What Grocery Stores Are Really Hiding With Pre-Marinated Meat

Nobody likes eating a flavorless a chop or rack of ribs that are begging for some sauce and seasoning. Marinating meat can inject some great flavor and extra juiciness into a cut of meat, and there is definitely a right and a wrong way to do it. However, it's true that not everybody has the time to whip up a marinade themselves before cooking a piece of meat. 

Grocery stores realize that their shoppers are busy folks, and they attempt to simplify the meat marinating equation by selling pre-marinated packaged meat. All that's left to do is take it out of the wrapper and throw it on the grill. But is this pre-marinated meat any good, and is it worthy of serving at your dinner table?

Pre-marinated meat may not be the freshest cut

Grocery stores only have a small window of time to sell perishable goods before they have to discard them for food safety reasons. It's a human survival instinct to avoid eating food that smells or looks like it could be spoiled, and meat is no different. Perhaps you've been shopping for chicken cutlets or beef cuts and noticed that some don't appear as vibrant in color as the others. This doesn't mean the meat is unsafe to eat, but it's likely nearing its "sell by" date and is priced to move (via USDA). 

Butcher James Peisker shared with Doctor Oz that grocery stores realize this meat is a harder sell with shoppers, and the store may opt to pre-marinate the meat as a way of disguising the discoloration. "Nobody's going to sell you rotten meat knowingly," Peisker said. "It's bad for business and it's not going to work out very well in the long run. Mostly what is being hidden is 'oxidization' and 'little bit of colorization.'" Perhaps that's a bit deceptive of grocery butchers, but Peisker points out that it's "nothing that's going to harm the flavor or you as a consumer."

Pre-marinated meats may not always be a great deal

When you buy pre-marinated meat, you're paying for convenience. There's nothing wrong with that, but it may not always be the greatest bargain. One review advises against buying pre-marinated meat because of the high markup that could just be a lot of liquid marinade in a bag (via Virtual Weber Gas Grill). While the reviewer said the end result tasted great, they paid almost four times the price for what they would have paid if they'd simply bought a bottle of marinade and done it themselves. Plus, the meat wasn't even marinated evenly. 

Serious Eats isn't a fan of pre-marinated grocery store meats, either. Unless the package is labeled when it was marinated, you don't have any idea of knowing how long it's been in that bag and over time the acids in the marinade can cause the meat fibers to break down to mush. Meanwhile, the salt can work as a curing agent. None of this makes for a tasty finished product. 

Like so many things in life, if you want it done right it's best to do it yourself — marinating meat included.