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The Science of Marinades

The Science of Marinades

When encountering a less than stellar piece of meat, we have always leaned on a bit of chemistry to help enhance it—the marinade. Marinating is a Science.

But if you are anything like me, the how and the why of something is interesting. This article will be a quick reference on what is really going on with your meat in that Ziploc bag in your fridge.

Stemming from its Latin roots of mare, which is the word for the sea, early marinades consisted of salt water, which was used as a preservative and people soon figured out that it added flavor to their meat as a pleasant byproduct.

The Science of Marinades

As you might expect, marinades have evolved into more complex and sophisticated recipes. Today, marinades consist of immersing foods in a liquid that is usually made up of an oil, seasonings and, most importantly, either an acid or enzyme. It should be noted that marinades do not affect the entire piece of meat, but merely the surface flavors.

With a collaboration of all these ingredients, the meat that is submerged will become tenderized as the acid breaks apart connective tissues, that leaves the meat with a softer mouthfeel. This happens as the protein bonds dissolve; water is released and the end product is the tenderness feeling. A word of caution: if you over-marinate with acid-base mixtures it can actually lead to your meat toughening up and partially cooking.

If you are more of an enzyme enthusiast, marinades that implement ingredients like pineapples, yogurt, kiwi or papaya, proteins in your meat are broken down by an enzyme known as protease.

Protease enzymes essentially break down proteins into amino acids. Similar to acidic marinades, over saturation of the meat would lead to its disintegration, and in this case, it will turn to slop.

Now that we know more about why marinades work, let’s focus on how to implement them with two important factors— temperature and duration. It is best to marinade meat in the fridge, granted the colder temperature slows down the protein break down, so it is recommended to bring the meat out to room temperature 30-minutes prior to cooking.

Now – how long should you keep your meat in your liquid creation? It depends on the size of the meat you are working with. With smaller sized meat, you should marinate for about two hours. Those larger cuts of meat can marinate over night.

Marinades can be broken down to a science. Knowing how it works can help make a dull piece of meat more exciting. Just need to harness some creativity.

Meat Temp Infographic

Cooking Temperatures

If you’re NEW to Barbecue – Read More about the Basics of Flavorization HERE

By: Andrew Nobles

Andrew is a New Dad, Pro Writer, Foodie and is joining us to share his love of Barbecue!


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