What Does Mustard Do to Meat?

Have you found any advice that mustard can be a great marinade or rub for meat, and want to know what it does mustard to meat? 

In this article, we’ll explore how mustard can impact the flavor, texture, and overall enjoyment of your meat-based dishes. 

So, let’s dive in!

A Quick Answer to “What Does Mustard Do to Meat?” 

Mustard, a popular condiment, is often used in meat dishes to:

  • Add flavor and depth to the dish
  • Form a crust around the meat by binding the seasonings
  • Break down some tougher fibers in the meat to make it more tender and easier to chew.
  • Indirectly help tenderize meat because of its acidity. However, tenderizing effects of mustard are relatively minor than other tenderizing methods, e.g., using a meat mallet or simmering the meat over low heat. 

What is Mustard and its Components? Let’s Know First!

To understand how mustard imparts flavor, forms crust, and tenderizes the meat, it’s important to know what mustard is and what other ingredients are in it.

What is Mustard? 

Mustard is a popular condiment in many cuisines, especially American. The primary ingredient in mustard is white, yellow, or brown mustard seeds–a famous spice in Indian cuisine. The color intensity hints at the spiciness of the mustard.

You can find many forms of mustard on store shelves, like Dijon, yellow, spicy brown, whole grain, and English mustard. All these mustards have white, yellow, or brown mustard seeds (ground, whole or powdered), spices, vinegar, and other seasonings. 

The vinegar facilitates the mustard seed’s compounds’ activity, giving it its sharp, pungent flavor. Ultimately, you get the sharp, pungent flavor you love in mustard. 

What’s in Mustard?

Mustard has several chemical components that make it a good marinade for meat. Some of these are:


Mustard seeds have enzymes called myrosinase and other groups of compounds known as glucosinolate.

On crushing, myrosinase catalyzes the hydrolysis of glucosinolate. This activity results in various products, including isothiocyanate, responsible for mustard’s spicy flavor and aroma. So, to extract the mustard seeds’ spiciness, it’s important to break them down–the finer the texture is, the spicier it is.

Interestingly, to activate myrosinase, it’s also important:

  • Add some water or a slightly acidic liquid like vinegar. 
  • Maintain a cold temperature rather than a hot one. Adding mustard to dishes during cooking is not a good idea.


Mustard is acidic. It has a pH of around 4.0-4.5. When you add water to ground mustard, this acid also helps the enzyme and compound activity. And this very acid further aids in meat recipes in two ways:

  • Denaturing or unraveling the proteins in meat, making it more tender. 
  • Creating a barrier around the meat that locks in moisture, making it juicier and more flavorful.

Essential oils

Mustard seeds have essential oils, among which 60% are monounsaturated fatty acids(MUFA) and 21% are polyunsaturated fatty acids. These essential oils contribute to its flavor and aroma. Likewise, their acidic nature (lower pH) assists in breaking down meats.


Prepared mustard, aka mustard paste, often contains salt. 1 teaspoon serving of mustard has about 55-120 milligrams of sodium. Salt helps break down proteins and create more tender meat, besides enhancing the meat flavor. 

Note: You must adjust the salt in your recipes when using mustard.


Mustard sometimes has sugars like honey or brown sugar. These sugars can caramelize during cooking and create a delicious crust on the meat, besides contributing to the overall flavor of the meat.

A Detailed Answer to What Does Mustard Do to Meats?

Mustard, when used as a marinade or rub for meat, can impart several benefits to the recipe because of the following components:

Adds flavor and depth to the dish

Mustard adds flavor to a meat dish in several ways:


Mustard has a slightly tangy flavor, adding a pleasant zing to meat dishes. The acidic nature of mustard can also help to cut through the richness of certain meats like beef, making them more enjoyable to eat.

Umami and deep flavor

Mustard contains compounds with an umami flavor–naturally savory or meaty. This flavoring intensifies the meaty flavor. Thus, it adds depth and complexity to the overall flavor profile of your recipe.


Moving from white to brown mustard seeds, the spiciness of mustard increases. So, By carefully choosing the mustard as a marinade or rub for your meat, you can add heat to your meat without overwhelming the other flavors.


Since mustard is a perfect combination of acidic nature, it can break meat fibers and infuse flavors as a marinade. Furthermore, mixing it with other ingredients like herbs, spices, or citrus juice helps to create a complex and delicious flavor profile.

In short, mustard adds complex flavor to a meat dish with its tanginess, umami, and spiciness.

