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Meat is a staple on many dinner tables. Oftentimes, people will marinate meat to impart extra flavor into it. It’s important to know how to marinate meat properly to ensure the food is being prepared safely and that it comes out tasting delicious.

The Basics of Marinating

Marinades fall into three groups: aromatics, oils, and acids. Aromatics are herbs, spices, and vegetables that lend a distinctive taste to the dish. Examples of aromatics include garlic, thyme, cumin, and other seasonings. Aromatics can also be used as a dry marinade, which is a mixture of seasonings that are rubbed into the meat without any added liquids.

Oil marinades can use a variety of oils, such as vegetable, peanut, or olive oil. Depending on the depth of flavor desired, certain oils like olive oil may be preferred since it has a stronger taste to it. Peanut oil, which has a higher smoke point, is useful when cooking or grilling meats at temperatures above 400 degrees. When using an oil marinade, it’s best to pat the meat dry prior to cooking to avoid flare-ups on the grill.

Marinating Time Frames

Some believe that the longer meat sits in a marinade the more tender it will be. Marinades only penetrate the outer layer of the meat, however, no matter how long it sits for. The length of time required for marinating depends on the size and cut of meat.

  • Small (less than 3 hours)- chicken breasts, steaks, shrimp.
  • Medium (4 to 8 hours)- tenderloins, rack of lamb, whole chicken.
  • Large (12 to 24 hours)- brisket, pork shoulder, whole turkey, prime rib.

Acid marinades help to break down the meat and tenderize it by changing the texture of the outer protein layer of the meat. Acidic foods like citrus, vinegar, and wine are ideal for marinating meats that have a tough texture.

Safe Handling

Always place marinated meats in the refrigerator until they are ready to be cooked. To use marinades as a sauce, either reserve some prior to inserting the meat or boil the used marinade for at least 3 minutes. For quick cleanup, marinate meat in a resealable plastic bag. This also makes massaging and rotating the meat easier.