The flavor and texture of the meat can either enhance or spoil an eating experience. The good news is, you can greatly improve both by marinating the meat before cooking.
Marinating is the process of soaking food, in this case, meat, in a seasoned liquid before cooking. These seasoned liquids are called marinades and there are different types for different foods.
The process increases the flavor and tenderizes tougher cuts of meat.
Below we discuss how to make marinades, how to make them work for you, and how to ensure safety in your meat preparation.
What Is a Marinade?
A marinade is a seasoned liquid in which food is soaked before cooking. You can use a store-bought marinade or prepare one at home. Homemade marinades give you control over what you consume and allow you to be creative.
Typically, marinades contain four main ingredients: salt, oil, flavoring, and acid. Alcohol is also used in some cases.
Salt softens the meat, making it easier to chew. You can use sea salt, kosher salt, or a salty seasoning like Worcestershire to prepare your marinade.
Oil is useful in two ways. One, it helps the herbs and flavorings used to release their full flavor. Two, it helps retain the moisture in the meat, making it tender. You can get oil from yogurt, olive oil, or buttermilk.
Dried or fresh herbs and spices are a good source of flavoring. You can be as creative as you want here and mix flavors as much as you can. Ginger, garlic, onion, mint, and thyme are good places to start.
Acid improves the flavor of your meat. Many marinades use acidic liquids like vinegar or citrus juices like lime or lemon.
Proper mixing of ingredients in a marinade is critical. If you opt for an off-the-shelf marinade, taste it first to ensure you like it before using it on your meat.
How Much Marinade Should You Use?
The consistency of the marinade you use will determine how much you use. Thin marinades seep into the meat faster.
½ cup of marinade is recommended for one pound of beef. You can still use a little more depending on your taste.
How Long to Marinate
The type, cut, and size of the meat will determine how long you marinate it. Different recipes will also recommend different times.
Generally, thinner cuts of meat are easier to marinate. However, tougher cuts like skirt and flank steaks can be cut up into smaller cubes or slices.
Seafood should not be kept long in an acid-based marinade because the acid starts breaking it down almost immediately. 15 to 30 minutes is enough time to marinate fish without breaking it down completely.
For tender cuts of meat, 2 to 8 hours is sufficient time for them to absorb the flavors. Tougher cuts should not be left in an acid-based marinade for longer than 24 hours.
It is important to note that marinades only penetrate the outer layer of the meat. They rarely seep into the middle of the meat.
Prolonged marinating will actually work against you, especially with acid-based marinades because they dry out the meat. They can also affect the color and flavor of the meat.
Thaw out frozen meat before marinating it.
Safety Precautions to Take
A great flavor should not be acquired at the expense of your health. There are important factors that you should consider when preparing your marinade.
Use non-reactive containers when preparing acidic marinades. Most metals react with acids, so food-safe plastics are preferable to aluminum cookware or foil. Glass containers are another option you could consider.
Using a resealable plastic bag also saves on the amount of marinade you use because it ensures the meat is in direct contact with the marinade. It is also easier to periodically flip the meat, ensuring the meat soaks evenly in the marinade.
Don’t use leftover marinade as a sauce alongside your cooked meat. Raw meat contains harmful bacteria that may contaminate your food. If you need a sauce with your cooked meat, prepare two batches of marinades in separate containers. If you didn’t but really need a sauce, boil the marinade for at least 5 minutes before serving it.
The harmful bacteria in raw meat multiply very quickly in warm conditions, between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit (4 to 60 degrees Celsius). To reduce the chances of contamination, marinate in the refrigerator, not at room temperature or outdoors.
Points to Remember
Marinating before cooking is a great way to ensure you end up with tender and flavorful meat. Remember:
- Don’t soak your meat for more than 24 hours in an acid-based marinade.
- Acids react with the metals in cookware. Marinate your meat in food-safe plastics.
- You can make a variety of great homemade marinades using oil, salt, acid, and herbs.
- Thinner cuts of meat soak in the flavors in a marinade faster.
- Leftover marinade may contain harmful bacteria.
Want to learn more about seasoning? Check the articles below:
What Is the Purpose of Seasoning Your Meats?
Sausage Preparation and the Pro-Tips on Seasoning
Famous Rub Types Paired with Delicious Recipes
When to Go Simple: The Best Cuts of Meat to Use Only Salt and Pepper
What is a Rub, Why and How to Do It?
For more great ideas on how to get the most out of your Bradley Smoker, check out the awesome articles on our Bradley Smoker Food Smoking Blog for more tips & tricks.