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Usually when I marinate any kind of meat (usually chicken or steak), I always just stick the whole piece of meat in marinade and let it sit for X hours. My question is, is it possible to achieve better (more flavorful, or juicy) results from marinading if you poke holes in the meat before marinating to allow the juices to flow INTO the meat? What are the benefits and drawbacks of said approach?

For the purpose of simplicity, lets keep the discussion to cuts of chicken and steak, cooked on a gas grill.

  • I can't imagine that there would be any reason for doing that - how do you expect the marinade to flow into the meat through poked holes? – rumtscho Feb 5 '16 at 10:08
  • The intention would not be to poke all the way through, just deep enough for the juice to go into and 'sit' in the meat. – n00b Feb 5 '16 at 16:09
  • Again, why do you think the juice will go into the meat at all? And if it does, so what? The amount per hole will be in the microliter range. – rumtscho Feb 5 '16 at 16:50
  • @rumtscho So your argument is that it won't matter. If thats the case, and you can present a compelling answer, then please present your arguments in the form of an answer. So far (based on the top rated answer) it looks like you'll have to argue against the advice of what looks like to me to be respected culinary chefs (albeit they are doing injection via a syringe, and not 'holes' per say). If you want to discuss further, please open a chat (as we all know comments are not for extended discussion). – n00b Feb 5 '16 at 17:51
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Most flavor molecules from marinades don't penetrate much below the surface of the meat. (Salt and to a lesser extent sugar are exceptions: they will gradually work their way in deeper in long marinades.)

Anyhow, if you actually want your marinade flavors to penetrate more than about 1/8" into the meat, the only real option is injection. But if you don't want to do that, poking holes or even gashing the surface with rough knife cuts will help a bit. You can see some photos at this link, showing how a colored dye (whose molecule size is as big as typical flavor molecules) doesn't get below the surface, but gashes and holes can help carry it deeper.

I don't know that there are any real drawbacks to the method, other than having a craggy surface on the meat. As Jolenealaska pointed out in comments, the idea that significant moisture loss occurs from piercing is mostly a myth. (For more detail on that, see Myth 6A here.)

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ChefSteps inject their cuts of meat with their 'brine', a marinade of salty water, liquid smoke, etc., before putting the entire thing in that brine to speed up the process (6-7 days down to 1-2 days)

https://youtu.be/_yTLjYRDDwI?t=51s (at 51s Ben talks about the brine for a pork shoulder, and speeding it up by injecting it. They have other videos for beef, and chicken, and frequently advocate injecting brine/marinade into their meats.)

This is effectively the same as poking holes in the meat and letting the marinade seep in more effectively.

It would depend on the size of the holes you're creating, if you're jacquarding the meat the holes will be larger than a needle.

Benefits: speed up marinating, more effective marinating.

Drawbacks: Depending on hole size, you could ruin presentation and texture. Depending on the marinade, you could be affecting the colour of the meat, too.

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  • from a quick google 'jacquarding' the meat would imply just making needle size holes. i generally was thinking of poking it with a fork, or a sharp knife. another drawback seems to be that it can affect how the meat cooks (i.e. if i want a rare steak, doing this wont help, as the inside might get cooked... and perhaps I can introduce bacteria deeper into the meat?) but based on your response and @Anthanasius it seems that my idea may actually be beneficial – n00b Feb 5 '16 at 16:13
  • All jacquards I've ever seen (e.g. amazon.com/Jaccard-200348-Supertendermatic-48-Blade-Tenderizer/…) are much larger than needlepoints, they're little blades. Yep and yep, you can introduce bacteria unfortunately, and it does change how it cooks. – Ming Feb 8 '16 at 1:39
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Have not experienced with chicken, but for steak normally I don't poke holes in it because all the juices will come out when grilling. For cheaper steak cuts though, I think it can help to poke it and even help to put some tenderizing elements to it. I've read somewhere that it is okay to poke as long as you avoid poking across the grain as it causes the meat cells to tighten.

To achieve what you want:

More flavorful - longer hours in the marinate = more flavorful. I've tried leaving a chicken in a salty marinade overnight and the next day it turned out really really salty.

Juicier - depends on the quality, cut, and doneness of the steak. Some parts are juicier than the other.

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    Cook's Illustrated does not agree regarding moisture loss. – Jolenealaska Feb 5 '16 at 2:17
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    "Virtually all moisture that is lost when meat is cooked is a result of muscle fibers contracting in the heat and squeezing out their juices. Piercing does not damage the fibers enough to cause additional juices to leak out (any more than poking a wet sponge with a fork would expel its moisture)." – Jolenealaska Feb 5 '16 at 2:17
  • If you have time to research, you could edit in more information. I haven't seen much about the flavor aspect of the question. I see that this answer has already been downvoted, but you can edit your own posts anytime. Join us in CHAT if you'd like some help or just if you'd like to. – Jolenealaska Feb 5 '16 at 2:28
  • By poking holes in it during the marinade is what I meant, and not during or while grilling which is what Cook's Illustrated tested. I tried poking holes in the marinade and it made my steak less juicy, or it could just be me (psychological effect and expectations). – DivineCake Feb 5 '16 at 2:37

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