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When marinating meat for Russian "Shashlik"(BBQ) some people marinate meat in alcohol. My uncle prefers to use beer when preparing pork. My Georgian(this Georgia) friend uses red wine, which was the only ingridient I was able to get out of him. His BBQ is always very juicy and tender.

My questions: What types of alcohols should be used to help bring out meat flavor and making it tender without messing with the taste? Is there one type of alcohol that works great with all meats or should different types be used for different meats?

Bonus: What properties does alcohol possess that it makes meat tender?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Alcohol does not make the meat tender. It even prevents the outside surface of the meat to fully absorb the flavours. Then again, most marinades don't penetrate into the meat anyway.

When it comes to Shashlik, I think what is working for your uncle, is the time the meat spends in the fridge getting aged (they probably marinate for a day or more) and the enzymes break down the meat.

It is a myth that Alcohol or Acid make the meat tender. In fact, they have the opposite effect. Per food author Harold McGee's quote:

Alcohol does denature and dehydrate meat and fish tissue, and the stronger the alcohol, the stronger this effect.

What you should do instead, is to cook off the alcohol from your marinade first. The ingredient that keeps the meat juicy is salt which most marinades have.

The less acidic marinade (beer versus wine) the more tender the meat. However, some not so acidic wines end up flavouring the surface of the meat enough to provide a pleasant byte.

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You are right, meat does usually spend 1-2 days sometimes more. What about other alternative some people use my dad for example his version of Shashlik marinate is Vinegar, Salt and a lot of Onions. It is also left in the fridge for couple days. – Vladimir Oselsky Jan 17 '14 at 21:26
Most of the marinades are helped by the salt and hindered by acid/alcohol (vinegar is acidic, wine is both). I personally think the onions are good with meat. Here is how I'd do it: 1) two days before BBQ, put meat and chopped onions in a ziplock bag in the fridge. 2) 4-6 hrs before BBQ sprinkle salt on the meat, back in the fridge. 3) 45mins before BBQ, optional: add vinegar, beer, or whatever your kick. 4) right before BBQ, cover the meat with oil (shake in ziplock bag). 5) BBQ to just right. – MandoMando Jan 17 '14 at 21:39
I don't agree with that statement on acidity. Sauerbraten is a perfect counterexample. Many marinades also have acid. – Robert Feb 28 '14 at 16:37
Also salt does not keep juices in; quite the opposite is true. Salt draws water out. This is called curing. – Robert Mar 1 '14 at 20:55
@Robert when it comes to meat, salt actually helps retain juices during cooking. Refer to Harold McGee's book. – MandoMando Mar 11 '14 at 1:53

Marinades do not tenderize meat, except maybe the surface. Some claim a soak in dairy will tenderize, but no one seems able to explain how that would work. Marinades simply don't penetrate the flesh. Furthermore, high acidic marinades will chemically cook the meat, usually not an ideal situation. The tenderness of your friend's recipes are based on some other thing they are doing to the meat.

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It sounds like your friend is using both acid and tannins in his marinade, a good combination.

An acidic marinade does tenderize meat when left in for 2 hours or less. If left in the marinade longer than that, acids will toughen the meat rather than tenderize it.

Enzyme and tannin based marinades work better long term. Red wine tends to have a good tannin content for this (as does black tea and coffee), and also contains some acid.

Buttermilk and Yogurt are great for long term marinades, as those enzymes break down proteins very well. The enzymes in fruits like kiwis and Figs break down connective tissues and are also great for long term marinades.

Hope this helps!

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Welcome to Seasoned Advice, BPB! – Preston Fitzgerald Feb 18 '15 at 16:52

If you use pork neck for shashlik AND you want to get it tender, then use mineral water in the beginning. Just cut the meat in pieces and move it to a container and SLOWLY pour mineral water in. Let rest in refrigerator for couple of hours. What it does, the carbon acid of mineral water goes between tissues and when forming CO2 it "rips" tissues apart. Same principle with acidic marinades but slightly differen chemistry. So if you want to get your shashlik tender, then use beer or mineral water. If you use mineral water, remember to pour it off. Then pour in the marinade of your taste, like wine. "Spongy" meat will suck the wine in and it will taste delicious over night.

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