A marinade is a liquid mixture that you can soak food in before it’s cooked to make it way more delicious.
You can use a plastic bag…
…or a nonreactive dish (glass, ceramic, plastic, stainless steel, but not aluminum or copper because they will react to the acid).
Don’t worry too much if you don’t have the exact ingredients in a recipe — just follow this basic formula.
ACID (but not too much)
eg: vinegar, lemon/lime/orange juice, wine, buttermilk, or yogurt
why: tenderize protein to let the other flavor-enhancing ingredients get in there
or soy sauce
why: also tenderizes
eg, olive oil, canola oil
why: helps release the flavor of spices or herbs and hold them in contact with the meat.
eg, garlic, rosemary, ginger, chiles, maple syrup
why: adds flavor
Certain pairings are natural and if you think about it you probably know what they are because you eat food sometimes (lamb with rosemary; chicken with yogurt; pork with honey; shrimp with ginger). A good approach is to stick with ingredients that are common in the same cuisine. Here are some examples of that:
ASIAN MARINADE INGREDIENTS
rice-wine vinegar, soy sauce, mirin (sweet wine), ginger, coconut milk, lime juice, lemongrass, sugar, cilantro, garlic
MEDITERRANEAN MARINADE INGREDIENTS
red and white vinegar, red and white wine, beer, lemon juice, garlic, basil, parsley, tarragon, oregano, mint, chives, dill, thyme, rosemary, mustard, sugar/honey
AMERICAN MARINADE INGREDIENTS
Bourbon, Tabasco sauce, buttermilk, Worcestershire, sugar/honey/maple syrup
INDIAN MARINADE INGREDIENTS
yogurt, cumin, turmeric, coriander, curry powder, cilantro, mint, garlic
LATIN MARINADE INGREDIENTS
chiles, cumin, oregano, lime juice
Watch out for sugar.
Sugary ingredients in a marinade — like maple syrup, honey, brown sugar/white sugar, sweet wines — can cause your food to char when you cook them. So take note when a marinade has sugar in it and either use lower the heat or move the food around more as you’re cooking it.
Get even coverage.
If you’re using a dish, get your food item in a single layer then flip it once or twice over the course of its flavor bath. Shake/flip a couple times if you’re using a plastic bag.
Dont poke holes in the meat.
This is a debate. The esteemed experts at Cook’s Illustrated say you should. BuzzFeed Food editors believe poking holes in your meat is silly and will cause the natural juices to seep out when the meat is cooked, leaving it dry and abused.
A longer marinade isn’t always better — but it usually is.
There are several factors to take into account with marinade time: type of meat, size of meat chunks, and acidity of the marinade. For dark proteins — beef, lamb, pork — longer is always better. BUT, if the food is delicate — shrimp, flaky fish — stop marinating after 15 or 30 minutes or the acid will start to break down the protein too much. Chicken is somewhere in the middle, anywhere from 2 to 12 hours is good depending on the cut (skin-on breasts require less time, for example).
Some proteins need a marinade’s added flavor more than others.
Oh hey boneless skinless chicken breasts, you look SO GROSS. You and other protein that is tough, dry, naturally flavorless, or cheap will be especially improved by a marinade. (So in addition to chicken breast, think hanger steaks, pork chops, etc.)
Wipe it off.
When you take something out of a marinade, wipe it gently to remove most of the clingy bits of herbs or garlic. Otherwise they will char when you cook the meat.
Marinades can be sauces, too.
You can set aside some of your marinade before it comes into contact with any raw meat to use it later is a sauce. You can also use the marinade after it’s bathed the raw meat, but you have to boil the marinade first to get rid of any bacteria. Otherwise, just throw the marinade away. Don’t try to reuse it to marinate other meat.
Now you are a master so you don’t really need to follow a recipe — but just in case, here are some good ones.
Underneath each photo you’ll see the marinade ingredients and time so you can see the patterns.
Toasted Sesame Ginger Salmon
MARINADE: olive oil + toasted sesame oil + rice vinegar + brown sugar + soy sauce + garlic + ginger + at least 10 minutes
Miso-Glazed Tuna Kebabs
MARINADE: miso + mirin + sugar + water + mayonnaise + 1 hour
Planked Salmon with Coconut Rice
MARINADE: maple syrup + Dijon mustard + soy sauce + lime juice + at least 10 minutes
Grilled Fish Tacos
MARINADE: lime juice + cilantro + oil + salt + 15 minutes
Grilled Salmon with Strawberry-Avocado Salsa
MARINADE: orange juice/zest + lime juice + salt + pepper + garlic + chili powder + cumin + cilantro + olive oil + 30 minutes
Steamed Fish with Chickpeas and Currants
MARINADE: oil + cumin + cinnamon + sumac + 30 minutes
Miso-Glazed Salmon Steaks
MARINADE: miso + mirin + vinegar + ginger + sesame oil + 30 minutes
Seared Tofu with Spicy Stir-Fried Cabbage
MARINADE: soy sauce + cream sherry + garlic + ginger + sugar + 10 minutes
Stir-Fried Marinated Tofu and Mushrooms
