Sealing meat in a plastic bag and letting it marinate overnight is taken as an important step in preparing many meat dishes, but do you know the truth about marinating meat? Much of what many people believe about marinating meat, is actually a myth! It’s okay, though because Lake Geneva Country Meats is here to help you learn the truth about marinating meat and why it still is a benefit to many meat dishes. Keep reading to learn why these myths are myths, why marinating meat is still a good idea, and how to make a great marinade!
Myth 1 – Marinating Meat Adds Flavor Throughout the Whole Piece of Meat
Many home cooks will put their meat in a plastic bag, cover it with marinade, and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. The thinking behind this long marinade is that with enough time, the liquid will penetrate the entire piece of meat and infuse flavor evenly throughout the meat. This is unfortunately untrue. According to studies performed by food scientists, even after letting meat soak in a marinade for 8 days, the liquid marinade penetrated less than 1/8″ into the meat!!
Also as part of this myth, people believe that soaking the meat for a long period of time is necessary for the marinade to work. Since soaking for 8 days only penetrated less than 1/8″, this obviously isn’t true! The truth is that the marinade only needs to be on the meat long enough to cover the all the surfaces of the meat. In a few quick seconds, the marinade will coat the outside of the meat, including all the nooks and crannies, and be sucked up through the capillaries in the meat. So rejoice last minute planners! The truth about marinating meat, is that you can whip up a marinade, cover your meat, and cook almost immediately, no need to let the meat sit in marinade for hours.
Myth 2 – Marinating Meat Tenderizes the Meat
Adding acid to meat will break down tough fibers inside the meat and make it more tender, right? So if we add an acidic substance like lemon juice, wine or vinegar to a marinade, it will help tenderize a tougher cut of meat, right? Wrong! Unfortunately, as we discussed, since the meat only penetrates the surface of the meat, it doesn’t have a chance to get deep inside the meat and work on all of the fibers. The acid will tenderize what it touches, but since it doesn’t touch all the parts of the meat, it will actually turn the outside of the meat mushy and leave the inside firm.
The only ways to effectively tenderize meat are mechanical. Even though this sounds like something out of a horror movie, it’s actually very easy to tenderize meat using a mechanical, rather than chemical process. Here are the three ways to mechanically tenderize meat:
- Take a meat mallet to your meat and pound it with the sharpened spikes to break up muscle fibers.
- Let us run meat through our cuber, which is an upscaled version of you taking a meat mallet to a round steak at home.
- Slice your meat against its natural grain to break up fibers and give you more tender bites.
Why You Should Still Marinate Your Meat
Now that you know the truth about marinating meat, you ask “Why should I marinade my meat?” Well, marinating still adds rich flavor to the outside of the meat and much of what we perceive as flavor comes from the outside of the meat. Whipping up a quick marinade (or purchasing a premade marinade) will impart flavor above and beyond what the meat itself possesses and this isn’t a bad thing at all. Plus, most marinades can also work well as a sauce to pour on top of meat once it is finished, adding extra juiciness to the meat. To make a sauce out of a marinade, a good rule of thumb is to add marinade that hasn’t been used to marinate meat to a sauce pan, bring it to a boil, reduce the heat to keep the liquid at a boil, and then let it simmer until it reduces by half.
How to Make a Bomb Diggity Marinade at Home
Marinades come in all sorts of flavors and it’s easy to purchase a premade marinade to match your desired flavor profile. However, it’s often more fun to make one at home to show off a bit of your culinary skills. Marinades are super easy to make and have 4 main ingredient classes. Within these classes of ingredients, you can customize as you like. Watch this short video clip to see me explain what the ingredients are:
Once again those ingredients are:
- OIL like canola, olive, peanut, or vegetable. This is the base to the marinade.
- ACID like lemon juice, wine or vinegar. This helps pop the flavors of the marinade. Acid is also nice to complement fat in meat.
- SEASONING of your choice for the dish. Choose your favorite seasonings or a premade mix of seasonings appropriate to your dish.
- SALT of any kind, I prefer kosher or sea salt. Salt enhances flavor and helps the meat hold more moisture while it is cooking.
My base recipe (which is big enough for most steaks or chicken breasts and I double for things like roasts, etc.) is 1 cup of oil, 1 cup of acid, 1 tablespoon of seasonings (so if you use two seasonings make them add up to 1 tablespoon), 1 tablespoon of salt, and 1/2 tsp of black pepper. I know the black pepper is a seasoning, but I don’t count it towards the 1 tbsp of seasonings because I think it’s essential to any dish! This is just a guideline, so please customize and play with this at home. To see a simple red wine marinade that I frequently use at home, click here to view the recipe.
Summing Up The Truth About Marinating Meat
So the truth about marinating meat is that while it doesn’t penetrate the entire cut of meat or make less tender meat more tender, it still is a useful culinary tool to add rich flavor to any dish. We’ll keep marinating meat at LGCM and I’ll still use it in my home cooking, but now I’ll save time by not trying to marinade meat overnight when it doesn’t help anyway! Let me know your favorite marinades in the comments below, and for more information, check out the further reading section.
Thanks for reading and see you soon at LGCM!
- Washington Post article “The Myth About Marinades“
- Excellent page from AmazingRibs.com with in depth info called “The Secrets And Myths Of Marinades, Brinerades, And How Gashing Can Make Them Work Better” – note I don’t agree with all of their assertions.
- Another excellent page from AmazingRibs.com explaining brines, which are very salty marinades, and why brines will help make meat more tender where marinades will not.