Form a crust around the meat by binding the seasonings

One of the most important uses of mustard is as a binder. You often see many pit masters loving it as a rub for their briskets because it can form a crust around meant by binding the seasonings and other coatings. 

Additionally, the denaturing of mustard on the meat surface ensures deeper penetration of seasonings into the meat –resulting in a more flavorful bite. 

You can use mustard as a binder by following this simple process:

  • Thoroughly spread a thin layer of mustard to the surface of the meat using a hand or brush.
  • After applying the mustard, sprinkle your desired seasonings over the surface of the meat generously. 
  • Gently press the coatings into the meat surface with your hands. It’ll allow them to adhere to the meat and create a solid crust.
  • Finally, cook meat following your preferred cooking method: roasting, frying, or smoking.

It makes your meat tender and easier to chew.

As stated previously, enzymes in mustard can break down some of the tougher fibers in meat. The process is similar when you use other meat tenderizers–it helps in making the meat tender and easy to chew. Therefore, using mustard as a marinade is a great choice when cooking tough meat. 

Mustard has 3 things to work as a meat tenderizer:

  • A pH of around 4.0-4.5 to work on through meat fibers, but mildly;
  • Enzymes that break down protein;
  • And vinegar further enhances the acidity of mustard to make it a natural meat tenderizer. You can also add 1-2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar if you’re working on a tough meat cut.

Here is how you can use mustard as a meat tenderizer:

  • Get Dijon or whole grain mustard because they contain vinegar or other acidic ingredients that help break down the meat’s proteins.
  • Add 1-2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar, depending on the quantity of mustard you’re using. Avoid using synthetic vinegar.
  • Spread a thin layer of mustard over the meat’s surface evenly. 
  • Cover the meat and let it marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. If you’re cooking tougher cuts of meat, you can extend the marination period up to several hours.
  • After marinating, grill, bake, or sauté the meat.

Overall, using mustard as a marinade or rub can help to break down some of the tougher fibers in meat, making it more tender and easier to chew.

Mustard helps the meat to remain moist.

Since mustard tenderizes the meat by denaturing proteins on the surface of the meat, it creates a barrier to keep moisture from escaping. If you’re particularly seeking mustard to keep the meat moist, like briskets, turkey, or whole chicken, use it as a marinade or rub. 

Likewise, the oil in mustard helps to lubricate the meat, which also helps to prevent moisture loss.


How should you choose mustard for meat?

When picking mustard for your meat, think about the flavor you want and the type of meat you’ll use. Here are some tips to help:

  1. Choose the flavor wisely, as mustard comes in many varieties, from mild to spicy. For example, sweet mustard may work well with pork, while spicy mustard may be better for beef.
  2. Pick Dijon or whole grain because they’re good choices because they can help to tenderize the meat and have a more complex flavor than basic yellow mustard.
  3. Match mustard intensity to meat. For instance, if you’re using a stronger mustard-like horseradish, pair it with heartier meat. And, for milder mustard, use delicate meat like fish or chicken.
  4. The cooking method also matters. For grilling or roasting, use mustard with higher sugar content for a caramelized crust. For slow-cooking methods like stewing, use mustard with a more complex flavor to add depth to the dish.

Ultimately, it’s best to experiment with different mustards to find what works best for your taste preferences and cooking style.

How can you make homemade mustard for meat?

Making homemade mustard is surprisingly easy. It also allows you to customize the flavor. Here’s a simple recipe for making mustard at home:


  • 1/2 cup yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric as natural color (optional)


  • Combine the mustard seeds, apple cider vinegar, and water in a small bowl. Cover the bowl and let this mixture rest at room temperature for at least 8 hours.
  • After the mixture has soaked, blend this mixture into a blender or food processor.
  • Add the salt and turmeric (if using), and blend until the mixture reaches your desired consistency. You may need to add more water if the mustard is too thick.
  • In the end, add honey or brown sugar to the mixture and blend for a few seconds.
  • Taste the mustard and adjust the seasonings as needed.
  • Transfer the mustard to an airtight and refrigerate it overnight. The mustard flavors release at their best at cold temperatures. 
  • After refrigeration, you can keep this mustard at room temperature in your kitchen cabinet for several months because it has natural preservatives.


You can experiment with adding other ingredients, such as herbs and spices, to the mix. Enjoy your homemade mustard with your favorite cuts of meat!

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