Does Marinating Help Preserve Meat? (How Long Will It Last?)


It’s no secret that a good marinade is a surefire trick for a tender, flavorful, and succulent cut of meat. Taste and texture aside, surely the salt and acidic ingredients in the marinade will help preserve the meat so that it lasts a little longer in the fridge?

Marinating meat will help preserve it only minimally, and it will not last much longer than fresh meat. Ingredients in the marinade will only inhibit bacterial growth around the surface of the meat, leaving the interior susceptible to decay.

As with all raw meat, use it earlier rather than later to avoid becoming ill. There is no reason to marinade meat for longer than 24 hours as the mixture doesn’t penetrate much past the surface.

It’s also not best to marinade in acids for lengthy times as the proteins will start to break down and leave the meat’s surface mushy.

In this article, I’ll give a guide on the best marinating times for each type of meat. First let’s have a look at the difference between marinating and preserving and find out if a simple marinade will keep meat fresher for longer.

Does Marinating Meat Make It Last Longer In The Fridge?

Marinating meat will not make it last much longer in the fridge. While typical marinade ingredients such as salt and acids like vinegar, lemon juice, and buttermilk are known to inhibit bacterial growth and preserve food, they are not so effective just on the surface.

This is for the following reasons:

  • Marinades cannot penetrate beyond the meat’s surface, which leaves the center vulnerable to microbial growth and food spoilage.
  • Meat can absorb salt deep into its surface, but preserving meat can only be accomplished with heavily salted brines that do not contain oil, which is present in most marinades.
  • Marinating meat for an extended period is strongly discouraged because bacterial growth increases when raw meat is exposed to other ingredients. Ultimately, this accelerates food spoilage and poses a serious health risk.

Marinating Vs. Preserving

The presence of salt and acidic ingredients often leads to the misconception that marinating is a form of food preservation. Marinating mostly works on the surface of the meat, and it will remain susceptible to decay.

The difference between marinating and preserving is that marinating is for immediate consumption and enhanced taste and enjoyment of food while preserving is for food safety, quality, and consumption over an extended period.

Marinating is a common and highly effective step in the food preparation process. Vegetables and meat such as beef, poultry, lamb, pork, and fish are immersed in a liquid mixture or paste called a marinade, before cooking.

A marinade is typically a mixture of oil, salt, herbs, spices, sugar, and acids like soy sauce, buttermilk, lemon juice, and vinegar. These ingredients work together to tenderize tough cuts of meat and enhance their flavor and moisture.

With the right balance of salt, oil, seasoning, and acids, marinating can improve the taste, texture, and overall quality of food, particularly meat. 

Preserving (commonly known as food preservation) is the treatment and storage of food to prevent or slow down spoilage and extend its shelf life. Preserving inhibits bacterial growth and helps maintain optimal taste, freshness, and quality of food for consumption.

Several techniques can be used to preserve food, depending on the type of food, environment, and length of preservation. The most common home methods of food preservation include:

  • Freezing
  • Brining
  • Refrigeration
  • Canning  
  • Pickling 
  • Dehydration 
  • Vacuum packing

Read about dry brining in my post about seasoning meat and see how it can add lots of flavor.

Can You Marinate Meat Too Long?

Meat that has been marinated for too long can become mushy from the acids and eventually unsafe to eat. Fresh meat is prone to microbial growth and decay when immersed in the marinade for a prolonged period.

Yes, you can marinate meat for too long. Contrary to popular belief, longer is not better when marinating meat. Over-marinating is a common mistake and can turn a good piece of meat into a distasteful and potentially unsafe disappointment.

Marinating for too long will have counterproductive results, leaving the meat with an overpowering taste, an unpleasant color, and a dry texture. 

Acid and alcohol in the marinade will eventually make the outer layer of the meat mushy and mealy while leaving the inside tough and chewy. The meat may lose its natural flavor as the acidic ingredients ‘cook’ the meat the longer it sits in the marinade.

