Marinade Me Tender

Marinades are a simple way to impart complex flavors into meat, fish, or vegetables with little effort. They also work to help tenderize food and to keep it moist!

Marinades work to tenderize meat by acting on collagen, a protein that is a major component in connective tissue. Normally this protein is wound tightly and causes flesh to be tough. Fortunately, there are two ways to cause collagen breakdown: acidic marinating or enzymatic marinating. Acidic marinades use a weak acid like vinegar or citrus juice to break down the proteins, however, do not leave meat or fish in an acidic marinade for more than the recipe calls for. As proteins are broken down via acid, the water content of the meat will decrease, toughening the meat. Use small amounts of acid or very weak acids like those found in buttermilk or yogurt to avoid this issue. Enzymatic marinades work in a similar manner using naturally occurring enzymes that work to break down tissue. Pineapple and papaya for instance contain these natural compounds and work wonders for meat tenderizing. The pitfall with marinating with this method is that eventually these enzymes will work its way through the flesh, causing it to become mush.

Following the recommended time on a recipe will keep that marinade doing what it is designed to do: keep food moist, tender, and flavorful. If you do not have a recipe per se a good rule to remember is that the smaller the cut of meat, the less time it needs to marinate. Roughly speaking, 30 minutes is enough time for meat, fish or vegetables to become tender, take up flavor, and take up moisture from a marinade.

When marinating foods, keep them below 41F in the fridge or a cooler packed with ice or ice packs. Marinades are full of flavor, but they cannot be reused as sauces alongside a cooked food. To avoid cross contamination, utilize a sauce or marinade that was kept separate from the raw food.

For more information please contact County Extension Agent for Family and Community Health Chris Coon at 254-435-2331 or at


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