Marinating: What Does it do to Your Meat?

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Marinating is a cooking technique where you soak your meat in a marinade, a liquid mixture of seasonings, for a period of time before cooking. But what does it do exactly?

Marinating helps break down the tough connective tissue in your meat, making it more tender and flavorful. It also helps remove unwanted odors and infuses the meat with the flavors of the marinade. Plus, it looks pretty cool!

In this article, I’ll explain exactly what marinating does and how to do it properly.

What does marinating do

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Unlocking the Secrets of Marinating Meat

Marinades are a mixture of ingredients that are used to add flavor and tenderize meats. They can be made from a variety of ingredients, including oil, vinegar, soy sauce, citrus juice, wine, and spices. The marinade is applied directly to the meat and left to sit for an extended period of time, allowing the flavors to penetrate the proteins and fats.

The Science Behind Marinating

Marinating works by breaking down the proteins and fats in the meat, making it more tender and flavorful. The acid in the marinade helps to break down the proteins, while the oil helps to keep the meat moist. The salt in the marinade also helps to bring out the flavors of the meat.

The Different Types of Marinades

There are many different types of marinades, each suitable for different types of meats and cooking styles. Some popular marinades include:

  • Barbecue marinade: A mix of oil, vinegar, sugar, and spices, ideal for grilled or smoked meats.
  • Soy ginger marinade: A mix of soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and sugar, perfect for Asian-style dishes.
  • Fresh herb marinade: A mix of fresh herbs, oil, and vinegar, great for lighter meats like chicken and fish.
  • Spicy marinade: A mix of hot peppers, oil, and vinegar, perfect for adding a little extra kick to your meats.

The Best Cuts of Meat for Marinating

While almost any type of meat can be marinated, some cuts are more suitable than others. The best cuts of meat for marinating include:

  • Beef: Flank steak, skirt steak, and sirloin are all good choices.
  • Chicken: Boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs work well.
  • Pork: Pork chops, tenderloin, and ribs are all good options.
  • Fish: Firm fish like salmon or tuna are ideal.

The Ideal Marinating Time

The length of time you should marinate your meat depends on the type of meat and the particular marinade you are using. Generally, meats should be marinated for at least 30 minutes, but can be left for several hours or even overnight for a super flavorful dish. Note that marinating for too long can actually dry out the meat, so be sure to keep an eye on it.

The Best Way to Marinate Meat

To marinate meat, simply mix your marinade ingredients in a bowl or dish, add your meat, and make sure it is fully coated. You can also use a plastic bag to carry out the mixing process. Once your meat is fully coated, cover the bowl or dish with plastic wrap or a lid and place it in the fridge. Make sure to turn the meat occasionally to ensure it is evenly coated.

The Extra Elements that Help with Marinating

There are a few extra things you can do to help with marinating:

  • Use a non-reactive bowl or dish: Stainless steel or glass are good choices.
  • Add a little water: This can help to thin out thicker marinades and ensure they coat the meat evenly.
  • Bring the meat to room temperature: This can help the marinade to penetrate the meat more effectively.
  • Use wood or charcoal: These can add extra flavor to your grilled meats.

Infusing Flavor on the Surface: The Art of Marinating

When marinating meat, the liquid mixture not only penetrates the meat but also flavors the surface. This technique is called “flavoring the surface.” The surface area of the meat is where the flavors are most concentrated, and marinating helps to bring out those flavors.

How Does it Work?

Marinades are typically made up of liquid, salt, acid, oil, and spices. When the meat is submerged in the marinade, the salt and acid break down the connective tissue, allowing the liquid and flavors to penetrate the meat. The oil and spices help to create a thick, flavorful coating on the surface of the meat.

What are the Benefits?

Flavoring the surface of meat through marinating has numerous benefits, including:

  • Creating a more complex and flavorful taste
  • Adding moisture to the meat, making it more tender
  • Helping to break down tough cuts of meat
  • Removing any unwanted odors or flavors
  • Producing a more visually appealing dish

What are the Best Marinades for Flavoring the Surface?

