Why You Need To Stop Over-Marinating Your Meat

Whether you're a barbecue champion or simply know your way around thorough seasoning, you will appreciate the effect of a good marinade on your meat. But at what point does good marinating become over-marinating? You should be able to tell the difference by the result.

A perfect marinade for meat consists of a balance of oil, enzymes or acidic compounds, and seasoning (salt included). The combination of this helps to tenderize your meat and enhance its tastiness. Enzymes not only occur in our digestive tracts but are also in raw juices of fruits, like pineapple, figs, papaya, and more, per Science Learning Hub, and the good news is that they also add flavor. Ingredients like vinegar, lemon, orange, and pickle juice help weaken the tissue in the meat, making it tender while releasing its flavor. Meanwhile, according to culinary scientist Jessica Gavin, the salt in the marinade also draws out the moisture of meat through osmosis, loosening its proteins so that the meat is more porous. In its softened state, the meat can more easily absorb the flavors in the marinade, per Chicken Farmers of Canada.

What happens when you over-marinate your meat

Unfortunately, the softening effects of enzymes can also have undesirable effects on meat. Once you get your fat, acid, and seasoning balance right, the next aspect that will determine your success is time. According to the USDA, meat can be marinated for periods between six and 24 hours, and if it's left in the marinade for too long (two days or more), it will become mushy. Additionally, says Jessica Gavin, there is also a likelihood of the meat toughening — especially for seafood, which tends to "cook" when left in an acidic marinade.

The marinating time rules for seafood are generally shorter than those for other animal proteins. Smaller shrimp and flaky fish require the least time (between 15 and 30 minutes), while the bigger shrimp can soak in their marinade for 45 minutes. Firm fish fillets should marinate for between 30 minutes to an hour, and fish steaks will respond optimally if steeped between one and two hours, per The Spruce Eats. When working with other proteins, like chicken and beef, be sure to follow the recipe and avoid marinating for more than a day for the most tender, succulent texture.