How to Make Your Own Meat Marinators This Summer

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Summer is always a great time for marinating meat and throwing it on the grill.  Many people think they understand the concept of marinating.  The real truth is, most folks really don’t know a thing about how the marinating process actually works.  There’s a lot more to marinating meat than simply soaking it in some creative and flavorful ingredients.  Understanding what the job of a good marinator is will help you appreciate how to marinate meat better.  So before you start marinating, keep in mind the real purpose of a marinator is to enhance the meat’s flavor

Misconceptions about Marinade

Forget the misconception that marinating automatically tenderizes your meat and keeps it moist.  This is not the case.  The wrong marinade can result in a flavorful tasting piece of dried up leather.The taste will be there, but the texture and moisture will be lost.  It helps to know the three types of ingredients that create a standard marinade base. The three types are flavoring, fats and food acids, and all three serve a different purpose. 

The Standard Ingredients of Marinade

Flavor in Marinade

Flavor in a good marinade can come from any variety of your favorite herbs and spices.  Depending on the type of marinade you want, your seasonings can range from wet, to dry, to somewhere in between.  Flavor is the heart of your marinade, whether you select seasonings from a package, or use fresh herbs and spices.

Fats in Marinade

Fats are used in a marinade base to help the meat stay moist and retain juices.  Fats that are typically added to a marinade usually come in the form of oils.  This includes olive oil, sesame and peanut oil. 

Food acids in Marinade

Food acids, such as in lemons, limes and even oranges, serve to break down collagen fibers in the meat.  The acidity from the fruit is the active ingredient in the marinade that is responsible for tenderizing the meat.  Ironically, too much acid can have the reverse affect on your meat. 

Marinades Containing Enzymes

Meat can turn out tough when soaking for too long in marinade heavy with food acids.  This can even result in having tender cuts of meat turn bad.  That’s why the combination of ingredients in your marinade is important.  While you want a marinade for its flavor, make sure you know how the ingredients interact together.  For example, chemical meat tenderizes (the kind you find on the shelf next to the seasonings) contain enzymes.  Papain and Bromelain are two popular enzymes that are typically found in meat tenderizers.  They are developed from pineapple and papaya, two fruits that contain natural enzymes.  You can imagine the results if you marinate a thin cut of beef for several hours in an orange, pineapple, papaya base.  Talk about overkill!

Different Types of Marinade

Wet Marinades

Marinating is always a good way to add some extra zest and zing to your meat.  With so many types of marinade bases to choose from, your creative juices will begin to flow.  As long as you remember the points about the standard marinade bases, you can be as creative as you want.  Your marinades will make this one of the tastiest summers ever!    You have the choice of creating wet marinades (which is the most common), dry marinades (also called dry rubs), and marinade pastes.  Wet marinades will often have a base made from wine, vinegar or citrus juices, as well as the different oils already mentioned.  

Dry Marinades

Dry marinades differ from the standard wet marinades due to the dried herbs and spices used.  For dry rubs, many cooks like to use seasonings such as chili powder, onion powder and cayenne pepper, to name a few.   These ingredients are literally rubbed vigorously into the meat for several minutes, allowing the meat to absorb the seasonings.  Then the meat is allowed to sit for a short period before it is actually cooked. 

Paste Marinades

Marinade pastes are made by adding a little oil to dried herbs and spices that have been crushed.  Ingredients like crushed thyme, oregano and a host of other spices are moistened just enough to make a paste.  The marinade paste is then slathered over the meat so it can be absorbed.     

Marinating Place and Time

Marinade in the Refrigerator

The right marinade ingredients will usually result in juicy, tender and flavorful meat.  There are, however, a few things to keep in mind.   Use a re-sealable plastic bag, to make sure the marinade mixture fully saturates the meat..  A container made from food-grade plastic (non-reactive) can also be used.  If you plan on doing a lot of marinating this summer, it’s best to get one now and have it on hand.  Marinating should never be done by leaving the container of meat on the counter.  Unless you plan on throwing it on the grill within the next 20 minutes after applying the marinate to the meat, put the marinated meat in the refrigerator.  This is in accordance with USDA Safety & Inspection Service regulations.  Two additional safety precautions are:  Never save marinade that has contained raw meat and Never baste your cooked meat with marinade that has contained raw meat.    

Marinating Time

Different marinade recipes call for different marinating times and they are usually based on the type of meat being marinated.  An average time for chicken beef and pork will normally vary between 2 – 4 hours.  Recipes that are more involved than just your standard marinade mixture may require a longer processing time.  Be careful of marinating overnight, unless you are using an herb and oil-based marinade.  It may also be necessary to turn the meat periodically when the meat is not completely immersed in the mixture.

These are just a few marinating basics that can help turn your backyard barbecue days into a sumptuous feast.  The great thing about marinating meat is that you don’t just have to throw it on the grill.  You can enjoy your marinade recipes even when summer’s over and you’re back to cooking in the oven.       

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