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With the vacuum sealers that have hit the market, they're have been a lot of toys added onto the products. One such device is used for marinating meat. It just looks like a tupperware bin with a nozzle on the lid, and you use a hose to vacuum all the air out. The claim is that this will pull the fibers of the meat apart allowing you to marinade in half the time.

My question is, does this really work or is it just marketing hype? If it does work, is this a better way of marinating?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

This works by increasing the porousness of the meat inside the bag. When a vacuum is created, there is a natural tendency for matter to occupy that space. It does this by increasing the amount of space between particles, otherwise known as density. This increases the size of the microscopic holes in the meat, and thus effectively increases the surface area in which the marinade can contact the meat. More surface area means by marinade sticks to your food.

If you'd like to see the effects of vacuum pressure on foods greatly exagerrated, put a marshmallow in a vacuum seal bag and see what happens. :-)

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I like this explanation even better. It would be like suddenly opening a second door to a crowded club, and letting the people flow in. – Ocaasi Jul 27 '10 at 18:08
    
While you are correct in the physics aspect, if you think about it you are maybe opening up an additional 1 mm of pore space on the surface of the meat. Not much improvement that your taste buds would notice. – user21259 Nov 13 '13 at 2:14
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@Mark Meat doesn't have "pores", this is a wild speculation by Leibnitz which has been well refuted in the following centuries. Also, do you have any evidence how much space gets opened, and how large the effect is on taste? (I'm voting neither up nor down, because your explanation is possibly true, I just would like to see evidence before I believe it). – rumtscho Nov 13 '13 at 11:34

It works. It's just physics. Vacuuming out air creates lower pressure inside the container. Lower pressure acts like suction, and the liquid 'rushes' into the meat much faster than during normal osmosis (marinating).

It's the difference between letting guests linger on your porch and come in as they please, or grabbing each one by the arm and yanking them inside as they arrive.

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I don't think there is any physical principle that forces marinade into a meat under a vacuum by itself. Putting it under pressure, not vacuum, could have this effect. The vacuum removes air and some liquid from the meat. THEN, when you release the vacuum, the marinade liquid can flow by surface tension into the meat. Repeat the cycle several times and you have a well marinated item. It is the cycle of vacuum/pressure that infuses the food.

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I have a small bucket of beef jerky in a Best Value Vac's system sitting at 25.5 Hg on the dial for several minutes. I allow air slowly back into the chamber and watch the marinade level slowly lower 1/4 to 3/8 inches as the chamber gets back to normal air pressure. I can surmise from this observation that the meat expands under the vacuum and contracts back when air pressure is returned. I have read that this is when the marinade infuses the meat. I also did this proceedure about three times after stiring up the meat and reapplying a strong vacuum. I didn't have time to dehydrate the jerky as it was about 11pm so I placed the 10#s of jerky inside of two one gallon zip lock bags overnight (air removed and zipped) in the frige. I expect my jerky to be awesome after dehydrating it for about 4 hours in my Excaliber digital dehydrator. Basically a combination of vacuum and timing in the frig over night. POINT IS: I saw expansion and contraction. I am also going to measure the liquid left when I take the strips and put them on the dehydrator trays. I started with about 2 cups of marinade but expect about maybe 1/4th remains after about 10# of meat is coated and absorbs the marinade.

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I'd love a factual scientific explanation on this.

I know from experience that vacuum marinating does work and works faster than without vacuum. You can marinate meat like steak in minutes as apposed to hours and hours otherwise.

But why does this work? I haven't read an convincing explanation. I know it does work....from experience...but why?

I'm thinking as such:

1) you are lowering the pressure outside of the meat. Of course 2) So...the internal pressure in any cavity inside any pores or spaces inside the meat will be greater that the outside...at least for a time until equalized. 4) So what ??? How does that help marinate the meat any faster?

Maybe since the marinade starts out below the meat at the bottom of the container...it is drawn up into the meat thru any pores or cavities via pressure differential.

This would require a pressure differential between the bottom of the container, where the fluid marinade is, and the atmosphere above the meat. So in effect you are drawing the liquid marinade from the bottom of the vacuum container through the meat to equalized the pressure differential. I can believe that...but is that what's actually happening?? I don't know for sure.

Opening or widening of any cavities is possible too. Put a marsh mellow in a food saver container and draw a vacuum and you can watch it expand. But this would only work with closed cell cavities. Pressure inside the cavities remains at one atmosphere but the outside becomes less that one atmosphere.

So why would that help draw a liquid into a piece of meat? I don't think it would. I also don't see a piece of steak expanding when I put it in a food saver container and draw a vacuum.

I think my first explanation makes the most sense. When you draw a vacuum in the container it first develops above the meat. Below is a pool of liquid marinade...an incompressible fluid. The meat acts like a gasket or seal between the area below it, filled with fluid marinade, and the low pressure area above.

This imbalance isn't natural...and lower pressure region seaks to balance with the higher pressure region below....so the marinate fluid is drawn up and thru any pores or cavities in the meat, trying to fill the vacuum above...because nature abhors a vacuum.

Meat may or may not have pores. I don't thing it does....but it certainly does have gaps and spaces in it's mass.

So to be succinct and scientific...I suspect...you are just sucking the marinade thru the meat with a vacuum marinade system like a food saver container.

I will totally consider other theories.

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Oooh! Please excuse some rather poor spelling errors above. LOL – MCRodgers2 Aug 16 '14 at 7:40

Think the 'sucking' theory is plausible. I imagine any gaps in the meat will act like straws drawing in any moisture around them to replace the air being sucked out. Any air spaces in the meat that are open to the surrounding vacuum will also become part of the vacuum as the air is removed. Only completely closed off air pockets would retain atmospheric pressure. Perhaps osmosis is sped up as the liquid isn't competing with any air for contacting surface area. But I wouldn't have thought that would have sped the process up that much. Perhaps as a vacuum is created, moisture inside the meat is drawn to the surface, contacting the marinate outside and creating a free flow of liquid, again speeding up the transfer of flavours as the solutions combine.

Or it could just be magic. The thing is I guess, stuff sometimes JUST WORKS. Sometimes even science doesn't have all the answers.

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