How Long Can You Leave Meat To Marinate?

As a general rule of thumb, the maximum marinating time for seafood is 1 hour, poultry for 12 hours, and red meat for 24 hours. The meat’s taste, texture, and freshness tend to deteriorate beyond this period.

Since only the outer surface of the meat will benefit from a marinade soak, a lengthy marinating time is not necessary, and it’s usually best to marinade for much shorter.

Marinating time will depend on the recipe and type of meat you are using. You can refer to these basic guidelines below:

  • Seafood: Shellfish and fish are naturally delicate and tender. Marinade for a mere 15 to 30 minutes or a maximum of one hour. Prolonged marination will ‘cook’ the fish and give it a mushy consistency.
  • Poultry: Marinate a full chicken for 4-12 hours, bone-in pieces for about 2-6 hours, and boneless pieces anywhere between 20 minutes to 2 hours. Chicken can marinate for a maximum of 12 hours, after this, its flavor and texture will begin to deteriorate. 
  • Meat: Cuts like strip and T-bone can marinate for 1-2 hours. Roasts will need 2-8 hours, and tender cuts like chops, sirloin, and flank require as little as 30 minutes to 1 hour. Beef, pork, and lamb can be left to marinate for a maximum of 24 hours.

Take note that high-quality steaks such as ribeye, porterhouse, and filet mignon typically don’t need the help of a marinade.

What Are The Benefits Of Marinating Meats?

Marinating is an incredibly simple, affordable, and effective culinary technique that will transform a humdrum piece of meat into a mouthwatering meal.

Top reasons why you should marinate meat:

  • Enhanced flavor: 

The fusion of salt, sweetness, fat, acids, and other seasonings gives the meat a complex and incredibly delicious umami flavor. The sugars in the marinade caramelize and brown the surface of the meat as it cooks, forming a tasty crust.

A marinade enables you to personalize and create unique flavors and blends that instantly spruce up an ordinary piece of meat.

  • Added moisture:

While salt in the marinade pulls water from the center of the meat to the surface, the fat (such as olive or vegetable oil) lubricates the muscle fibers in the flesh, which locks in moisture and keeps it juicy and succulent.

  • Improved texture and tenderness:

Acidic ingredients in the marinade (buttermilk, vinegar, lemon juice) break down and weaken the connective fibers around the surface, which tenderizes the meat.

  • Reduced carcinogens:

Studies reveal that marinating meat before grilling may help reduce carcinogens (cancer-causing compounds that form when meat is cooked on high heat).

The marinade needs to include acids like red wine, vinegar, or lemon juice. Use minimal amount of oils and sugar, as these compounds can increase carcinogenic compounds when cooking.

In the studies, rosemary in the marinade was found to be effective at reducing the release of carcinogens in grilled meat.

Can Marinated Meat Be Frozen?

You can freeze meat that has been marinated – but avoid freezing the meat submersed in a marinade. Lengthy exposure to acids in the marinade will affect the taste and texture of the meat once thawed and cooked.

Rather remove the meat from the marinade, wrap individual pieces in plastic wrap and place them in a resealable freezer bag or airtight container before freezing. 

Marinated meat can be kept frozen for about 3 months.

What Is The Best Way To Cook Marinated Meat?

Dry, high-heat cooking methods guarantee mouthwatering, tender meat with a caramelized crust. I recommend the following methods:

  • Pan-searing
  • Grilling
  • Broiling
  • Baking
  • Stir-frying
  • Roasting

Conclusion 

You should now know that marinating does not really preserve meat. Marinating certainly infuses the meat with immense flavor, melt-in-your-mouth tenderness, and juiciness, but it does not guarantee a longer shelf life. Marinated meat will last several days in the refrigerator, although it is strongly recommended to cook and consume within 24 hours.

Tom

Hey, I'm Tom. I set up Boss The Kitchen to start answering the thousands of questions people have while cooking. For me, the kitchen is my happy place and I hope to help other people with the knowledge I've gained along the way.

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