A proper marinade can make a huge difference when cooking on the grill, but it can be difficult to find the time to do it right. Whether you are whipping up something last minute, or just trying to plan daily meals for your family, factoring in multiple days for soaking fillets can be a little tough to manage. Ask any professional chef and they will tell you that regular meats like beef, pork and chicken NEED to sit overnight for the flavor to be right, and anything less would be an amateur move. Minimum timing can be as little as a couple hours in some cases, but that can be an eternity if you didn’t plan ahead. You can’t just toss raw meat directly on the grill, and expect it to end up as tender and flavorful barbecue perfection, but adding a little zing and some extra moisture can make anyone look like a pro. When you give it time, the sauce will infuse flavor deep into the tissue, and added ingredients will actually tenderize the meat. Slapping a quick coat of dressing on right before you cook is better than nothing, but when the ingredients fully penetrate to become more than topical, its a whole different ball game.
What is a Marinade?
For most people, the term refers to a liquid sauce that is poured over food in order to give it a certain flavor. This is fairly accurate, but technically they can also be dry, and scientifically speaking, they are able to do a bit more than just make things taste good. A marinade is used in marination which is a preparation process in which you soak foods in some sort of seasoned liquid. According to Wikipedia, the word probably stems from the use of brine in pickling which apparently led to the immersion of other foods to add flavor, or compensate for poor quality. There are essentially two types that you will find, acidic or enzymatic. Look for ingredients like vinegar, wine or lemon juice in the acidic blends, and find pineapple, papaya, kiwi or dairy in the enzymatic versions.
More that just adding a unique taste to otherwise bland food, the penetration of the marinade will soften the texture of your meat to make it more desirable, and easier to chew and digest. Add variety without breaking the bank because a bland chicken breast can be infused with teriyaki one night and traditional BBQ sauce the next for a completely different experience. A good soak in the right ingredients can even make tough strips of beef fully edible if you have the time.
We know this isn’t the traditional way to go, but pasty or powdery coatings do fall into the same family in some cases. Minimalist sprinklings of salt and pepper probably wouldn’t qualify, but it is possible to bring together the key components without adding liquid. Although there is some variation, a paste is basically the same as a rub, but with a teeny bit of added moisture in the form of oil. These concoctions are usually made by combining dried herbs and spices, and they offer a pretty good way to flavor meat. The downside of this type of marinade is that it will remain on the surface only. Some of the oils will get absorbed a bit, but the taste won’t spread as thoroughly as wet versions allow. Adding specific ingredients like ginger helps to tenderize, while oils from things like garlic give it a bold flavor. When using this method, you will typically just slather the whole outside until it is coated.
A more saucy approach is pretty typical for most folks because it is easy to apply, and it allows for a variety of flavor combinations. The finished product usually has a bold taste, and if the timing was right, it should also end up tender and juicy. Simply submerge your meat and let sit for the right amount of time before you cook it. You can certainly find a delicious product at the grocery store, but mixing up your own can taste better, allow for healthier ingredients, and provide a unique flavor that suits your preferences.
To create the perfect marinade, you will need three basic components. Take something fatty, something acidic, and something flavorful and combine together for the perfect sauce. Some people like a sweet taste, while others prefer something salty or savory. There is no perfect mixture, so as long as you think it tastes good before you put it on, it should work well after you cook. Oils help to preserve the meat and seal in moisture while acids help to break down and soften the texture. All other ingredients are usually included for the taste they provide, and subtle variations will result in unique flavors.
Common components include oil, vinegar, wine, citrus juice, garlic, herbs, spices and even fresh fruit. Experiment with all sorts of combinations, or go for something more simple because marinades with fewer ingredients are often some of the most highly rated. A starter recipe that can be used on almost anything is made by using olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and garlic. Try that alone, or add to it to make it your own!
When working with acidic ingredients, most chefs hope to cause the meat to tenderize a bit as it soaks. The acid is said to break down the protein bonds in order to create a moist and juicy piece of meat. Letting the acid work too long can have an opposite effect, but perfect timing can be really beneficial. When too much time is allowed, the bonds will actually tighten instead of relaxing. This has the negative effect of making your steak tough and dry. To avoid this, simply add less lemon or lime, marinade for a shorter time, or keep the length, but add the acid on later.
