Although you can marinade meats and vegetables together, there are several reasons why you probably shouldn't. Vegetables, in general, don't benefit as much from marinating as meat, and you may unwittingly transfer bacteria from the meat to the vegetables. You can use the same marinade, but use separate containers for the safest, tastiest marinated foods.
When raw meat is marinated, bacteria in the meat can transfer to the marinade, and potentially to raw vegetables. The bacteria in the marinade and the meat is destroyed when the meat is cooked to a safe cooking temperature, which ranges from 145 degrees Fahrenheit for pork, beef roasts and steaks to 165 F for poultry. The problem is that many vegetables, including peppers, zucchini and mushrooms, would become mushy if you cooked them to the temperatures needed to destroy bacteria. Unless you cook the vegetables to an internal temperature of 165 F, it's better to marinade meats and vegetables separately to avoid the risk of foodborne illness.
For Your Convenience
Marinating vegetables and meat separately is usually more convenient, as well. Make a large batch of marinade -- about 1/2 cup of marinade per 1 pound of food. Put the meat in one container and the vegetables in another. Plastic zip-top bags work well, but you can use glass baking dishes, too. Don't use metal containers, which may react with the acids in the marinade, causing unpleasant flavors and colors. When packed separately, you can more easily prepare and cook the foods. For example, when making fajitas, the meat will probably need more time than the vegetables. Throw the meat on the grill or skillet first and add the vegetables a few minutes later. When braising marinated meats, braise the meats for an hour or two and add the vegetables during the last hour of cooking.
Time the Marinade
Another thing to consider is how long foods need to marinade. Vegetables like peppers and onions aren't as porous as meat and won't absorb as much flavor from a marinade. For these vegetables, a marinade is mostly a waste of time. Add a savory sauce or some reserved marinade during cooking instead. Tender vegetables, such as zucchini and mushrooms, can absorb some flavor, but if you marinate them too long, they turn brown or become soggy. Plan on no more than 30 minutes to one hour for these vegetables. Thick steaks and pork chops can be marinated for a day or two, while chicken shouldn't spend more than 24 hours in a marinade. Delicate fish starts to break down if marinated for more than about one hour. By marinating vegetables and meats separately, you have more control over the marinading times of both.
Tips for Success
Although it's not recommended, if you decide to marinate vegetables and meat together, keep the food refrigerated at 40 F, and limit the marinading time to two hours. Discard the marinade or boil it for at least one minute to destroy any bacteria. Cook the vegetables to 165 F. Slice the meat thinly so it absorbs more of the flavor.
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