Old World Tradition Meets New World Expertise.


Deep Marinades

Deep Marinades in Fresh Beef
By: Robert Maddock, Ph.D.

The use of deep marinades, referred to as enhancement or pumping, aims to improve the tenderness and juiciness of fresh beef.  Deep-marinated fresh beef is generally destined for retail or foodservice rather than being cooked at the processing plant for deli roast beef.  Using deep marinades for beef has become fairly common, but still is less common than deep marinades for poultry or pork.  Also, deep-marinated fresh beef is often combined with case-ready packaging.

A previous article on Meatingplace.com addressed formulating deep marinades for fresh pork and described the typical ingredients in detail.  (See Formulating deep marinades for fresh pork, Meatingplace.com, Oct.1,2008).  So are there differences when formulating marinades for fresh beef? Yes, but the basics are still the same.


Salt and water are the only two ingredients necessary for deep marinades for fresh beef.  Salt improves flavor and helps meat bind injected solution.  Water is required to dissolve the other ingredients.  Water quality is important to ensure high-quality results.  Reverse osmosis or filtered water is preferrable to non-filtered sources.

Phosphates, usually alkaline phosphates such as sodium tripolyphosphate (STP), are commonly used in deep marinades for beef.  Phosphates improve the water-binding capacity of the beef and have some antioxidant properties.

Salt and phosphate together will improve water-holding capacity than either will alone.

Other ingredients that may be used include:

Organic acids, such as lactic acid, diacetate or citric acid are commonly added to fresh beef deep marinades to improve shelf life and enhance flavor.

Antioxidants can be added to improve display life and prevent the formation of off flavors during storage and display.  A common antioxidant is rosemary extract.

Flavorings and flavor enhancers such as spices, MSG, and vegetable proteins may also be added to deep marinades, but this is not especially common for beef.

Natural tenderizers, ficin, bromelin and papain can be incoroporated into enhancement solutions to improve beef tenderness.

From a taste and label standpoint, formulating salt and phosphate levels to as low as possible to adequately bind water in the fresh beef is desirable.  A common beef deep marinade formulated for a 10% to 3% salt, and 1% to 3% phosphate, resulting in 0.2% and 0.1% phosphate in the beef.  Less phosphate will result in more purge, but using the USDA limit (0.5%) can cause off-flavors.

Typical injection levels for fresh beef range from 7% to 15%, with little difference in consumer ratings of tenderness and juiciness between the high and low levels.  Higher injection levels result in greater purge loss during shipping and display.

Cuts and Grades

Processors need to consider many factors when developing deep marinades for fresh beef.  Deep marinades are appropriate for almost all beef cuts, but naturally, tougher cuts may be better suited for enhancement.  There is less improvement in tenderness when a tenderloin is deep marinated versus a top sirloin.  Tougher cuts, like those from the round, will benefit more than more tender cuts.  On the flip side, adding weight via deep marinades to high-priced cuts results in greater profit margins.

Quality grades are also an important consideration.  Lower-quality grades such as USDA Select or no-roll will have greater improvement due to deep marination when compared to Choice or Prime. Lower grades are more appropriate to deep marinade, as consumers who are willing to buy premium, Choice or Prime will likely reject the addition of ingredients to fresh beef.

Cuts that will be cooked to higher degrees of doneness will benefit more from deep marinades.

Consumer Expectations

Of the commonly consumed proteins in the American diet, beef is the most expensive.  Deep marinades can be portrayed as decreasing the value of beef by adding water, even though research has shown that in blind taste tests, consumers will generally rate deep-marinated beef higher than non-injected beef for tenderness and juiciness.  However, Consumers obviously are concerned about paying high prices for deep-marinated fresh beef.

Processors must balance economic considerations versus consumer willingness to buy when deciding on an injection level and formulation.