Naturally occurring enzymes can be found in fruits like kiwi and papaya, but many people also opt for a synthetic variety as well. These ingredients are intended to break down connective tissue and make the meat more tender. Unlike acids, they will not have an opposite effect when used too long, but you may find that they are overly effective when used for longer periods. Instead of tough steaks, you could end up with mushy ones. For sauces that include some sort of enzyme, make sure you soak for hours and not days.
Exact times will depend upon ingredients, but when working traditionally, anything less than an hour or two will be insufficient, and many sauces work best when given 1 or 2 days to marinate. You definitely don’t want to leave meat at room temperature for more than 30 minutes, so store in your fridge while it is being flavored. Large pieces will require more time, while small chunks are often good within a few hours. There is no exact science, which can be a good thing and a bad thing combined. Variations in ingredients, meat type, and specific cut can make a big difference, so use your judgement when timing your food, and always make sure that you give it long enough.
For those of you that never have time to wait, continue reading to find out how you can achieve great results in less than five minutes while you avoid many of the draw backs that come with using certain ingredients for longer periods of time.
When applying a marinade to any meat, there are certain things you want to make sure of, and others you should try to avoid. Below is a short list of additional pointers to think about, but please feel free to offer your own if we left anything out.
- Traditional time tables for maximum flavor and juiciness will vary from 2 hours up to 2 days. More is not always better, but enough is essential.
- Beef, pork and poultry will require the full time, but seafood does not. Fish is pretty delicate, and could get destroyed with too much time. Keep to less than one hour when working with anything that came from the water.
- For best results, lightly pat each piece with clean paper before cooking. This removes any excess and helps in the cooking process.
- As you cook, avoid pouring marinade over cooking meat. It will stew or burn, and will not improve results. It can also cause flare ups if any drips down to the flames.
- To keep food moist while cooking, lightly brush on a small amount of extra sauce. Avoid this during the last few minutes though.
- To avoid tainting your meal, or ruining the flavor, never use metal containers for your marinade. Something made from glass will be best, but plastic works as well.
- If heating is required in the creation of your sauce, allow time to cool before pouring over your meat. Let it come down to room temperature first.
- To avoid spoiling, keep food refrigerated until it is time to cook.
- Be careful with sugary ingredients. When grilled at high heat, they can burn before the meat is fully cooked.
- Raw meat juice is not something to play around with, so never reuse your marinades, do not pour remainder over cooked food, and do not use as a dipping sauce unless it was kept separate. Food-borne bacteria is not your friend.
- To make use of leftovers, bring to a boil to kill anything harmful, and then serve on the side, or drizzle over the top.
A Faster Way
Because timing is the biggest annoyance when it comes to marinating meat, most people would welcome a quicker method that also makes things taste just as good. Luckily, there are tools available that will flavor and tenderize in a fraction of the time, and you don’t even need to compromise quality. Our Instant Marinater is pretty awesome, and has some unique features not found on other models, but you can find similar gadgets elsewhere that operate off of the same concept. Essentially, they all provide you with a vacuum chamber for your steaks, and instead of letting nature take it’s course over several hours or a day, they force it all to happen within a matter of minutes. When placed in a regular container and tossed into your fridge, flavors will gently creep in overnight, and infuse into your food. These advanced containers speed up that process by increasing pressure and forcing the liquid in at a much faster rate. The end result is the same, but the time it takes to achieve is drastically different.
How To Use It
These tools are super simple to use, and they allow anyone to marinate meat at the last minute. Instead of waiting at least two hours for your chicken breasts to be all set, you will have them ready to go by the time your grill heats up. You can do a single piece with this container, or you can fill it to capacity and prepare up to 14. For perfect flavor in less than five minutes, just follow these easy steps:
- Select whichever meat you want. You can do whole pieces, smaller chunks, or even a skewered variety. Add some marinade to the bottom, and then place in food.Place desired number of fillets into the container.
- Add more sauce, dressing or marinade over the top until everything is completely covered.
- Fold down the lid to close the container, and then snap shut the locks to create an air tight seal.
- Grab the included pump tool and insert into the larger red gasket.
- Using an up and down motion, pump up and down util a full vacuum has been achieved.
