Marinating meat is a process where food, especially meat, is soaked in a liquid before cooking. You’ve probably heard of this seasoning technique before, and you probably think that you need to let the meat sit in marinade for days. That’s not true! We’re here to tell the truth about marinating, how it works, why you don’t need to marinate for days and how you can make a tasty marinade for your meat with little fuss. Keep reading to discover the truth about marinating meat.
Marinating meat does not flavor the entire piece of meat, nor does it tenderize the 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.
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.
Marinating Meat Still is Useful and Adds Great Flavor
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 Great Marinade
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.
Our 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. This is just a guideline, so please customize and play with this at home. To see a simple red wine marinade that we frequently use at home, click here to view the recipe.
We hope this post helped you understand marinating a little bit more and learn how you can properly use this seasoning technique to make delicious meals at home. We have lots of delicious marinades available in the store to take home or you can whip up your own using our suggested recipe. If you have more questions, stop in the store and ask, or just shoot us a line! We’ll see you soon at Lake Geneva Country Meats.