Using a marinade is a great way to intensify the flavor of food or tenderize meats. Explore our tips below to learn how you can create a wold of flavor in just a few simple steps.

Why Marinade

Marinating is a great way to intensify the flavor of food with just a few basic ingredients. So, choose your favorite flavors and soak up... More

  • Marinating is a great way to intensify the flavor of food with just a few basic ingredients. So, choose your favorite flavors and soak up some easy-to-follow tips!
  • The purpose of marinating is to add flavor and, in some cases, tenderize meat, chicken and fish. Marinades can even be used on some vegetables, including eggplant, zucchini and artichoke. Part of the trick is to plan ahead so your food has time to absorb the flavors.
  • Remember - A well-prepared marinade can help an amateur on the grill prepare food that tastes like it was prepared by an experienced grill master!
  • Marinating meat, is a great way to keep your grocery bills down. You can get the cheaper cuts of meat, and still get the same great taste. You just have to plan a bit more, but it is well worth the savings.
  • If you have meat that is tough, and you are not planning on barbequing or grilling it, then get out the slow cooker. It is amazing how tender meat can get from slow cooking all day.
  • Marinating meat, fish, and poultry significantly decreases the amount of carcinogenic heterocyclic amines (HCAs) produced when the meat is cooked at high temperatures, like in grilling. Marinades can reduce HCAs by as much as 99 percent.
  • Adding fresh rosemary to any marinade ups the anti-cancer potential of your marinade.
  • Marinades may slow the growth of harmful bacteria, like listeria.

Selecting & Preparing a Marinade

Decide whether you want to just add flavor, tenderize the meat, or both. The following tips will help... More

Decide whether you want to just add flavor, tenderize the meat, or both. The following tips will help:

  • Flavoring marinades do exactly what they should—add flavor. Marinating times for chicken can range from just 15 minutes to several hours.
  • Tenderizing marinades include an acidic ingredient such as wine, vinegar, yogurt, tomatoes, lemon juice, and lime juice, combined with herbs, seasonings and oil. Some fruits also contain tenderizing enzymes. These include pineapple, papaya, kiwi and figs.

Marinades vary from recipe to recipe but they generally contain three basic components - oils, acids and seasonings.

Oils: The oil content in a marinade locks in the natural flavor and prevents the food from drying out. Some oils can also add flavor. Good oils for marinating include olive, sesame, peanut and infused oils (such as chili).

Acids: These ingredients tenderize meat by denaturing or “unraveling” its proteins - this softens the surface and allows flavors to be absorbed.

  • Acids include vinegar, wine, sherry, citrus juice, yogurt and buttermilk.
  • Yogurt and buttermilk tend to keep foods moist, while a citrus-based marinade can "cook" raw fish.

Seasonings: These provide the unique flavors. Garlic, ginger and onion are generally included. Also used are herbs and chili to spice things up, or honey and sugar to sweeten the food.

  • Seasonings include citrus peel, soy sauce, mustard, salt and pepper, and herbs and spices.
  • Salt is not just for flavoring. Salt has a brining effect which increases the juiciness of the meat.
  • Soy sauce is a common marinade ingredient and many of the great marinades include soy as a substitute for salt.
  • Pepper burns and is not a good component of a marinade.
  • Sugar or honey are often included in marinades as a sweetener and to add increased browning or to blacken the meat during the grilling process.
  • A marinade should be thin enough in consistency to penetrate the meat; otherwise, the flavor desired will not be reached. Keep in mind that there is a difference between sauces and marinades.
  • Not all marinades need to contain liquid ingredients - some consist of only dry ingredients, such as herbs and spices. These mixtures are often referred to as "rubs" (because they are literally rubbed onto the surface of your food). Once the rub is applied to your meat, chicken or fish, cover the dish with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to marinate.

Notice whether the marinade contains these three key ingredients: acid (such as wine, lemon juice or vinegar), salt or alcohol. Each one reduces the amount of time the meat should marinate.

What You'll Need

For expert marinating and grilling, have the following utensils on hand: Chef's knives, Tongs for turning the meat during... More

For expert marinating and grilling, have the following utensils on hand:

  • Chef's knives
  • Tongs for turning the meat during preparation and a second pair for turning the meat during cooking – this prevents cross-contamination.
  • Cutting boards
  • A juicer for squeezing fruit.
  • Bamboo skewers for threading pieces of food together (soak skewers in water before using them so they do not burn during grilling).
  • A pastry brush to brush the marinade over the food during grilling.
  • Shallow dishes for marinating the food. These ensure an even coverage of your ingredients. If the food isn't completely covered in marinade, turn it every 30 minutes. Use glass or ceramic dishes if your marinade contains citrus juice, vinegar or garlic. The acid in these ingredients may react with a metal container and taint the food.
  • Grilling grid—for smaller food like chopped vegetables.
  • Disposable aluminum tray—for heating side dishes like baked beans.
  • Wire grill brush—for cleaning grill grates.
  • Insulated, flame-retardant mitts—for handling hot coals and grill.
  • Long-handled tongs—for handling briquets, if used.
  • A spray bottle with water—for over zealous flames while grilling, you can spritz flare-ups, which can blacken your food.

