How long should you marinate? Science has an answer

Hosted by

Pork tenderloin is marinated for various lengths of time then cooked at 140º F and rested. Photo by Tim Chin.

Description: Salt is a key ingredient in most marinades, says Daniel Gritzer, senior culinary director of Serious Eats. Combined with a liquid, a sweet component like brown sugar or molasses, flavoring agents such as herbs, and an acid like vinegar or citrus, one of a marinade's main functions is to brine. Brining achieves tenderness and flavor. 

But when meat is left too long in a marinade, it goes from tender to mushy. Gritzer and Tim Chen conducted numerous tests to find an answer to the eternal question: How long should I marinade? Marinades are basically a surface treatment and will not absorb into the meat even if you leave it for a day, Gritzer says. Over time, salt in a marinade will help tenderize the meat. With many variables at play, including the size of the cut and the type of meat, four hours seems to be the sweet spot for most marinades.

Gritzer is partial to yogurt marinades, which can stay on meat longer. This homemade version of the Black Diamond-style marinade connects him to his childhood.