Marinades: Best results for Beef, Chicken and Pork from America’s Test Kitchen

flank-steakA recent article in my all time favorite cooking magazine, Cook’s Illustrated, busted the Myths of Marinades and dished out some very tasty recipe suggestions for Chicken, Beef and Pork.  I have already tried two out of the three and was thrilled with the results.

The first myth tested was the “Marinades penetrate meat deeply” notion.  They soaked beef short ribs in red wine for intervals from one hour to 18 hours, then measured the band of purple created by the wine.  Their finding, which was also confirmed by marinating other types of meat, was that no matter the type of marinade or the length of time, marinades do not penetrate more than a few millimeters.

The next myth they tackflank-steak-close-upled was the popular “Acids Tenderize Meat” belief.  Testers found that if left too long acids turn the outermost layer of meat mushy and do not penetrate the meat’s surface.  They also found that marinating meat longer than 90 minutes is useless and will turn the meat mushy or dry it out.  For some meats like boneless chicken breasts 30 minutes to an hour is all that is required.

As one friend put it  “You mean I no longer have to feel guilty when I forget to marinate the meat in the morning?”  Evidently, we no longer have to carry that burden people.  What a relief.

The article further advises not to use bottled salad dressing (We’ve all done this, haven’t we?)  According to their findings “high levels of acidity in salad dressings don’t add complex flavor and only make meat mushy.”

So, what do we marinate meat in? Cook’s recommends what they call “Brinerades.”   Interestingly enough, the marinades they recommend have two to three times the salt than there Brines.  The salt in the marinade pulls moisture from the marinade into the meat.  It also “restructures the protein molecules in the meat, creating gaps that fill with water to further increase juiciness.”

Some further tips they recommend for a flavorful and effective marinade is lots of flavorings and seasonings.  Garlic, chopped herbs, and sugar are common ingredients.  The experts also recommend scoring or pricking the meat with a fork to help the marinade penetrate more deeply.  Also, since marinades don’t penetrate more than a few millimeters,  thinner cuts of meats work best for marinades.

I tried their “Better Than A-1 Steak Marinade” with Soy Sauce, dark brown sugar, garlic and Worcestershire sauce on a flank steak.  It was delicious and only required a 1 hour soak.  The “Herb-Lemon Marinade” for chicken which includes minced fresh basil, 3 garlic cloves, sugar and 1 Tbs. of lemon juice was also excellent.  The soak time for the boneless, skinless chicken breasts was only 45 minutes.  The article also offers up a Honey-Mustard Marinade for Pork which sounds wonderful.  We’ll be trying that one this week.

I hope you’ve found this information interesting and helpful.  I personally found it fascinating, but then again I’m a food geek.  It’s one of the greatest things about Cook’s Illustrated.  The recipes you receive have been tested multiple times.  They are always saving me time and money. Love that!  If you have yet to pick up a copy of Cook’s Illustrated, you can request a free edition from their website.

Better Than A – 1 Steak Marinade

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

4 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press

2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper

Whisk together ingredients in medium bowl.  Place marinade and steak in gallon-sized zipper-lock bag; press out as much air as possible and seal bag. Refrigerate 1 hour to 90 minutes, flipping bag halfway through to ensure that steaks marinate evenly.