- Ensure proper pressure by checking the smaller gasket. It will pop up once the container is ready.
- Allow to sit for five or more minutes. Longer can be better, but 4-5 minutes will be similar to a couple hours in a regular plate or bowl.
- When you are ready to cook, lift up on the larger gasket to release the seal.
- Position the container on a stable surface and then open the lid to transfer your food to the grill.
- As soon as you have emptied the contents onto your cooking surface, close the lid and lock it shut to contain any germs or bacteria.
- Once closed, the lid becomes a platter, so transfer your fully cooked food onto the lid for transport back inside.
- Cleaning is easy once you finish. The container quickly separates into two pieces, and each can go right in the dishwasher.
Eliminate the possibility of cross contamination without getting an extra dish dirty. This advanced tool has a clever design that allows you to transport food in both directions without washing or replacing. The locking lid ensures that all of the raw juices stay contained in the middle, and the large tray makes the perfect spot to set food after it has cooked. Raised edges help to prevent slipping and sliding, but they also ensure that no juices drip to the floor. The hinge at the back is enhanced for stability, so even when open, this container remains safe and stable. This same hinge has a slide apart design that makes it easy to separate the top from the bottom when washing. It could not be more simple to work this gadget, and it offers a fool proof way to marinate meat in less time, but still end up with the same flavor and tenderness. Because it works so quickly, you don’t have to worry about acids making your meat tough, or enzymes chewing it into mush.
Because we know you are dying to try something right away, and because you may not yet be an expert in all things saucy, the following will be a list of some of the most popular combinations that people use when flavoring meat for cooking on the grill.
Honey Dijon Chicken Marinade
Perfect for strips of white meat, kabobs or full breasts, this one ends up giving a sweet and savory flavor that is appealing to almost anyone.
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp Honey
- 1 tsp chile powder
- 3 tbsp orange juice
- Sea salt
Instructions: Sprinkle your chicken with the salt and pepper. Mix all other ingredients separately. Coat pieces with your sauce and let sit until ready to cook. For traditional containers, wait 35-45 minutes before grilling. In the instant container, wait just 5.
All Purpose Beer Marinade
More than just an excuse to knock back a few while you cook, adding beer is actually proven to be a healthy choice. When added it will reduce the formation of HCA’s and those are known to cause cancer. With less carcinogens to worry about, you can relax, and drink even more. Use on beef, pork or chicken.
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 cup beer
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 2 tbsp sugar, agave or honey
- 1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
- Salt and pepper to taste
Instructions: Chop and mince your garlic and onion, then add to a pan and simmer until soft with half of your oil. Remove from the stove and then add in all other ingredients and mix together. Add meat to marinating container and pour over top. For traditional versions, let sit for 6-12 hours. For the instant variety, let sit for 10-20 minutes.
Basic Steak Marinade
Use this one for any cut of beef. It works well for sirloins and the like, but do to the simple nature, you could probably try it on other meats also.
- 4 or 5 large cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 cup of olive oil
- 1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup of thyme, minced
- 1/4 cup of rosemary, minced
- Sea salt
Instructions: Sprinkle and rub on salt and pepper. Mince garlic and chop your herbs. Combine with liquid ingredients in your container. Add in meat and let sit. If you have a normal bowl or storage container, allow 2-12 hours for proper flavor. When using an instant vacuum tub, allow 5-30 minutes. garlic cloves, minced 1/2 cup fresh thyme, minced 1/2 cup fresh rosemary, minced
Skirt Steak Marinade
The perfect cover for meat that might otherwise end up tough and flavorless, use this one on skirt steaks or any other thin cut of beef.
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 2-3 scallions, quartered
- 2 tbsp sea salt dissolved into 1-2 ounces of water
- 1/8 cup lime juice
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1/4 tsp cumin powder
- 2 tsp honey
Instructions: Mix everything together and coat pieces thoroughly. In a bowl, you will want to let it sit for 1-2 hours prior to cooking, but in an instant container, it will be ready in just five minutes.
Have your own favorite recipe? Use the comments section below to tell everyone about it.
- What is a marinade?
- Dry Ones
- Wet Ones
- Additional Tips
- The Fast Way To Marinate
- How To
- Marinade Recipes