji Lopez-Alt's new book, Wok.

    On steaks, chops, poultry parts
    You can apply baking soda to larger cuts like steaks, chops, and chicken parts, even to skins, but the effect is less obvious since it cannot penetrate. I asked the famous food scientist, Harold McGee, and he said "Just like salt and acid, baking soda takes time to diffuse into meat tissue from the surface, days for thicker cuts. But because it's the outer portions that tend to get overcooked, incomplete diffusion can still be helpful. Penetration will be quicker with a water solution than with direct sprinkling. But I don't like the flavors you get with alkaline ingredients and find that the texture improvements are marginal. So I'm not a fan." Here’s the method:

    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    6 ounces water
    1 square foot of surface

    Work it in vigorously and after a minimum of 15 minutes and up to 2 hours, rinse it thoroughly in cold water.

    On ground meats
    For ground meats here’s the recipe:
    1/4 teaspoon baking soda
    12 ounces of ground meat

    Just sprinkle it on the raw meat and work it vigorously with your hands. Do not rinse. Now cook in a pan. You will notice much less water in the pan and a distinct improvement in tenderness.

    Another technique Chinese chefs use to improve tenderness and water retention is called velveting. Meat is marinated in a mixture of egg-white, cornstarch, and water. Combined they produce a protective layer around the meat that absorbs moisture and protects it from concentrated energy. Baking soda is often added too. Here’s the method recommended by Kenji López-Alt:

    1 teaspoon Morton Coarse Kosher Salt
    4 teaspoons water, wine, broth, sake, or soy sauce
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1 large egg white
    2 teaspoons cornstarch
    1 pound low fat meat such as chicken breast or pork loin, sliced

    Mix all the ingredients except the meat in a bowl with a whisk or fork. If you use soy sauce, leave out the salt. Place the meat in a bowl and cover it with cold water. Agitate it for about 30 seconds, then drain it and squeeze it to remove excess water. Add the meat to the marinade, stir well and then refrigerate for 15 minutes to 4 hours. Drain and pat the meat dry, and then dip it in hot oil for about 30 seconds. The meat is now ready for stir fry or grilling. If you don’t want to use oil, you can do it with boiling water. The results are not quite as good, but still an improvement.

    Baking powder on skins
    Baking powder can be used on poultry and pork skins. The CO2 gas helps make thin blisters which make more surface area that crisp especially when baked in an oven like a grill. The process needs more time than baking powder. For this recipe inspired by one by Kenji López-Alt, we add salt for dry brining.

    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1 teaspoon Morton Coarse Kosher Salt
    1 pound chicken wings
    1 pounds other chicken parts

    Mix the baking powder and salt. Sprinkle it on the meat and try to coat the skins well. Space the meat on a wire rack over a pan in the fridge for 8 to 24 hours. Bake in the indirect zone at a minimum of 325°F or higher until the thick parts of the drumette reach 160°F.
    Last edited by Meathead; June 29, 2022, 08:55 AM.

    Quick note on a typo—second sentence under "velveting" …mixture OF egg white…


    • Meathead
      Meathead commented
      Editing a comment
      Fixed. Thanks!

    Wow! Very informative. Thank you for this.


      Interesting article, not sure where I picked it up, baking powder is a staple for wings in our house.
      Dry brine them in plenty of it, i.e. 4 tbsp/kg wings mixed through well, stand for 4 hrs in the fridge.
      A blind tasting test had these wings a much better flavour than without, according to my lot.
      No idea about the science but all four taste testers agreed.


        Appreciate all the above info.
        Regards adding baking soda to ground beef, would there be any advantage or disadvantage if added when making burger patties?


        • Meathead
          Meathead commented
          Editing a comment
          I haven't tried it yet. But it does retain water. The question is how will it impact the problem of crumbling.

        I use kenji technique with baking powder on vortex wings and get shatteringly crisp skin.


          Thanks for the preview.

          I'm not sure how much rough handling is needed. I don't think I handle the meat very roughly yet it does get more "tender." To be fair, when I prepare meat this way, I generally slice it pretty thinly (I usually place it in the freezer for a few minutes before slicing), then toss with sodium bicarbonate, let it rest for 10-15 minutes, then rinse and blot dry. Is tossing with sodium bicarb what you'd call "rough handling?" If so, that would explain it. Similarly when I "velvetize:" tossing is as rough as I get.