The best marinades for flavoring the surface of meat include:

  • Acidic marinades, such as those made with vinegar, citrus juice, or soy sauce
  • Sweet marinades, such as those made with sugar, honey, or ginger
  • Spicy marinades, such as those made with hot sauce or sliced onions
  • Complex marinades, such as those made with numerous spices and herbs

How Long Should You Marinate?

The length of time you should marinate meat depends on the type of meat and the thickness of the cut. As a general rule, it’s best to marinate meat for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours. However, some meats, such as seafood, should only be marinated for a short time, as the acid in the marinade can cause the protein to break down too quickly.

Marinating: The Secret to Flavorful and Tender Meat

Marinating is not just about flavoring the surface of your meat. It also allows the flavors to penetrate deeper into the meat, making it more flavorful and tender. Here’s how it works:

  • The acid in the marinade, such as vinegar or lemon juice, breaks down the muscle fibers in the meat, tenderizing it and allowing the liquid to be reabsorbed.
  • The oils and seasonings in the marinade transfer to the proteins in the meat, adding flavor.
  • The salt in the marinade draws out moisture from the meat, which is then reabsorbed along with the flavors of the marinade.

To get the most out of your marinade, follow these tips:

  • Use a non-reactive bowl or dish, such as stainless steel or glass, to marinate your meat. Avoid using aluminum or copper, which can react with the acid in the marinade.
  • Pierce the meat with a fork or make small cuts to allow the marinade to penetrate deeper.
  • For larger cuts of meat, use skewers to ensure the marinade reaches all areas.
  • Marinate poultry for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days, while red meat can be marinated for up to 5 days. Check the recipe or package instructions for specific marinating times.
  • Always marinate in the refrigerator to ensure food safety.
  • Don’t reuse marinades that have come into contact with raw meat. Double-check the recipe to make sure you have enough marinade for both the meat and any additional basting or sauce.
  • When grilling, remove any excess marinade from the meat to prevent flare-ups.

Great Marinade Combinations

Now that you know how marinating works, it’s time to get creative with your marinade combinations. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Soy sauce, ginger, and honey for an Asian-inspired flavor.
  • Onions, garlic, and spices for a savory blend.
  • Lemon juice, olive oil, and herbs for a light and fresh taste.
  • BBQ sauce, brown sugar, and Worcestershire sauce for a classic American flavor.

Remember, the possibilities are endless when it comes to marinades. Mix and match your favorite flavors to create a marinade that’s uniquely yours.

Marinating Tips and Tricks

  • To make sure your marinade evenly coats your meat, place it in a zip-top bag and remove as much air as possible before sealing.
  • For a nice char on your meat, pat it dry with a paper towel before cooking.
  • If you’re short on time, try marinating smaller pieces of meat, such as cubes or flat cuts, which will absorb the flavors more quickly.
  • If you want to add even more flavor to your meat, try using a brine before marinating. A brine is a mixture of salt and water that naturally tenderizes the meat, allowing it to better absorb the marinade.
  • When shopping for meat, look for cuts that are naturally tender, such as filet mignon or chicken breasts. These cuts will benefit the most from marination.
  • When starting out, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the different marinade recipes out there. Don’t be afraid to experiment and find what works best for you.
  • Remember, marinating is not just for meat. You can also marinate vegetables, tofu, and even fruit for a super flavorful dish.
  • Finally, don’t forget that marinating is a great way to use up any leftover herbs or spices you have on hand. Instead of letting them go to waste, mix them into a marinade and enjoy a delicious meal.

Why Marinating Meat is a Super Choice for Your Next Barbecue

Marinating meat is a simple yet effective method of adding extra flavor to your food. By using a mixture of ingredients, you can create a custom flavor that suits your taste buds. The longer you marinate your meat, the more time the molecules have to penetrate the surface, creating a rich and flavorful taste. You can choose from a variety of ingredients such as ginger, garlic, and soy sauce to help enhance the flavor of your meat.

Creating Tenderness in Tough Cuts of Meat

Marinating is an essential technique when it comes to cooking certain types of meat, such as beef and pork. Tough cuts of meat can be made more tender by marinating them for a longer period of time. The acids in the marinade help to break down the proteins in the meat, making it easier to chew and digest. This is especially important when you want to create pulled pork or beef for a special occasion.