Using a Marinade

As a general rule, the longer food is left to marinate, the more flavorsome it will become. However, the ideal marinating time... More

  • As a general rule, the longer food is left to marinate, the more flavorsome it will become. However, the ideal marinating time usually depends on what you're marinating, the size of the ingredients and the type of marinade you are using.
  • Small or tender cuts, such as lamb and beef fillets, chicken breasts and seafood, require shorter marinating times (usually two to four hours). Larger or tougher cuts such as leg, rump or shoulder will need longer (usually four to six hours).
  • A high quality cut of meat does not need to be marinated for tenderness, but can benefit from increased flavor.
  • When marinating, allow the sauce to sink as deeply as possible into the meat. A general rule of marinade-to-meat ratio is one-half cup of marinade per pound of meat. Times vary depending on the type, cut and size of the meat.
  • To increase the surface area exposed to the marinade and assist with penetration, make small cuts in the surface of the meat (1/8” every 3/4 of an inch) or poke surface with a fork prior to marinating.
  • Be careful when using acidic marinades. Foods left too long in these blends can change color and texture and denature the protein. Fish fillets, for example, can change in a matter of minutes.
  • Never marinate in aluminum, cast iron or copper. These metals will react with the acids and salts resulting in an off flavor.
  • Remove the skin from poultry prior to marinating. The skin is predominately fat and thus is impenetrable by a marinade plus after soaking in the liquid it will only get soggy and will not crisp properly.

Guide to marinating times

Ingredient Example Time
Meats: Lamb, beef, pork Steaks, chops, cubed 2-4 hours
  Whole roast 4-6 hours (or overnight)
Poultry Fillets, cutlets, wings, drumsticks 2-4 hours
  Whole 4-6 hours (or overnight)
Seafood Prawns, octopus, squid 1-2 hours
Fish Whole fish, steaks, fillets 2-4 hours
  • Remove the fat and skin from the meat so that it's ready for cooking. You shouldn't have to cut or trim the meat after it's been marinated.
  • Combine the meat and marinade in a nonreactive, sealed container. Make especially sure not to use aluminum or cast iron, and try to avoid metal altogether, if possible.
  • Marinate in a sealable plastic bag if you can. You can turn these over often, ensuring that all surfaces get coated in the marinade.
  • Never marinate meat at room temperature. Marinate meat, chicken, and fish in the fridge to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
  • To marinate meat before freezing, combine marinade and meat in a bowl. Transfer to a sealable plastic bag. Label, date and freeze. To thaw, place in the fridge overnight or until thawed; the marinade goes to work as soon as thawing has begun. Do not freeze dairy-based marinades – they do not hold up to freezing.
  • When ready to cook, be sure to treat the marinated meat with the same care you would treat any raw meat.
  • Using a half-cup of marinade to every pound of meat helps keep the calorie count down!
  • Discard the marinade after use. Marinades used for raw meat or poultry can be used to baste ingredients as they cook, or for a sauce, but they need be boiled first. Place the marinade in a saucepan over high heat and boil for 5 minutes. This will kill any harmful bacteria.

Food Safety

Any marinade that contains acid, alcohol or salt should not be used for very long, because it will chemically "cook" or denature the food in it... More

  • Any marinade that contains acid, alcohol or salt should not be used for very long, because it will chemically "cook" or denature the food in it. Marinate food in these marinades for less than 4 hours. Marinades that contain citrus juices, especially lemon or lime juice, should be used for only two hours or less. Marinades that contain no salt, acid or alcohol can be marinated overnight or, in some cases, longer.
  • Although marinades thwart bacterial growth and help extend food's life, remember that the food in them is still raw and must be treated as such.
  • Do not reuse a marinade.
  • Pour marinade out of the bottle into a small cup to brush onto your meat if you're going to apply while cooking. Never allow marinade that has come in contact with raw meat to be applied during cooking - it not only increases unhealthy bacteria, but also tends to destroy the flavor of a good cut of meat.
  • For safety, marinate meat in the refrigerator, not on the kitchen counter. Some older recipes call for marinating at room temperature. Do not follow this practice. Marinating at room temperature causes meat to enter the danger zone, between 40°F and 140°F, where bacteria multiply rapidly.
  • When a recipe calls for marinating at room temperature, increase the marinating time, and leave in the refrigerator to achieve similar tenderness and taste results.
  • Always place marinating meat on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to prevent any possible leaks onto foods below.
  • Never serve cooked meat on the same plate that held raw meat. Bacteria in the raw juices can transfer to the cooked food and cause food poisoning.
  • Cooked meat should never be returned to a cold marinade.