MARINADE: soy sauce + rice vinegar + sesame oil + red pepper flakes + 30 minutes
Wheatberry Salad with Grilled Tofu
MARINADE: tomatoes + red wine vinegar + balsamic vinegar + Dijon + sugar + salt + black pepper + oil + 30 minutes
Shallot-Marinated Tofu with Miso Dipping Sauce
MARINADE: lemon juice + grated lemon zest + orange juice + grapeseed oil + shallots + cilantro + Dijon mustard + salt + pepper + 1 hour
Spicy Shrimp Tostadas with Jalapeno Avocado Sauce
MARINADE: paprika + cumin + chili powder + salt + pepper + 30 minutes
MARINADE: soy sauce + garlic + jalapeños + cilantro + lime juice + oil + sugar + lemongrass + 10 minutes
Maple-Chili Grilled Shrimp
MARINADE: salt + brown sugar + smoked paprika + cayenne pepper + chili powder + crushed chili flakes + oregano + salt + 1 hour
Shrimp Tikka with Fresh Mango Chutney
MARINADE: lime juice + jalapeño + ginger + garlic + garam masala + turmeric + nutmeg + 30 minutes
Spatchcocked Lemon Herb Chicken
MARINADE: garlic + kosher salt + fresh thyme + fresh rosemary + lemon juice + olive oil + paprika + at least 4 hours
Brazilian Beer Marinated Chicken
MARINADE: garlic + ginger + onion + paprika + salt + black pepper + caraway seeds + green pepper + mustard + beer + oil + 4 hours
Garlic-Marinated Chicken Cutlets
MARINADE: olive oil + garlic + white wine vinegar + fresh thyme + salt + pepper + 10 to 30 minutes
Chicken and Ginger Clay Pot
MARINADE: brown sugar + water + ginger + garlic + soy sauce + fish sauce + lime juice + star anise + chiles + at least 1 hour
Chicken Thighs Marinated with Homemade Ssam Paste
MARINADE: miso + sugar + sesame oil + fish sauce + white vinegar + chile powder + garlic + ginger + onion + 8 to 12 hours
Basic Buttermilk Fried Chicken
MARINADE: buttermilk + salt + thyme + pepper + cayenne pepper + at least 8 hours
MARINADE: shallots + ginger + veg oil + red-wine vinegar + soy sauce + apricot preserves + at least 8 hours
Buttermilk and Herb Marinated Chicken
MARINADE: buttermilk + rosemary + salt + pepper + 1 to 8 hours
Chicken, Mushroom, and Bok Choy Kebabs
MARINADE: garlic + soy sauce + Sherry + brown sugar + ginger + Sesame oil + 3 hours
Pomegranate-Marinated Lamb with Spices and Couscous
MARINADE: pomegranate molasses + garlic + olive oil + ground ginger + cinnamon + cumin + paprika + salt + pepper + at least 8 hours
Greek-Style Leg of Lamb
MARINADE: olive oil + onion + garlic + dill + lemon juice + lemon zest + dried oregano + at least 4 hours
Roasted Marinated Lamb with Lemon and Rosemary Potatoes
MARINADE: lemon zest and juice + garlic + rosemary + oil + at least 8 hours
Lamb Kebabs with Mint Pesto
MARINADE: olive oil + garlic + coarse salt + coriander + 2 to 4 hours
Grilled Leg of Lamb with Ancho Chili Marinade
MARINADE: red wine + oil + garlic + fresh oregano + ancho chile powder + lemon juice + green onion + brown sugar + salt + pepper + at least 8 hours
Marinated Lamb Chops
MARINADE: garlic + shallots + rosemary + thyme + red pepper flakes + olive oil + 6 hours
Balsamic and Rosemary-Marinated Florentine Steak
MARINADE: balsamic vinegar + olive oil + rosemary + 6 hours
Pan-Grilled Beer-Marinated Hanger Steak
MARINADE: soy sauce + olive oil + garlic + Dijon mustard + rosemary + Worcestershire sauce + ground black pepper + dark lager beer + 12-24 hours
Cola-Marinated Flank Steak with Frito Chilaquiles
MARINADE: cola + jarred Thai green curry paste + jalapeños + 15 minutes.
Harissa-Marinated Tri-Tip Roast Recipe
MARINADE: harissa + vinegar + salt + pepper + olive oil + garlic + 8-12 hours
Sirloin Steak with Roasted Potatoes and Asparagus
MARINADE: mustard + lemon juice + garlic + salt + pepper + 10 mins to 24 hours
Hoisin-Marinated Tri-Tip Roast Recipe
MARINADE: hoisin + ginger + garlic + rice vinegar + soy sauce + freshly ground black pepper + olive oil + 8 to 24 hours
Red Wine Braised Short Ribs
MARINADE: garlic + thyme + orange zest + bay leaves + allspice + peppercorns + cloves + wine + 12 to 24 hours
Coffee-Marinated Bison Short Ribs
MARINADE: water + chilled strong brewed coffee + kosher salt + dark brown sugar + maple syrup + fresh rosemary + Worcestershire sauce + 4-6 hours
(these are actually bison short ribs, not beef, but the marinade would work nicely with either)
Honey-Marinated Pork with Gremolata
MARINADE: honey + garlic + orange juice in small bowl + sea salt + pepper + at least two hours
Mojo Pork Kebabs
MARINADE: oil + garlic + red-pepper flakes + lime juice + orange juice + 30 minutes to 12 hours
Marinated Pork Chops
MARINADE: soy sauce + hoisin sauce + garlic + honey + sugar + 1 to 24 hours
Pork Tenderloin Marinated in Amber Ale
MARINADE: amber ale + carrots + celery + celery + onion + at least twelve hours
Pineapple Pork Chops
MARINADE: pineapple + cilantro sprigs + chiles + soy sauce + fish sauce + garlic clove + at least 6 hours
Vinegar and Spice Oven Ribs
MARINADE: dark brown sugar + cider vinegar + lemon zest + garlic + kosher + paprika + freshly ground black pepper + allspice + at least 6 hours