Controlling Unwanted Compounds

When meat is grilled or cooked at high temperatures, it can create unwanted compounds that are potentially harmful to your health. Marinating your meat can help to reduce the formation of these compounds by providing a barrier between the meat and the heat. The sugars and water in the marinade can also help to prevent the meat from drying out during the cooking process.

Choosing the Right Container and Length of Time

When marinating meat, it’s important to choose the right container to hold the meat and the marinade. A metal or glass container is best as it won’t react with the acidic ingredients in the marinade. The length of time you marinate your meat will depend on the type of meat and the flavor you want to achieve. As a general rule, it’s best to marinate your meat for at least 30 minutes, but you can marinate it for up to 24 hours if you prefer.

Getting the Most Out of Your Marinated Meat

To get the most out of your marinated meat, there are a few things you need to keep in mind:

  • Make sure the meat is suitable for marinating. Some cuts of meat lack the necessary fat or connective tissue to benefit from marinating.
  • Read reviews or ask people who have tried similar products to find the right ingredients for your marinade.
  • Don’t marinate your meat for too long as it can actually have the opposite effect and make it tough.
  • Always work with clean hands and utensils to avoid contamination.
  • Allow the excess marinade to drip off the meat before cooking to prevent it from burning.
  • Don’t add too much salt to your marinade as it can dry out the meat.
  • Stir the marinade occasionally to make sure all the pieces of meat are evenly coated.
  • Remember that marinating is not a magic fix. It can enhance the flavor and tenderness of your meat, but it won’t make a bad piece of meat taste good.

Is Marinating Worth the Time and Effort?

In short, yes! Marinating your meat is an easy and effective way to add extra flavor and tenderness to your food. With a little bit of planning and the right ingredients, you can create a super custom flavor that will make your dinner guests want to come back for more. So next time you’re having a barbecue, don’t forget to marinate your meat!

Marinating: The Time Factor

Marinating is a great way to add flavor to your food, but it’s essential to know how long to marinate different types of food. Here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Meat: The length of time to marinate meat depends on the cut and type of meat. For tougher cuts like flank steak, you can marinate for up to 24 hours. For more delicate cuts like chicken breasts or fish, marinate for 30 minutes to 2 hours. Pork and beef can be marinated for shorter periods, around 2-4 hours, depending on the recipe. Always follow the instructions on the package or recipe for best results.
  • Seafood: Fish and shrimp are delicate and can become tough if marinated for too long. Marinate fish for 30 minutes to 1 hour and shrimp for 15-30 minutes. Acidic marinades like lemon or vinegar can cause the seafood to cook and become rubbery, so be careful.
  • Vegetables: Vegetables can be marinated for 30 minutes to 2 hours. The goal is to add flavor without making them too soft or mushy. Cut them into thin slices or bite-sized pieces for better absorption of the marinade.
  • Poultry: Chicken and other poultry should only be marinated for 2 hours or less. Prolonged exposure to acidic marinades can toughen the meat and cause it to become unsafe to eat. Always follow the USDA’s inspection guidelines for safe cooking temperatures.
  • Meat and seafood together: If you’re making kabobs or a recipe that combines meat and seafood, marinate them separately. The cooking time and method for each are different, and you don’t want to overcook or undercook either one.

The benefits of marinating

Marinating is not only a great way to add flavor to your food, but it also has some health benefits. Here are some of the benefits of marinating:

  • It can reduce the formation of harmful compounds when grilling or baking meat.
  • It can help keep the meat moist and juicy during cooking.
  • It can add extra nutrients to the food, depending on the ingredients in the marinade.
  • It can help cut down on cooking time by allowing the meat to cook more evenly.

So, next time you’re curious about how long to marinate your food, follow these guidelines and enjoy the perfect grilled or baked dish!


So, marinating does all sorts of amazing things to meat. It can make it more flavorful, more moist, and more tender. 

It’s a great way to infuse flavors into meat and can be used with a variety of cuts and meats. Just remember to use the right marinade and the right length of time for the best results.

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Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.