Do You Really Need To Marinate Meat For 24 Hours?

When it comes to marinating meat, you might have assumed that the longer it sits in the liquid, the better. Whether you're tenderizing tougher cuts of beef or seasoning some bland chicken breasts, marinating does wonders when it comes to taking the flavors and textures of your food to the next level, like with a garlic and red wine mixture, for instance. But that doesn't mean that the more you let it sit in the marinade, the better it'll taste when you cook it. Indeed, we have to admit that this is a bit of a rookie mistake.

According to Bon Appétit, there really is such a thing as over-marinating. Contrary to popular belief, marinating doesn't need anywhere near 24 hours to do its job properly. Rather than leave it overnight, Bon Appétit recommends only 15 to 20 minutes, given that a marinade won't be able to penetrate into the meat any further after that point. It's especially counterproductive if your marinade includes salt, sugar, or acid, which can start to react with the proteins in your cut of meat. Technically, letting it sit in such a marinade for longer will make your meat more tender, but not in a good way. Well, not unless you like mushy pork or stringy chicken. But there's another, even bigger reason you should avoid overlong marinades.

Marinating meat for over 24 hours isn't safe

If you leave your meat to marinate in the refrigerator all week, you may feel like you'll end up with a five-star quality dish. However, the truth is that you're better off ordering takeout at that point. Not only will over-marinating potentially turn your meat into a mushy mess, but the process could also turn it into a rotten one, too. Federal food safety guidelines state that, if kept in the refrigerator for extended periods of time, raw meat is unsafe for consumption. After one to two days, bacteria begins to multiply, a risk that's increased if the meat has come into contact with other ingredients. 

That means that a marinade left for 24 hours is a breeding ground for bacterial growth. To prevent this from happening, The Kitchn suggests either cooking the meat as soon as you realize the 24-hour window is up or transferring it to the freezer. Doing so will temporarily pause the marinating process until you're ready to thaw and cook it.