          I may run an experiment this weekend.
          Last edited by RobertC; June 29, 2022, 08:45 AM.


          • Meathead
            Meathead commented
            Editing a comment
            In Kenji's new book Wok, he makes a point of massaging vigorously the meat in the process.

          • RobertC
            RobertC commented
            Editing a comment
            Right, the experiment I was thinking about was thinly sliced beef, tossed (stirred, really) alone, stirred with baking soda, and left alone as a control.

            If I were as dedicated an experimenter as Kenji, I'd slice to different thicknesses and vary the amount and vigor of manipulation. But I'm not that dedicated.


          Baking powder on skins

          Baking powder can be used on poultry and pork skins. The CO2 gas helps make thin blisters which make more surface area that crisp especially when baked in an oven like a grill. The process needs more time than baking powder. For this recipe inspired by one by by Kenji López-Alt, we add salt for dry brining.


          • Meathead
            Meathead commented
            Editing a comment
            FIxed. Thanks! Bye bye!

          I've always used corn starch on chicken wings & skin instead of baking powder. What's the difference?


          • texastweeter
            texastweeter commented
            Editing a comment
            Powder causes it to blister and take on a fried texture. Give it a try.

          • Meathead
            Meathead commented
            Editing a comment
            Right. Powder causes CO2 and they make blisters.

          For more information than you will ever need about baking powder, baking soda, cream of tartar, yeast, and any possible way to leaven baked goods, plus a good story:

          Baking Powder Wars: The Cutthroat Food Fight that Revolutionized Cooking


          • SheilaAnn
            SheilaAnn commented
            Editing a comment
            Mosca Linda a friend from my culinary historian group. She has done this talk twice for us and it has me hooked both times! She is such a sweet lady!

          Meathead I tried a baking soda soak on chicken for stir fry last night, thirty minutes, then rinsed and marinated. The texture difference was noticeable and better. It was wife-approved. Thanks for that! ​​​​​​​

          An interesting thing is with the leftovers. The chicken did not take on a rubbery texture- which sometimes made it hard to enjoy the next day. It still has its airy, velvety, flavor-filled, consistency it had yesterday.


            In case this is useful to anyone...today I used baking powder on some pre-brined and frozen wings. I used 1 teaspoon per pound, but nothing else. It worked when broiling in the Kamander, indirect heat, about 400F. Crispy, bubbly skins, just as the DW likes. Cooking straight from frozen was a bad choice (as was the choice to buy frozen in the first place), but the technique still worked.
            Side note: I'll never buy frozen wings again, but I keep saying that and they keep showing up in my freezer.


              I had read about using baking soda when browning ground beef for recipes such as tacos, spaghetti, etc about a year or so ago. I have been experimenting since. You do have to be careful not to use too much or you can taste it.

              This evening I made tacos and I am getting this down. It was a ~3.3 lb package of ground beef. I broke it into smallish chunks and put in a lightly oiled pan at high heat. I then sprinkled what I estimated would be about 2/3 of a teaspoon of baking soda on the meat (I sprinkled it in 3 portions to help make sure I got it all over). Baking soda is quite fine so it spinkles well. I then turned the beef more than I would otherwise early in the process. Once it was brown I spooned off the grease. There was no (zero) liquid other than fat.

              Before I learned this trick with the same 80/20 ground beef I would have lots of non-fat liquid and I would have to simmer that off. That takes time and makes spooning off the grease difficult. And the meat would be grey because water discourages browning.

              Now that I have perfected this, I will try to measure the amount next time. Previously I used too much and I could taste it despite my other seasonings.

              Here are the keys:

              1) Break up the meat first. That exposes more area to the sprinkling process. It also makes step 3 easier
              2) Don't ever do it
              3) Start stirring/flipping the meat before it needs it. In other words don't wait till the bottom is slightly brown, start stirring early so you are mixing the meat and baking soda early in the process. This ensures that all of the meat get the pH adjustment right away, before it loses the liquid.

              YMMV but I can vouch this is good for browning beef for certain.

              EDIT: So just cooked 1.4 Lbs Ground beef (80/20) and used 1/4 teaspoon of the baking soda. I did it as described above. It worked well with no water and just some rendered fat. The lack of water meant I actually got some real Maillard reaction browning of the meat! No baking soda flavor. So that gives a more accurate ratio.

              I will definitely continue using this technique going forward.
              Last edited by RolfTaylor; January 12, 2023, 04:45 PM.



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