Covering meat in your favorite flavors and leaving it to marinade can produce some fantastic dishes. As cooks, we always want to pack in the most flavor by getting that marinade deep into the meat. Often people wonder whether or not they should puncture the meat before marinating it.
Puncturing thick cuts of meat will help the marinade penetrate deeper into the fibers allowing it to take on more flavor and help with any tenderizing effects. Thin pieces of meat do not need to be pierced as it will not make any noticeable difference to how effective the marinade is.
Check out this tool from Amazon which punctures meat easily to tenderize and get the marinade to penetrate further.
It might come as a surprise to you that marinades don’t actually penetrate that far. Let’s look at how much of a difference poking holes in your steak will make while it’s marinating and some tips on the best cuts of meat to use for this method.
How Deep Does Marinate Penetrate?
It’s widely believed that marinades only affect the surface of the meat and never penetrate more than 1-3 millimeters or 1/8th of an inch no matter how long you leave it.
Various tests have been done to verify this, most with similar results that confirm the marinade rarely make it past the outer layer of meat unless it has been pierced or scored.
This is why puncturing meat is worth doing as it allows the marinade to penetrate deeper than the surface. Simply use your chosen tool and create some holes and let the marinade do its work over a few hours.
If possible, the best option is to cut the meat up smaller which allows more surface area to come in contact with the marinade.
While marinades don’t penetrate very far, there are some other factors to consider. The texture or grain of the meat can also play a role in how well it absorbs the flavor.
For example, a flank steak has a longer more distinct grain while a tenderloin has a fine grain. The long grain of the flank steak will absorb flavor better than the finer grain of the tenderloin.
Another factor to consider is the fat content of the meat. Fat blocks the absorption of your marinade, so a leaner cut of meat will take on more flavor than one that is higher in fat.
Lastly, consider whether the mix is mainly oil-based or mainly acid-based (vinegar, citrus juice, etc.). Oil-based marinades will not really be soaked up by the meat at all and mainly stay on the surface.
Puncturing Vs Slicing Before Marinating
When you puncture or slice the meat, you are breaking through the surface which allows the marinade to penetrate further. It also gives the marinade a greater surface area to work with.
Piercing the meat all over with something like a regular fork is the easiest method, but it doesn’t always give you the best results. The holes made by a fork tend to be small and they don’t always penetrate very deeply into the meat.
You can also use a skewer or a tool made just for the job (see best tools below) that may allow you to create deeper puncture holes for a better effect.
Another option is to use a sharp knife to make slits or cuts on the surface of the meat, sometimes in a cross-hatch pattern. This will allow the marinade to seep in more easily and evenly. Be careful not to make the cuts too deep as you don’t want the meat to fall apart.
Out of the two methods (puncturing or slicing), puncturing is a good technique where you don’t want to spoil the finished look of the meat as the holes will tend to close up during cooking. Puncturing also tenderizes the meat by breaking up protein fibers.
Slicing or cutting into the surface is best for helping the marinade to penetrate more but it can spoil the appearance of the cooked meat.
Slicing the meat into thin strips is another good option and it has the added benefit of increasing the surface area of the meat that comes into contact with the marinade. This means that more flavor will be imparted to the meat. Just watch when slicing the meat too thin as it can dry out more quickly when cooking.
Best Tools To Poke Holes In Meat
The best option is to use a tool made specifically for poking holes in meat such as this meat tenderizer from Amazon. This tool has multiple small blades that will make deep punctures in the meat without tearing it and are very simple to use without exerting a lot of force.
If you decide to go with puncturing over slicing the meat, there are several options that can come in handy for making the holes.
One option is to use a regular kitchen fork but as I mentioned before, the holes made by a fork are usually small and they don’t always penetrate deeply into the meat. I also wrote about whether a fork can tenderize meat.
A slightly better option is to use a metal skewer. This will make slightly bigger holes that go deeper into the meat but can sometimes tear the meat more easily and takes longer.
The best option is to use a dedicated tool for making holes as it’s so easy and effective.
Best Meat Cuts To Poke Holes Into
The best cuts of meat for poking holes in to help the marinating process are the ones that are leaner and have a longer grain such as flank steak, skirt steak, or hanger steak. These cuts of meat will take on flavor better and can be more tender after marinating so piercing them beforehand can really make a difference.
For cuts like steaks and chops, I also find that thicker slabs of meat of an inch or more work best for either slicing or piercing as they are thick enough for both methods to make a difference.
As a rule, marinating works best with thinner cuts of meat like a half-inch thick pork chop or chicken breast. For produce like this, a marinade will soak into enough of the outer meat without having to worry about piercing any deeper.
Hopefully, you now know whether you should puncture meat before marinating it.
I certainly think it can make a difference and often really helps the flavors of a marinade soak into the meat even when you can only leave it to marinate for a short time.
If you don’t have one of the bladed meat tenderizers created just for the job of poking holes in your meat, I would definitely recommend getting one. They make the job so much easier and are far more effective than using a plain old fork or skewer.
Remember that it’s really only worth piercing thicker cuts of meat, as thinner slices marinate well without any extra work. Of course, the needle tenderizer helps tenderize pretty much anything.
An alternative method is to score the surface of the meat with a sharp knife which also works very well if you don’t mind how the meat looks when cooked or if you’re covering it with a sauce of some kind.
I hope you found this article helpful and that you’ll give piercing the meat a try the next time you’re whipping up a batch of your favorite marinade.