Marinating Meat Guidelines

Marinating Meat Guidelines – Marinating 101 

Marinade (MAIR-uh-naid)
is a savory acidic sauce in which food is soaked to enrich its flavor or to tenderize it.  So, the purpose of a marinade is very similar to earlier centuries: to tenderize and flavor. Marinades typically consist of an acidic ingredient like vinegar, lemon juice, wine, plus oil and herbs or spices.  Red meat marinades do not always include oil since the meat generally contains enough fat.

Marinate (MAIR-uh-nait) is a verb that means to steep food in a marinade.  You are treating the meat like a sponge and having enabling the meat to absorb flavor.


Ratio Marinade To Meat:

A marinade should be thin enough in consistency to penetrate the meat.  A general rule of marinade-to-meat ration is 1/2 cup of marinade per pound of meat.  If you use a little more marinade, it will be OK.

Marinades vary from recipe to recipe but they generally contain three basic components – oils, acids, and seasonings.

Any marinade that contains acid, alcohol, or salt should not be used for very long, because it will chemically “cook” or denature the food in it.  Marinate food in these marinades for less than 4 hours.

Marinades that contain citrus juices, especially lemon or lime juice, should be used for only 2 hours or less.  Be careful when using acidic marinades.  Foods left too long in these blends can change color and texture.  Fish fillets, for example, can change in a matter of minutes.

Marinades that contain no salt, acid, or alcohol can be marinated overnight or, in some cases, longer.


Refrigerate When Marinating:

Always marinate in the refrigerator – Never marinate at room temperature or outdoors when barbecuing as bacteria can quickly multiply on raw meat if it is warm.

Some older recipes call for marinating at room temperature.  Do not follow this practice.  Marinating at room temperature causes meat to enter the danger zone (between 40 degrees F. and 140 degrees F.)  where bacteria multiply rapidly.  If you recipe calls for marinating at room temperature, just increase the marinating time and marinate in the refrigerator.


Marinating Containers:

Do NOT marinate in a metal container since the acidic mixture can react with the metal.  Marinate in a resealable plastic bag, a resealable plastic container, or a glass container only.  Turn meat occasionally so all sides are coated evenly with the marinade.

The easiest and less messy way to marinate meat is to use a resealable plastic bag.  When your meat is marinated in a resealable bag and all of the air sealed out, the marinade completely surrounds the meat.  This dramatically reduces the amount of marinade necessary and it also promotes an even marinate of your meat from top to bottom and allows maximum penetration from all sides.


Approximate Marinating Times:

Marinating times vary depending on the type, cut, and size of the meat.  All meats have a refrigerated shelf life and marinating does not extend that shelf life (shelf life includes the day of purchase and thawing time).  Frozen meat will not absorb a marinade, so don’t waste your time.

Type of MeatCut of MeatApproximate Marinating Times
Lamb, Beef & PorkSteaks, Chops2 to 4 hours
Beef Flank Steak2 hours to overnight
Whole Roast4 to 6 hours (or overnight)
Brisket24 hours
PoultryChicken breast-boneless, skinless
Chicken thighs-boneless, skinless
Duck breast-boneless, skinless
2 hours to overnight
Whole roast or chicken4 to 6 hours (or overnight)
15 to 30 minutes
5 minutes
FishSteaks and filets15 to 30 minutes


Reusing Marinades:  

Discard any unused marinate.  If you plan to use some of the marinade as a sauce on the cooked food,reserve a portion separately before adding the raw meat, poultry, or seafood.  To avoid bacterial contamination of cooked meat, make two batches of marinade.  Use one batch on the raw meat before grilling, then toss.  Use a fresh batch as a finishing sauce or dip after the meat is fully cooked.

Because the marinade will have been in contact with raw meat juices, if you do want to use some of the marinade, boil the marinade first to destroy any harmful bacteriafor at least 5 minutes before using it to baste the cooking meat or serving it as a sauce.  Food borne bacteria dies at 165 degrees F.


United States Food and Drug Administration
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Comments and Reviews

26 Responses to “Marinating Meat Guidelines”

  1. George paxton

    Question – Does marinating food add salt to the dish ?

    • Linda Stradley

      If you have salt in the marinade, then yes.

    • anonymous

      Marinades typically consist of an acidic ingredient like vinegar, lemon juice, wine, plus oil and herbs or spices. did you even read this paragraph man.

  2. Joseph R.Carpio

    How long do I cook the marinated pork meat and what degree

  3. Denise

    With much talk on gut health and bacteria, “Marinating 101” is exactly what I needed. Thank you. Next, fermenting foods. 🙂

  4. Tricia

    Instructions to marinate ‘overnight’ are not helpful. I don’t intend to eat this meal for breakfast! How many hours is ‘overnight’? Thank you!

    • Linda Stradley

      Approximately 8 hours.

  5. sharon

    I have my chicken in the marinade for 6 hrs, and now I am asked out for supper, what can I do?

    • Linda Stradley

      Take it out of the marinade and refrigerate until the next day.

  6. Mar

    How long can I leave seasoned chicken, pork, and beef in the fridge before cooking it?

    • Linda Stradley

      Basically 1 to 2 days.

  7. Joy

    When you say refrigerate do you mean in the fridge section or the top freezer section? If it’s in the freezer section, do i need to thaw the marinade? I’m confused. Pls help. Tq

    • Linda Stradley

      Marinate in the refrigerator.

  8. Gary Price

    I used oil, wocestershire sauce, soy sauce, spicy mustard, and minced garlic. I did not have ANY lemon or lime juice. Will my marinade sauce still taste good ??

  9. Bernie Swain

    I am a newbie to marinades and bought a jerk chicken marinade. It had no instructions on the bottle. I soaked in it for a couple of hours then used it as a cook-in sauce in the oven. It was absolutely foul. I had to throw the meal out. I had two breasts of chicken left which I washed off with water and reheated the next day. It was good. What did I do wrong?

    • Whats Cooking America

      First I would recommend to taste the marinade and make sure you like the flavor before using. I could be most likely, the marinade taste did not suit you. Typically marinading meats for a couple hours to overnight should be sufficient to tenderize and flavor the meat.

  10. Sunny

    Very helpful!👍

  11. anonymous

    OK, this doesn’t help me because I need specific things about marinating meat or seafood on the counter for a school project.

  12. Didi

    To some I’d like to help by saying, when someone says fridge that’s the inside, where U store eggs, butter, yogurt things of that nature. When they say freezer, that’s the place where your meat, veggies, ice cream, frozen meals, and more will become ICE cold.. Hope this was helpful to some…

  13. Brendan H Otto

    Hell yes, it will taste great! One of my go to marinades Maybe just add more time for actual marinade. Those sauces are all still acidic, with ph’s ranging from 3.63 (worchestire) to 4.4 (soy sauce).

  14. Emma

    My husband has had chicken breasts in a marinade made with vinegar for about 6 days and plans to grill it tomorrow. I’m concerned that it may not be safe to eat after this many days.

  15. Linda

    I have marinated some stewing meat in Italian dressing for 5 hours to try and use it in kabobs. Is there a trick to knowing if it has marinated long enough to tenderize it.

    Thanks for your help

  16. Tim

    I saw on Utube where they used Perrier to tenderize a tough piece of steak. It came out so tender… Are there any precautions I need to take after 8 hrs?

  17. Emily

    Recipes always say to cover the meat that’s marinating when you put it in a bowl in the fridge. Do you really need to cover it? Why?

    • Nancy

      Cover the meat to keep it from drying out due to air exposure and to avoid absorption of orders from other foods in the refrigerator.


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