Marinating Meats Article -
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Marinating Meats

We have answers to the most frequently asked questions about marinating meat.

Why Marinade?
Marinades add flavor to food. They also add moisture, particularly when the marinade contains an oil base. Some marinades are also thought to tenderize meats. Buttermilk and yogurt are popular for this purpose. Whether or not they significantly tenderize meat, buttermilk, and yogurt help balance out the sweet, spicy, and aromatic flavors of a marinade.

How Should I Flavor My Marinade?

Marinades typically include an oil and an acid, but the sky's the limit for creativity. Add your own punctuation marks with fresh or dried herbs, spices, and chile peppers; onions, shallots, garlic, ginger, citrus zest; prepared condiments like mustard, ketchup, or plum sauce. For your oil base, try olive, peanut, sesame, walnut, or chile oil. You can also use milk, coconut milk, buttermilk, or yogurt.
However, don't add salt until right before you cook the meat. Salt can leech out moisture, drying and toughening the meat.

How Long Should I Marinate My Meat?

If they soak too long, delicate meats like seafood and skinless chicken can become mushy from the acid in marinades, so keep an eye on the clock.
  • Most seafood should not stay in for longer than an hour
  • Boneless chicken breasts only need about two hours
  • Pork loin can soak for four hours
  • Lamb can go from four to eight hours
  • Beef can marinate for 24 hours or more

Remember, always marinate in the refrigerator to avoid the growth of bacteria.

Can I Eliminate the Oil in a Marinade to Reduce Fat?

To reduce the fat but keep the moisture, try replacing the oil with milk, coconut milk, buttermilk, or yogurt. Using low-fat versions of dairy products also helps reduce the fat.

What Containers are Good for Marinating?
Glass dishes or resealable plastic bags work best. Metal containers and aluminum foil can give food a metallic flavor.

Can I Reuse the Marinade?
We recommend discarding the marinade. If you intend to use the same mixture to baste, either set aside a small amount before marinating, or boil the marinade for five minutes before using it as a basting sauce.

How Much Marinade?

You want your meat to be completely immersed in the marinade. Generally, 1/2 cup of liquid marinade for every 1 pound of meat will do the trick. If you can’t completely cover the meat, turn it over occasionally in the marinade.

What's Happening as My Meat Marinades?

When meat is exposed to an acidic marinade, the bonds break between protein bundles, and the proteins unwind, forming a loose mesh. Initially, water is trapped within this protein "net" and tissue remains moist and juicy. But after a while, the protein bonds tighten, water squeezes out, and the tissue toughens. Acid bases include vinegar, wine, citrus juice, and tomatoes.

Acidic marinades might actually toughen chicken. So when using a highly acidic marinade for chicken, add a little olive oil and/or minimize marinating time. Two hours is usually more than enough time.

On the other hand, enzymatic marinades work by breaking down the muscle fiber and connective tissue (collagen). Kiwi, papaya, raw pineapple, honeydew melon, and figs all contain protein enzymes (proteases). Again, they might work too well if the marinating goes on too long. Chicken might turn to mush without passing though an intermediate stage of tenderness. Two hours is usually enough time to marinate chicken.

Dairy-based marinades, such buttermilk or yogurt, are probably the only marinades that truly tenderize. Only mildly acidic, they don't toughen meat the way strongly acidic marinades do. It seems that the calcium in dairy products activates enzymes in meat that break down proteins; this process is similar to the way that aging tenderizes meat.

Does Marinating Affect Cooking Times?

Marinating for 12 hours or more does cut cooking time by about 1/3, so keep an eye on the grill.

Jun. 16, 2010 9:07 am
thanks for the advice. i always salt my meat before grilling and wonder why its dry. now i know
Nov. 9, 2010 12:27 pm
i always read on this site that people marinate their chicken for twenty four hours, and i've always gotten jealous that they had that much foresight. now i don't feel so bad :)
Feb. 17, 2011 11:37 pm
very instructive, thank you :-)
Mar. 31, 2011 4:42 am
Can you use dairy in any marinade? Do you replace the acid (wine, vinegar, etc) with the dairy?
Apr. 17, 2011 8:38 pm
A quick way of marinating is through the use of a Foodsaver device with a marinading container. With the meat and the marinade in the container, the air is then withdrawn. This open up the pores and allows the meat to absorb the marinade more quickly (about 20 minutes). I have used this method many times with top sirloin and chicken breast fillets with excellent results. Of course the other function of the machine is to vacuum seal meats to avoid freezer burn and to save tons of $$$.
May 18, 2011 7:31 am
Coconut milk will not reduce fat. It has more fat (especially saturated fat) than animal products. That goes for coconut oil as well.
May 18, 2011 7:36 am
Excellent information! BBQ season so my hubby appreciates the help as well.
May 18, 2011 12:17 pm
One question here: How much oil is needed in a marinade for a pound of meat? I'd like to try making my own, but fear I'd end up with a really greasy marinade that separates from the other ingredients too easily.
May 18, 2011 12:28 pm
citrus juice is a good substitue for meat tenderizer, try it
May 20, 2011 8:55 am
I know this sounds strange but pineapple juice and bbq sauce is a good marinade. I use head country.
May 22, 2011 7:09 am
Thanks, I always wanted to learn how to have juicy chicken for bbq,now I know.
May 29, 2011 3:37 pm
So... by adding salt to a marinade I run the risk of drying out the meat. But when I brine a chicken, there is a lot of salt in the brine... I guess I don't understand the difference between the two. Can someone enlighten me as to why using salt is good for one method but not for the other?
May 31, 2011 7:40 am
Can meat be frozen in the marinade? If so, how long?
Jun. 19, 2011 11:00 am
13GINAG-That's a great question! I'm also curious!! I love brining turkeys and chickens. I am marinating some chicken cubes now for kabobs and they have soy sauce, honey and oil. I'm trying to figure out if I could leave it for 36 hours.
Nov. 18, 2011 6:24 pm
new york strip marinated in refrige for 3 or 4 days are they still good to cook and eat
Oct. 11, 2012 10:48 pm
Can you marinate ribs(pork)ribs in butermilk to help make them tender
Dec. 2, 2012 8:55 am
I like marinating the meat with papaya and serving the extra papaya as a fruit salad fit well.
Novice girl 
Mar. 7, 2015 11:58 am
I purchased a lot of water chilled frozen chicken breasts (rather than air chilled) before I knew there was a difference. The finished texture once cooked is... unappealing. I have tried marinades, stir fry, BBQ, etc methods. How do I remove the water from the meat so that the texture is closer to air chilled once it's cooked? Many thanks!
Apr. 3, 2015 2:49 pm
I want to marinate chicken thighs in milk does this help
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