The Magic of Marinade

Before you let your meats and seafood hit the flames this grill season, make sure to give them a boost of flavor and some tenderizing love. Marinades are super easy to make and do wonders with making all your grilled goodies taste tastier. 

The basic idea for a marinade is to mix super flavorful ingredients with an acid to tenderize and oil to moisturize your meats during cooking. You want to balance salty, sweet, bitter and sour flavors and the rule of thumb is to go big or go home. Marinades should pack a pungent punch.

The Formula to Magic Marinade

  • Acid: vinegar, wine or citrus juices work as tenderizers
  • Oil: keeps meats moister during cooking
  • Flavor Components: garlic, ginger, minced or pureed fresh herbs, lemongrass, dried spices, fish sauce, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, chilis, pureed onions or scallions
  • Salt: for seasoning and to draw flavors and moisture inside

For a super simple impromptu marinade, use a bottled vinaigrette – balsamic, red wine vinegar, and Italian flavors all work well because of their low sugar content.

Keep it Safe

Because your marinade comes in contact with raw meats and fish, it should generally be thrown away after use. Still, if you want to use leftovers to add flavor (or if you just want to maximize your ingredients), use these tips to steer clear of cross contamination:

  • A great way to re-use marinade that was used to soak raw meat or seafood, is to throw it on the stove and boil it for at least three minutes. Add water or chicken stock to the mix and boil it down to a rich, thick glaze like I do in my Perfectly Juicy Rosemary-Lemon Chicken recipe.
  • You can also baste used marinade onto foods as they grill, as long as you're sure to do so within the first few minutes of cooking. That way any harmful bacterial will be killed in the heat, as with my Miso Glazed Cod.
  • Instead of using your whole batch of marinade to soak your meats, set a bit aside beforehand. That way you have some to use as a dipping sauce or to serve as a tasty topping the way I do with my Flank Steak with Argentinian Chimichurri.

The length of time you marinade your food depends on what you're soaking. Veggies only need a quick 15-30 minute dunk while tough cuts of beef or pork can go from 8 hours to a day or two.

Fish only needs an hour because if you go longer, it'll start to "cook" ceviche-style, which you want to avoid. Lean poultry or pork only require 1-4 hours to infuse flavor, but you can go a full day to really pack a punch. 

Marinades only reach a depth of about 1/2" so butterfly or flatten your meat cuts to maximize flavor and tenderness, as in my Spice Rubbed Pork Tenderloin. You can also use chicken cutlets or tenderloins. Just cube, marinate, and skewer before grilling.

Be sure to brush off any marinades that contain large amounts of sugar, oil, tomato or fresh garlic. They burn at high heat and will create an acrid taste. The most common offender is BBQ sauce, so save it until the last few minutes of grilling to coat and add flavor.

Pro Tip: Use dried granulated garlic instead of garlic powder or fresh garlic to give authentic garlic flavor with no risk of burning.

Rub It In

A rub is another classic BBQ technique. It uses a dry or lightly damp mix of dried or fresh herbs with salt, pepper and frequently sugar. As the name indicates, you rub it onto your meats prior to cooking for a flavor punch. The flavors then season the meat and also create a super tasty crust under the broiler or on the grill. 

Typical rub ingredients are brown sugar, salt, black pepper, cumin, smoked or regular paprika, granulated garlic or garlic powder, coriander, onion powder, cayenne, ginger, curry, chili powders, citrus zests, and dried herbs such as thyme, rosemary, fennel and sage.

You can use a rub as a way to add a layer of flavor after marinating your meats, then top it off with a glaze or barbecue sauce during the last few minutes of grilling. Your backyard guests will be blown away by your BBQ master skills.

What are you grilling up this summer?