Some of the more sought-after features of injection technology include capacity, safety, ease of cleaning, durability and price.

Consumers continue to ratchet up their demand for a more positive eating experience every time they prepare meat or poultry at home or order it while dining out. And as most protein prices continue escalating in today’s marketplace, their expectations also increase with anticipation that each eating experience will be the same if not better than the one before.

Adding value has long been the name of the game in the protein industry. One way to improve the flavor, juiciness and tenderness of whole-muscle meat and poultry is by incorporating a marination process, which many know can be done several ways. Chance Brooks, Ph.D, associate professor, meat science, Texas Tech Univ., Lubbock, Texas, explains two methods in “Marinating of Beef for Enhancement.” He wrote that marinated beef, for example, is typically bathed in a solution or sauce containing ingredients that increase tenderness and juiciness plus enrich flavor. This somewhat slow process transports the marinade into meat products via absorption or osmosis. But if a processor wants to speed-up marination times while increasing uniformity of marinade distribution, marinade can be injected deep into a cut. Plus, vacuum tumbling is another marination process option.

All about the consumer

Consistently meeting or surpassing customer product expectations is at the top of the priority list for all protein processors and this is particularly true regarding supplying injected proteins. According to officials with Wichita, Kan.-based Cargill, one of the R&D team’s primary focus areas is developing solutions that help customers grow their businesses. To achieve this they utilize a variety of approaches to improve the sensory experience and convenience for consumers.

The primary benefits of marinating proteins include improved sensory properties, convenience and opportunity for innovating with new flavors. Cargill offers meat products that are marinated through injection.

When asked what products Cargill injects, Mike Martin, Cargill director of communications, replies, “Some Cargill brands, such as Tender Choice pork tenderloins, are the types of products where injection is used.”

Injection technology ensures Tender Choice products stay moist during cooking. (Photo: Cargill)

Cargill injects certain products to add flavor and maintain product moisture during cooking, primarily to improve the consumer’s eating experience in terms of tenderness, juiciness and flavor, its R&D and marketing teams say.

When asked about any major injection challenges, Cargill’s teams replied there are none. “The process is well known and understood and we work toward optimizing it to achieve the best possible end result. The goal is to deliver product consistency,” they add.

Features Cargill operations executives look for when shopping for injection equipment/systems used in Cargill protein plants include safety, consistent performance, ease of cleaning/sanitation and flexibility/versatility. Food-safety features that are a “must” include easy to clean/sanitize, especially ease of accessibility to allow thorough sanitation.

Cargill Value Added Meats-Retail’s massive Dayton, Va., turkey complex – one of the largest such complexes in the world – processes an average of 84,000 birds per day. In its cutlet operation, raw-turkey components are pressed into loaves, injected, refrigerated to harden the protein and then sliced into cutlets.

“This processing area is likely to expand in the future,” said Randy Batson, general manager of the Dayton complex, during an M&P tour last year.

Dakota Provisions, Huron, SD, offers a wide range of commodity raw turkey products; whole-muscle turkey breast, boneless pork hams, natural roast beef and turkey breast for foodservice; Delicatessen Trays (shaved deli – turkey, beef, pork, chicken, cheese shingled by item, up to four items per tray); and Delicatessen Platters (shaved deli platter designed to specification in 17-inch diameter platters or smaller); plus Prairie Grown products in a full range of turkey and ham flavors in large or small volumes. Packaging options include black tray, zipper pouch, tub and deli log.

Dakota Provisions offers injected marinated whole turkeys that also have been smoked.


The company offers injected marinated products, such as whole turkey, bone-in meat, as well as boneless meat. All injected products undergo a cooking process, says Chet Coolbaugh, director of operations. “[We inject these products] to add flavor, improve texture and increase yield,” he adds.

Dakota Provisions has increased its number of injected and marinated products over the years in response to customer demand for whole-muscle products and demand for higher product quality (e.g., texture and a variety of flavors), Coolbaugh says.

When shopping for injection technology, some of the more sought-after features Dakota Provisions looks for in injection equipment include capacity, safety, ease in cleaning, flexibility (being able to work with both bone-in and boneless products), simple to operate, durability.... and price, he adds.

Heinkel’s Packing Co., Decatur, Ill., processes and distributes smoked and fresh sausage, wieners, bacon, smoked turkey and other products in more than 40 states. About five years ago, it began processing value-added turkey drumsticks.

At the further-processing level, their turkey drumsticks are injected with the company’s old brine recipe, which was created in Germany. Wes Heinkel, fourth-generation owner of the family business, previously explained that once injected the drumsticks are hickory-smoked in large ovens for approximately two hours. Most of Heinkel’s Packing’s drumstick business is made for foodservice.

The road ahead

“We believe there will be opportunities for some [injected meat] growth due to steady consumer demand and even increases in certain areas,” Cargill’s R&D and marketing teams say. “As consumers continue to look for new and inspirational ways of cooking and eating, we believe marinated meats will be part of that overall offering. The higher price in protein, we believe, will also be incentivizing all parties involved to look to increase the amount of marinated meats sold.”