A meat pounder is a kitchen tool which is designed to tenderize meat. Meat pounders are called for in some classic recipes, when people need very thin, tender meats, and they are also very handy for handling tough meats like abalone. Many kitchen supply stores sell meat pounders; if it's an emergency, you can also approximate a meat pounder with a mallet or hammer.
Most meat pounders are lightweight, so that they do not damage the meat as they are used. Some have ridged surfaces which are designed to penetrate the meat; these surfaces also make the surface of the meat uneven, allowing it to pick up marinades and sauces more easily. Typically, both sides of a cut of meat are pounded to ensure full penetration with the meat pounder, and then the meat can be marinated or dredged in breading for cooking.
Metal is a common material for meat pounders, since it is very easily to sterilize. It is also possible to find plastic pounders, which may not hold up as well in the long term. In the case of a metal meat pounder, the handle may be outfitted with a grip made from silicone or a similar material so that it is less likely to slip as it is used. It is also not uncommon for a meat pounder to have a small hole in the handle so that it may be hung from a peg in the kitchen.
Using a meat pounder does not require very much skill. The important thing to remember is that it is possible to pound meat too much; if you are too heavy handed with a meat pounder, you can pierce holes in a thin cut of meat, which can make it difficult to handle or cook. The idea is to tenderize, rather than pulverize, the meat, making it more pleasant to eat.
If a meat pounder is not readily available, you can use a hammer or mallet. Because these tools tend to be heavier than a typical meat pounder, you should wield them more delicately so that the meat is not damaged. You can also insulate the blows of the meat pounder by wrapping the meat in a clean towel before pounding it; if you'd rather not get a towel dirty, wrap the meat in heavy plastic and then a towel or old t-shirt.
Since meat pounders are used with raw meat, it is important to make sure that they are thoroughly cleaned after use. Hot water and bleach or a similar disinfectant are highly recommended, and you may want to consider ease of cleaning when you purchase a meat pounder. Avoid one with lots of small holes and crannies for bacteria to hide in, and look for one that is dishwasher safe to make cleanup even easier.