When it comes to marinating meat, there are two main schools of thought: those who believe that the fridge is the only place for your protein, and those who think that room temperature is just as good – if not better.
To find some answers, I did some research myself. So, is it OK to marinate at room temperature, and what is best?
You can marinate at room temperature for short periods safely. At warmer temperatures, it will speed up the tenderizing and flavor absorption from more enzyme activity, but carries a higher risk of bacteria growth. Marinating in the fridge slows it down, but reduces the risk of food poisoning.
Warm temperatures can potentially also “open up” the meat to allow flavors to penetrate, while the cold restricts the meat.
In this article, I cover some of the safety concerns regarding marinating outside of the fridge, including the maximum times it’s safe to do so. Let’s go!
How Long Can You Marinate At Room Temperature?
According to the USDA, you can leave perishable food out for a maximum of one to two hours depending on the outside temperature. If it’s over 90F (32C) then it’s 1 hour, below that up to 2 hours. Be sure to keep an eye on the clock and cook your meat as soon as the time is up.
The reason for this is that the ‘Danger Zone’ in which bacteria can grow is between 40F and 140F. Keeping food out of this Danger zone by refrigerating it below 40F or keeping it hot above 140F is the best way to slow down bacteria growth.
I’m always cautious when it comes to food safety, so for me, the fridge is always the best bet. Bacteria grow more quickly at room temperature, so it’s wise to err on the side of caution and keep your marinating meat in the fridge. Be especially careful marinating buttermilk chicken.
However, if you’re short on time or space in your fridge, and you have no choice but to leave it out on the countertop then follow food hygiene safety advice as stated above. See my post on what is the shortest time you can marinade to still be effective.
Is It Better To Marinate In The Fridge Or Room Temp?
It’s technically safe to marinate meat at room temperature for short periods – but is it better?
From a food safety perspective, the fridge is always the best bet. However, many people believe there are a few advantages to room-temperature marinating that are worth considering.
First of all, the theory is that room-temperature marinating speeds up the process of flavor absorption. This is because the heat helps to open up the pores of the meat, allowing the flavors of the marinade to penetrate more deeply.
Another potential advantage of room-temperature marinating is that it can help to tenderize the meat. The enzymes in the marinade work more quickly at higher temperatures, breaking down the tough muscle fibers in the meat.
If you’re short on time, then room-temperature marinating is certainly an option. Just be sure to keep an eye on the clock and cook your meat as soon as the 1 to 2-hour recommended time is up.
The safer option is to marinate meat in the fridge and just leave it for a bit longer (which of course is fine to do). This still gives the flavors time to penetrate the meat and tenderize the flesh, but without the added risk of bacteria growth.
Many people believe the colder temperatures actually help lock in the flavor so prefer to marinate in the fridge anyway.
How Long Can Meat Be Marinated In The Fridge?
Meat can be marinated for up to 24 hours in the fridge before the texture starts to get overly broken down by the acids or enzymes. Delicate meat or strong acidic marinades will reduce the amount of time it can be marinated for.
Generally, it depends on the type of meat and what’s in the marinade, but as a rule for chicken, pork, and beef, anything from 30 minutes up to 24 hours depending on the strength of the meat. It’s worth noting that 24 hours is not the ideal and should be kept much lower when using acids.
For fish and shellfish, 15 minutes to an hour is enough otherwise the acidic content of the marinade starts “cooking” the flesh. The marinade can penetrate the cell walls of seafood much more easily.
Usually, I find that 2 to 3 hours is the sweet spot for most types of meat as that gives the flavors time to penetrate without making the meat too mushy.
Ideally, you should only marinate meat for a maximum of 24 hours, during which it will soften. Beyond that, the acidity of the marinade will break down the muscle fibers of the meat.
Of course, if you’re using a particularly mild marinade then you can probably leave it for a bit longer – but 24 hours should be the absolute maximum.
Just be sure to keep an eye on the use-by date and make sure you cook the meat within that time frame. Check out my article on whether you can reuse your marinades safely.
How To Marinate At Room Temperature Safely
If you do choose to marinate at room temperature, there are a few things you can do to reduce the risk of food poisoning.
1. Be sure to use fresh meat that has been kept chilled from purchasing at the store right up to using it. Note that if the meat spent significant time unchilled after you purchased it before you got it home and into the fridge, it’s not suitable for marinating at room temperature.
This is because the warmer temperature will help any bacteria that may have already been introduced to the meat to grow more quickly. So, using fresh, chilled meat is essential.
The same goes for frozen meat that has been defrosted. If you’re unsure how long it was hanging around before freezing, marinate it in the fridge.
2. Use a clean, non-reactive bowl or container for your marinade (i.e. not aluminum, iron, or copper). Glass, ceramic, stainless steel, or food-grade zip-top bags are all good options.
3. Be sure to keep your meat covered while it’s marinating. This will help to prevent any bacteria or bugs from getting in.
4. Cook your meat thoroughly as soon as the recommended maximum marinating time is up. This will help to kill any bacteria that may have been introduced during the marinating process.
How Long Can Steak Marinate At Room Temperature?
As with other meats, the general rule is you can marinate steak at room temperature for up to 2 hours (1 hour if the ambient room temperature is above 90F(32C)). Beyond that, bacteria can start to grow on the meat and make you sick.
Many cooks recommend letting a steak come up to room temperature before cooking it. This gives the meat a more even cook, with less risk of the outside being overcooked while the inside is still rare.
Personally, I think 30 minutes is enough to leave it out and is well within the safe limit if you follow the advice above. If you want to marinade it longer start off in the fridge and then bring it out 30 minutes before cooking time.
So there you have it – everything you need to know about whether you can marinate meat at room temperature. Is it better to do it in the fridge or out on the countertop? Remember that outside the fridge may be slightly faster but comes with health risks.
Whether you choose to marinate your meat in the fridge or at room temperature, it’s important to be aware of the risks involved in order to avoid food poisoning. By following a few simple safety guidelines and using fresh, chilled meat, you can minimize those risks and enjoy a delicious marinated meal.
Have any questions? Ask me in the comment section below and I’ll get back to you.
Everyone loves a delicious ham and what better way to cook it than in the crockpot. When it comes to how much water to use for slow cooker ham, how much is best? Slow-cooked ham doesn't need to be...
Cooking corned beef in a slow cooker is a great method that ensures tender, flavorful beef with ease. But how much water do you need to add to slow-cooked corned beef for the best results? For...