How we tested
We liked the idea of having to think just a few minutes ahead if we wanted to marinate something for dinner, so we ordered the Vacu Vin Instant Marinator. What did we get for our $24.99? The Instant Marinator is a 9 by 5 by 3-inch hard plastic container with a pump that fits into a rubber gasket on the lid. Like other products made by Dutch manufacturer Vacu Vin, the most common being used to preserve the freshness of opened bottles of wine, the Instant Marinator relies on the pump to suck air out of the container to form a vacuum. We found that 10 to 20 pumps usually accomplished a tight seal. The theory behind this application of the pump is that it also sucks air out of the food; the marinade then supposedly rushes in to fill the gaps, permeating the food with flavor. According to Simon Kirby, vice president of Vacu Vin, the food should be fully marinated in 5 to 10 minutes.
We put this device to the test with boneless chicken breasts and steak tips, using a soy sauce marinade for both. We marinated 1 pound of chicken for six hours in the refrigerator and another pound in the Instant Marinator for 10 minutes; we then marinated 1 pound of steak in the refrigerator for 1 hour and another pound in the Instant Marinator for 10 minutes. The results? In each case, tasters preferred the meat that had been marinated in the refrigerator, describing it as both more juicy and more flavorful.
If the Instant Marinator couldn't compete with the results of a lengthy marinating, we wondered if it would do better in "real time"--that is, would chicken or steak pick up more flavor by spending 10 minutes in the Instant Marinator than by spending 10 minutes in a bowl? Some tasters thought that maybe they could detect a bit more flavor penetration in the food that had been sitting in the Instant Marinator, but the results were not so impressive that we'd recommend buying it for this purpose. Time, it turns out, continues to have value.