Marinating foods: How does a vaccuum environment help?

I figured there’d be a thread about this kind of thing already, but my search came up empty so I’ll post my question. Redirect me to an existing thread if you know of one…

While browsing for stuff on Amazon I stumbled across a gadget for marinading meats in a sealed container. That’s not the questionable part. The part I’m questioning is the use of a vaccuum pump to pull out the air with the claim that doing so will “Open up the fibers and force your marinade into the meat.”

Now I’ve stored foods in vaccuum-sealed containers and even pushed or pulled the air out of bags or containers to minimize the content’s exposure to air, germs, freezer-burn, et cetera. I haven’t used a vaccuum environment for marinading, though, and I have to admit I’m rather skeptical about the claim above.

But that’s why I come to you guys.

So, cooks and grillers, chefs and gourmands: Is this claim devoid of truth or is there really something to it? And if there’s really something to it, can someone explain how it works?

–G?
Note: I couldn’t find a Wikipedia entry, either.

That part sounds BS to me. The main reason why you would want all the air out the container would be to make sure that every surface is in contact with the marinade.

One reason is that the pressure of the atmosphere is putting a lot of pressure on the bag and forcing the marinade into the food. It’s the same principle with the vacuum storage bags for clothing and stuff, where you vacuum out the air and the atmosphere squeezes the clothes very flat so they can be stored in minimal space. That same squeezing happens with marinated food.

I wonder if a similar effect could be done with manually exerting pressure on the food? Like, wrap the marinated food tightly with cling wrap to provide uniform pressure similar to how it would be in a vacuum bag. That should have a similar squeezing effect to force the marinade into the food.

That would only happen if there was a lot of air in the food being sucked out. I can’t imagine there’s that much. I regularly vacuum seal food and meats don’t compress that much.

I thought of that while watching the video for this device. The problem is that it’s (relatively) hard plastic box so, even if the’re no air inside, gravity will pull everything downward and if that meat is thicker than the depth of the marinade, the exposed surface still won’t get soaked.

See above.
The idea seems feasible with a bag and I routinely squeeze 99.9% of the air out of a ZipLoc that I’m using to marinate my meats now. That does tend to pull out the gaps around the meat but doesn’t always completely surround the meat with marinade because there’s often plastic from the bag directly covering the larger surfaces.

I’m starting to think the most useful features in these things is the little pyramids or corrigations that allow liquid to flow beneath the meat. In one of those meat-flipper boxes, which is like two containers built to seal together rather than a container & its lid, the pyramids are on the broad face inside both containers. That would conceivably let a person use half the normal amount of marinade (probably more, since you’re expecting some of that to get absorbed) and the flip the device over to soak the second half.

But that would still require the full marination time (flipping after half the prescribed time) and this device claims their vacuum makes it so 24 hours worth of regular marination time can be achieved in five to ten minutes. I’m still not convinced; does anyone have personal experience with this thing? Test results somewhere?

–G?

If you manually squeeze the air out, there isn’t really a vacuum on the inside. The pressure inside and outside the bag are pretty much equal, so there’s no squeezing action from the atmosphere. One benefit from vacuum sealing is that the pressure is uniform around the food. There is no place for the marinade to collect since all parts of the bag are being squeezed. When you manually remove the air, the marinade can easily ooze to other parts of the food where there is no pressure. That’s why there will be plastic on some parts of the food when you do it yourself. With a vacuum, the pressure is even around the entire surface of the food and that causes the marinade to be squeezed evenly around the food.

I’m going to agree this sounds like BS. If you were putting pressure on the meat sufficient to ‘force’ the marinade past the surface tissues of the meat, I’m sure you’d rupture the plastic. As others have said, it sounds like a good way to make sure you have full contact between the meat and marinade, but no way you’re going to go from 24 hours to 10 minutes. And if so, you’d then be in the situation where you’re watching the clock and at 9 minutes, 30 seconds, you have to get your amazon box at the door. You get back 5 minutes later and now your roast/steak/etc tastes like a pickle because that was like giving it 12 hours of extra marination! Blech.

They do work and they’re commonly used in industrial settings, they can speed up marination by ~5X. The marination doesn’t happen during the vacuum stage, it happens when the pressure is let back in. During the vacuum phase, air leaves the meat, leaving tiny voids. When pressure is let back in, the surrounding liquid is pushed into the voids that were formerly occupied by gas. You can repeat this cycle a couple of times, pushing the liquid deeper and deeper into the meat.

One downside of this approach is that the interior of the meat is now not food safe and needs to be cooked to pasteurization temperature.

