Who needs diamonds when you’ve got a great marinade?! Marinades bring flavor, moisture, and tenderness to any cut of meat. With a few basic tips it’s almost impossible to go wrong.
1 – Basic Recipe and Flavor Combinations
Basic marinades are almost identical to homemade salad dressings: 2-3 parts oil to 1 part acid (vinegar, lemon juice, etc.), plus any herbs and spices you want to add. As with salad dressings, the key is to keep these ingredients within one flavor group. Beyond those two rules of thumb you can mix and match flavors to meat (pun intended) any occasion. For some of our favorite recipes check out our Homemade Salad Dressings and Marinades Recipe Collection.
2 – Time
Depending on the meat, you’ll need a different marinate time. You can speed things up and marinate for less time, but don’t leave them for too long or the meat will become so tender it’s almost mushy – this is especially the case with fish and seafood. You can increase these times slightly if you leave out some or most of the acid, or if you opt for a brine or dry rub (see below).
|Fish/Seafood||15 minutes to 1 hour|
|Poultry (chicken, turkey, etc.)||1/2 hour to 3 hours|
|Red Meat (beef, lamb, etc.) or Whole Chicken||Overnight|
3 – Food Safety
Use a glass container or resealable plastic bag to marinate meats. I like to avoid plastic containers because they can absorb the bacteria from raw meat, and metal containers should be avoided because the acid in marinade can react with them, leaving both an undesirable flavor and increasing the risk of food poisoning. Before pouring the marinade over the meat, I highly recommend reserving some separately to use as a sauce at the end of cooking. Since they come in contact with raw meat, marinades should never be reused. You can use marinades to baste meats while cooking or grilling, just make absolutely sure to let meat keep cooking for 3-5 more minutes (depending on heat of the grill) to make sure that any possible bacteria from the raw meat has cooked out.
4 – Marinade alternative – Brines
If you want a different take on the traditional marinade you may want to give brines a try. Brining is extremely simple, and since it contains no acid, meats can be left to brine for longer than with a marinade. For 4 pork chops, chicken breasts, or thick fish filets use 3 cups water, 1/4 cup kosher salt (1/8 cup normal table salt), 1/4 cup brown sugar, plus herbs and spices to taste. Increase these quantities for whole chickens. One key to brines is to make sure to adjust salt according to which type you have: 1/8 cup table salt = 1/4 cup kosher salt.
5 – A Note From the Cattle Rancher’s Daughter (that’s me!)
Marinate, brine, and rub shrimp, fish, pork, and chicken as much as you want (actually PLEASE marinate chicken, it will be so much better). Even marinade inexpensive steaks, but please please please don’t marinate expensive steaks (or at the very least, resist once and you’ll see what I’m talking about). Good steak, salt, pepper, a hot grill and you have perfection! Nothing more needed. Check out our Perfectly Grilled Steak recipe for cooking times.
Now all that’s left is to grab your favorite cut of meat, find a flavor combination that works for you, heat up the grill and go!