Pitmasters always hunt for methods to switch up the taste, texture and outcome of their meats. Is it any wonder so many turn to marinating? Yet the topic of marinating, such as most discussions related to grilling, creates plenty of conversation.
Here, we break down marinating, so you can decide when and if it belongs in your grilling repertoire.
A marinade is a sauce that typically includes oil, vinegar, spices and herbs and covers any meat or fish. Most cooks soak meat in a marinade to give it a certain kind of flavor or soften it. Marinating infuses flavors into meats, poultry and seafood. The technique can also transform the texture, turning a tougher cut into a more tender version by the time it hits the grilling platter.
So how does a marinade work? The general school of thought surrounding marinades is that soaking meat in some kind of acidic concoction with or without spices will break down the connective tissue in the meat. Scientists question how much the meat actually breaks down, but anyone who has tried a marinated steak or chicken breast can tell the difference.
You can easily buy marinades in a store or online, along with seasonings and post-grilling sauces. However, homemade marinades can be just as tasty. Besides, they allow you to use what you have on-hand in your fridge or pantry. All you need is an acid, such as citrus juice, wine or vinegar. From there, you can always add some of your favorite herbs and seasonings. If you have a garden, see which fresh-grown herbs strike your fancy and throw them into your marinade as a test. You can even use world-class grilling rubs in your marinade.
Some grilling stars add oil to their marinades. While oil is hardly necessary, feel free to add some in. If you make enough marinade with oil, divide it in half. Use one half to marinate the meat before grilling. Then, keep the other for a salad dressing to tie in all the flavors on your dinner table.
How long to marinate depends on your type of meat. After soaking your items in a marinade, start your timer according to the type of product. Marinate in the refrigerator in a non-metal, non-reactive container to avoid food safety risks. You can marinate fish for up to two hours, chicken up to 12 hours and beef, lamb and pork up to 24 hours.
Fish: 15mins-2 hrs
Chicken: 30mins-12 hrs
Beef: 2-24 hrs
Pork: 2-24 hrs
Lamb: 2-24 hrs
A general rule of thumb for marinating time length is the thicker and tougher the cut, the longer it should take a bath. Of course, throw out the marinade “bathwater” and do not use it for cooking since it has been around raw meat, poultry or fish.
One myth about marinades is that they are unnecessary. If you have tried marinated pork, you know they work. Another common myth is that salt is necessary. Forget it — add salt at the end if you wish for a bit of flavor, but leave it out of your marinade. Be careful of sodium-rich marinades because they add no real flavor to the process.
Another myth asserts you should marinate as long as possible. While some meat can get marinated for up to a day, avoid overdoing it. That meat deserves to meet the grill before the beginning of next week! If the meat starts to turn a funny color or smell, it may have marinated too long.
As a last note about marinades and marinating, remember you can lightly brush your meat at the end with fresh marinade to get all the benefits of marinating meat. You will bring out the undertones of the original marinade and give the meat one last touch-up.
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