The Reason You Should Soak Your Ground Meat In Heavy Cream

If you've ever tried one of the many copycat chicken sandwich recipes online, you're probably aware that milk-marinade is an essential part of the meat's preparation. While we can't know for sure how exactly Chick-fil-A and Popeyes make their delicious chicken sandwiches, sites like Gimme Delicious or Damn Delicious stress the importance of dairy-based marinades. As broken down in a recent LifeHacker article, dairy is a highly effective marinade for chicken and many other kinds of meat, due to its natural acidity.

It turns out that rule holds true even for ground meats. A tricky food even for experienced chefs, ground meat left to simmer in the pan can easily dry up and lose both its form and flavor. Chilis and other casserole dishes cooked over long periods of time can come out chewy and bland if the meat is not properly prepared. Fortunately, ground meat responds just as well as regular meat to dairy-based marinades – and when marinated correctly, retains its moisture and form even when simmered or slow-cooked.

Just the right acidity

The key is to vary the dairy product of the marinade. While regular meats do best with higher-acidity dairy items such as yogurt, buttermilk (the preferred marinade for chicken sandwiches), and labneh, ground meat has already been tenderized through the grinding process and so requires a less acidic marinade (via LifeHacker). Ground meat usually needs to be prepared, instead, with moisture and form in mind, and a low acidity dairy product like heavy cream meets both of those needs. While not acidic enough to break the meat down any further, compromising its form, cream's high fat content helps to insulate ground meat from heat and prolong its cooking time, leaving you with a final product that is, as LifeHacker memorably put it, "silky and luxurious."

The technique was endorsed by the likes of James Beard, who apparently used it in one of his hamburger recipes (via the James Beard Foundation). Just bear in mind that, with a heavy cream marinade, a little goes a long way – you'll only want 1-2 tablespoons of cream per one pound of protein. Mix and refrigerate overnight and you're well on your way to a juicier, more flavorful ground meat.