Ultimate Guide to Marinating Meat

This is to the point guide on understanding the marination process, marinades and tips and tricks to marinate various kinds of meats.

Let’s dive right in.

What is Marination of Meat?

The marination of meat is the process of soaking meat in a marinade. A marinade is a liquid mixture of seasonings and flavorings used to soak or coat food before cooking.

When you marinate meat, it helps to break down the muscle tissue and tenderize the meat.

This is due to the acidic ingredients in the marinade, such as vinegar or lemon juice.

Additionally, herbs and spices added to the marinade will penetrate the meat, providing flavor.

Finally, the process of marination also helps to seal in moisture, resulting in juicy, flavorful meat.

If you are unsure what marinating does to meat, here is a great video, I personally love, answering it scientifically –

What are Marinades?

A marinade is a sauce or liquid in which meat, poultry, fish, or vegetables are soaked to enhance their flavor.

Marinades are usually made of three things – oil, acid (vinegar, lemon juice, or wine), and herbs. They are used to add flavor to food and to tenderize tougher cuts of meat.

Acid in Marinades

The acidic nature of marinades helps proteins in the meat break down, becoming more tender. As proteins break down, they leave space within the meat for flavor and moisture to seep in.

Most commonly used acidic foods as marinades are –

  • Vinegar
  • Alcoholic drinks such as Beer, Wine, Bourbon or other hard liquors
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Coffee
  • Juices (Cranberry, Grapefruit, Lemon, Lime, Orange)
  • Yogurt
  • Buttermilk

The jury is still out on which of the above works the best. But many prefer buttermilk and yogurt as they tend not to harm the overall texture of the meat even though they penetrate well.

Oils used in Marinades

You can think of Oil in the marinades as its moisture.

The reasons for applying oil in the marinades are:

  • To keep the food moist, this way meat retains the moisture and does not become dry
  • To add flavor to the food.
  • To help the food absorb the marinade flavor.

Here is a detailed guide on the best oils for marination>

Seasoning in the Marinades

Seasonings add flavors to the meat recipes.

The best part of seasoning is there is no rule and you can experiment with anything under the sun based on your taste and liking.

Garlic, black pepper, and ginger are some of the most common seasonings used in marinades.

Check out our Ultimate List of 40+ seasonings, herbs, salts, spices, and more for your marinades.

Here is a quick guide on seasoning + marinade for beginners –

Marinade and Meat Parings

You can significantly improve the flavor of your meat recipes if the right marinade is used.

Thus, it’s good to have some understanding of marinade -meat pairings.

Table: Marinade-Meat Pairings

Meat Marinade Type
SeafoodUse Mild Marinades as they are soaked quickly
ChickenUse Mild / Intense, based on your requirement
PorkUse Mild / Intense
BeefIntense and complex flavours

How Long to Soak Meat in Marinades?

It is important to choose the correct duration to soak the meat in marinades.

If you soak for too short a time, the flavors you are looking for will not develop. If you soak for too long, the meat will become mushy.

But don’t worry you have a good margin of error here. The broad guidelines below should help.

Table: Time Duration of Soaking Meat in Marinades

MeatSoaking Time
Fish30 min – 1 hr
Chicken1 hr – 3 hrs
Pork3 – 7 hrs
Lamb5 - 9 hrs
Beef6 - 24 hrs (based on size of cuts)

It is important that you keep the marinated meat in the fridge. The reason is that the fridge will help to keep the meat cold and inhibit the growth of bacteria.

The leftover marinade is also best thrown, as that also is a breeding ground for bacterial growth.

Precautions while Marinating Meat

The most important precaution to be taken while marinating meat is to keep it refrigerated if you plan to marinate it for more than 1 hr.

The meat should be completely covered in the marinade and any unused portion should be stored in the refrigerator.

If there are any leftovers, they should be disposed of immediately.

It is recommended that Marinated meat should not be stored for more than 24 hours as it may become mushy, but it can still remain safe to consume for a much longer time.

Tips and Tricks to Marinate Meat Varieties

Here is some great information on marinating chicken at home>. For Pork lovers, here is the guide to marinating pork> .

Here are great tips for marinating steak and seafood.

Some general tips to marinate a variety of meats for the best results –