Glaze or marinate? There’s a debate in cooking as to which of these methods is the most effective, and we’ve put together our verdict.
One of our most frequently asked questions is “Can these sauces be used as a marinade?”
We wanted to put together a detailed guide to why our answer to this question is “We prefer to glaze”.
The myth of marinating meat
Marinades do not infuse meats with flavour. It is actually impossible for most flavour molecules to penetrate far into meat due to their size.
Muscle tissue cells are tightly packed and full of water, meaning flavour molecules, and oil molecules that disperse them, are unable to infuse further than a few millimetres into a piece of meat. With these molecules then pooling on the surface, the effect of cooking can destroy a lot of their flavour if applied too early.
On top of this, it has been found that marinating meat for longer than 24 hours can be detrimental, causing the salt to start to cure the outside of the meat and making the outer layers mushy when cooked.
Marinades do not make meat juicy. Having too much liquid soaked into a piece of meat can cause the meat to steam during cooking rather than sear, which has a negative effect on flavour.
Marinades will not tenderise meat any better than cooking at the right temperature. (Epicurious) However, they can contribute towards that process.
Where marinating can be useful
Marinades do add flavour and tenderness to meat, but only the outer edge. As we explained before, science has busted the myth that flavour soaks right into meat if it is marinated.
The best ingredients to use to achieve surface flavour and tenderness are salt, fats, lemon juice, vinegar, wine, sugar or herbs and spices.
Salt can penetrate meat more deeply than any other ingredient. It both enhances flavour and helps draw moisture to the surface. With that in mind, the stage at which you salt a piece of meat affects its impact.
Salting a piece of meat just before cooking creates a layer of surface brine, this can be dabbed off to dry the meat and help it brown more quickly. Salting meat well before cooking starts to “denature” the surface proteins therefore tenderizing meat; after about 40 minutes, meat is noticeably softer.
Sugar reduces the tongue’s sensitivity to bitterness, also helping browning and caramelization.
Fats like oils and butter not only disperse flavour molecules, but also keep the meat from sticking to the cooking surface.
Lemon juice helps trigger the bitterness taste buds, adding a tangy flavour and tenderising too.
Vinegar brings acidity and tartness, cutting through the rich flavours of meat and fats, as well as tenderising.
Be careful with acidic ingredients like lemon juice or vinegar, if these are applied too plentifully or for too long, they can make the meat mushy when cooking.
Wine also provides tartness and the alcohol acts like oil in softening meat and dispersing flavour molecules in a marinade.
Yogurt and buttermilk can also help towards tenderising meat due to their acidity. Additionally, the dairy sugars and proteins in these ingredients interact with those in the meat during cooking to create flavour and aroma.
Herbs and spices are optional flavourings in a marinade, they are not essential to anything about the process but can help enhance flavour accents and react with oils to alter the properties of how a marinade might taste.
Spice rubs are a great example of how to get the best out of meat. Instead of marinating, why not apply a rub before cooking? Check out these BBQ ribs below, one rubbed simply with salt and pepper, the other with a mix of salt, brown sugar, smoked paprika and cayenne.
If these ingredients only really add flavour to the outer part of meat, why bother going to the effort of preparing a marinade long before cooking?
The argument for glazing instead
It’s been shown that marinating meat for just 30 minutes prior to cooking will have an impact on cooking. Knowing that marinating can only ever achieve surface flavour, we believe glazing can be just as effective if the coating itself is sufficiently flavoursome.
How often have you forgotten to marinade a piece of meat the night before cooking? We are great advocates of convenience and believe there is no reason why that should mean sacrificing flavour in our cooking.
Glazing can provide just as much flavour as marinating in a fraction of your precious time.
It doesn't have to be meat that you're glazing either. Check out this pineapple, glazed with a spiced syrup and cooked on the BBQ.
Using sauces as a glaze
Our belief in glazing is no stronger than when applied to the use of sauces.
If sauces are applied before cooking, or too soon, then they have a tendency to burn. The flavour is either cooked off or spoiled during the cooking process. However, if applied nearer the end of the process, enough heat will be applied to set the sauce nicely onto your food, with the flavour still maintained.
We recommend that sauces be applied to food towards the end of cooking or even after. For example, brushing a sauce onto a piece of meat on the BBQ or in the oven between 10-60 minutes before it is ready to be served (depending on temperature).
This is tried and tested, and the results mean you will save time and get more flavour out of your food.
RECIPE: Glazed BBQ Chicken
Here's a brilliant example of glazing in action, it's a simple route to maximising flavour, especially when BBQing meat.
We used our Endangered BBQ Sauce to glaze this chicken, but it could work just as well with another BBQ sauce.
- Start by applying a BBQ rub to chicken thighs.
- Slow-cook the chicken thighs at approximately 110°C for a couple of hours, turning occasionally.
- For the last hour of cooking, glaze the chicken with sauce using a brush every 15 minutes or so. This should give you a thick coating that keeps its flavour when served.
'The Science of Cooking: Every question answered to give you the edge' by Dr Stuart Farrimond (DK, 2017).
'Marinating Myths' by Cook's Illustrated (https://www.cooksillustrated.com/how_tos/5562-marinating-myths).
'Why Marinating Your Grilled Meat Is Completely Unnecessary' by Epicurious (https://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/marinating-grilled-meat-myths-bbq-marinades-article).