I’ve been to a beef processing plant that cut primals into steaks and other things and and some went into vacuum marinating vessels. The chops were put into big stainless tanks, sort of the shape of a half a pill capsule, maybe 6 or 8 feet long, about 3 feet in diameter and the round end angled down about 40 degrees. There were probably baffles inside and it rotated. I’d heard a rumor that they were used for a nationally advertised restaurant chain like Outback or Olive Garden or TGI Fridays.

Ooh! Thanks for contributing and providing the technicalities.

So, if I understand this correctly…

During the vacuum phase, the meat is losing gases to the vacuum chamber. If I could magically measure it before and after five or ten minutes, the latter measurement would be a thinner chunk of meat? If I had a way to test and detect, the vacuum chamber would have more of those gasses filling the ‘empty’ box? If the container itself was transparent, would I be able to film the meat while opening the box back up and see (probably in slow motion playback) the marinade getting ‘sucked into’ the chunk of meat?

You’ve got me believing, now. However, it occurs to me that there must be a limit to how much gas one could suck out of a particular piece of meat, beyond which a more intense vacuum or even repeated vacuum & reopen attempts aren’t going to yield further results. And like Parallel Lines said, I wonder if one could reach a point of excessive saturation.

The Rubbermaid flip-over box seems surprisingly expensive; I’ll compare it to that vacuum chamber again.

–G!

Chamber style vacuum machines are designed with a clear top. Videos like this one clearly show gas escaping the meat during vacuum. I can’t find any right now but there are many chamber vac videos of meats/vegetables/fruits that suddenly change color upon vacuum release as liquids are forced back into the ingredients.

If you just want to experiment, vacuum pots like this one are designed for degassing resin and such and are relatively affordable because you need to buy a vacuum pump separately. They don’t have features like being able to heat seal bags inside the vacuum though.

Upon looking, it seems like the cheapest chamber vacuums are now in the $400 range, they were $1500ish or so the last time I looked at them. The main benefit isn’t marination, it’s being able to seal foods airtight and preserve them for longer/sous vide them.

From what I understand, it’s still limited in its usefulness. The marinade is still not going to work it’s way in too far without industrial processes that use more than just vacuum chambers. They use chemicals and processes kitchens don’t have.

This is actually something you can test, if you just make your marinade with food coloring, and then try it with a light colored meat. Use the vacuum chamber as many times as you like, and then cut a cross section to see how far the marinade made it in. You can also try a blind taste test where you then cut out the part that doesn’t look colored, and then serve that with the same part of an unmarinated meat, and see if the taster can reliably tell the difference. Though you do want to use the same amount of salt or other brining ingredients in both.

And, of course, you can use the above to test to see if there’s any difference from not vacuum sealing the marinade, and experiment with leaving the meat in the marinade for different amounts of time.

Also consider pressure cooking, which should, in theory, involve the same increased pressure, just not starting from a vacuum.

In low pressures things that are normally liquids will evaporate/boil into gas, including water if yo can get the vacuum low enough. So it is not just air spaces but liquids boiling off. That would tend to tenderize and leave void spaces where there was none. Like boiling and evaporation it takes time, so the longer it says under vacuum the more of this will happen to a point as air is only removed so much then sealed, so that ‘stuff’ will offset the vacuum, but in a industrial setting the pump can keep the pressure low so it boils off as much as they want.

I wanted to thank Shalmanese for the additional information. I was doubting greatly because most of the vacuum sealer / marinade devices I saw on a quick Amazon search were obviously home use, rather than industrial models, and their claims were . . . aggressive to say the least, although at least some were more moderate that the 24 hr in 10 minutes that Grestarian apparently saw. I can see a 5x improvement being plausible, and that would certainly mitigate my concerns for excess than the reported 144x of the one I specifically commented on.
I can see the point in such a device if you are invested in sous vide cooking, but for me, even as a foodie, I’d rather spend the $400 on better ironware and spices, and just plan ahead on my meals - taking a bit to make a good marinade and the time to let it sit is rarely the biggest frustration of my cooking life (waiting for an overnight sponge to make fresh bread when I realize I was out, maybe…).
The other thing I wanted to complain about these devices (again, the ‘home’ models on amazon) is that they talk about making it faster, but also mention using ‘ready made’ marinades (often released by the same company). That feels like a lot of the turkey ‘injectors’ I saw around the holidays - don’t learn to cook or season to your own tastes, use the magical device and it will be done for you. This is how we ended up with the Food of Tomorrow TV Dinner generations!
Sorry, /rant off. :slight_smile: