Putting flavor on the fast track

Vacuum marinators cut time it takes to spice up grilled meat

July 19, 2006|By CHARLES PERRY | CHARLES PERRY,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Summer's here - the lazy days of summer - so what do we want to do? Speed up the barbecue, of course. Vacation time and long, bright evenings are terrible things to waste.

And that's why some companies want us to buy vacuum marinators.

The idea sounds good. The most time-consuming part of barbecue is the marinating. Having to put your meat in aromatic liquid hours before firing up the grill just throws a cold blanket on the spontaneity of the whole thing.

So we tried out the two models designed for home use, the Reveo MariVac and the Countertop Tumbler from American Gourmet Secret. They're funny-looking - like R2-D2 crossed with a front-load washing machine mounted on a 1980s answering machine console - but the manufacturers say they make meat absorb a marinade not only faster but deeper.

The food-processing industry does this on a large scale, using huge rotating vacuum drums. The two models we tested downsize the same technology for home use.

One is the upscale model, aimed at people who are fiercely devoted to their marinating. The other is the budget model, about 40 percent cheaper, and has an As-Seen-on-TV sticker.

Basically, they work the same. You put your meat in a clear plastic barrel along with your marinade, then put the lid on it and create a vacuum. The MariVac uses an electric pump, the Countertop Tumbler a hand pump. Then you turn the barrel on its side and set it on the console, punch in the marinating time (for most meats, 20 minutes) and come back when the barrel stops rotating.

We tried both machines on two projects: boneless pork chops in a marinade of lemon juice, olive oil, fresh rosemary and garlic, and whole chickens with a sporty blend of tequila, lime juice and cilantro. In the case of the pork chops, we also compared them with chops marinated on a kitchen counter for four hours.

Both machines were impressive. The model with the electric pump worked rather better, but in each case, the chops fried up distinctly more moist and flavorful than regular marinated chops. And we'd saved three hours and 40 minutes.

As for the chickens, because we planned to roast them, we left the skin on, and we found this reduced the marinade's effect somewhat, but both machines produced a moist, flavorful result. The real problem in marinating whole chickens is finding birds of the right size. Both manufacturers recommend 3-pounders, and you'll probably have to go to an Asian or kosher market to find chickens that small.

Charles Perry writes for the Los Angeles Times.

UPSCALE MODEL

The Reveo MariVac has a hulking look, with its 10-by-15-inch black base and 5-pound capacity barrel, both made of remarkably heavy plastic.

What's the difference

It creates a vacuum with an electric pump, which takes two minutes to operate, and it has large rollers for smooth barrel rotation.

What we thought

An excellent product. It produces a far more moist and flavorful result than traditional marination, and in a fraction of the time.

How much

$200 plus shipping from the manufacturer's site, freethemeat.com, and also from williams-sonoma.com, surlatable.com, target.com, amazon.com and many other kitchen, barbecue and outdoor gear sites.

LESSER VESSEL

The Countertop Tumbler by American Gourmet Secret takes up the same amount of counter space but it's made from lighter-grade white plastic and has a 4-pound capacity barrel.

What's the difference

You create the vacuum yourself using a hand pump, which takes 15 or 20 seconds. There's an insert cage for breading foods and washing fruit and vegetables.

What we thought

Meat does not come out as moist or with as much marinade flavor as from the MariVac, and the barrel rotates in a disturbingly halting manner. You're supposed to remove a rubber valve and plastic gasket from the lid when cleaning the barrel, and these parts could get lost. That insert cage is just silly. Still, faster and better than ordinary marinating.

How much

$130 plus shipping from the Sausage Source, sausagesource.com.

[Charles Perry]

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