Marinades The New Dimension to Awesome Flavor

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apple cider vinegar for marinade
Apple Cider Vinegar for Marinades

You have been grilling for a while now and you find that you are like most of us. Don’t get caught in a rut and grill or smoke the same thing over and over. It is not that you don’t like flavor but you just haven’t found the flavor for you. I will show you how marinades are the new dimension to awesome flavor.

I will show you what is in a basic marinade and how to construct your own marinade for maximum flavor. You may be surprised at some of the things a marinade can do for your grilling.

I have found from experience that a simple marinade can be more effective and have better flavor than using a dry rub. A dry rub can produce extraordinary results as well but sometimes the flavor profile is not what you expected.

A Brief History Of Marinades

Marinades have been around for centuries. The ancient Egyptians used marinades as well as the Romans. Asians have been using marinades for centuries as well based primarily on soy.

The word marinade came about in the early 17th century from the Latin word mare(which means sea). Some say the word came from the French, others say it came from the Italians and others say it was English.

It does not matter where the word came from as much as the application for delicious flavor. Some things can’t belong to one nation or another when it comes to flavor that all can enjoy.

Early civilizations used salt to preserve meats for cooking later. Some places in the world still put a salt crust on the meats before they put them on the grill. This does produce a remarkable flavor but for those who have heart problems this may not be the preferred way to enjoy grilled meat.

What are the Basic Marinades Characteristics

marinade for chicken
marinade for chicken

Marinades are the balance of acids, fats and seasonings. Knowing which acid to use along with the right fats and seasonings make all the difference to how well a marinade performs.

When constructing your marinade try to get a good balance of acid to fat ratio. If you are using oil then you would want to have a ratio of 3 parts acid to one part oil. For example if you were using lemon juice it would be 3 tablespoons lemon juice to 1 tablespoon oil( I prefer olive oil). You could even go to a half and half mixture for an even tastier marinade.

Take a Chance Create Your Flavor

The main reason for this is to keep the acid from breaking the meat down. If there is too much acid you run the risk of having your meat turn to mush. Finding the right balance will require experimentation on your part.

Some of the experts recommend using sugar of some sort for your marinade. I find that using fruits can do that better. Some fruits to consider in a marinade are peaches, papayas, plums, strawberries, and pineapple. Always choose a fruit that is high in natural sugars for the marinade. You must also consider the flavor profile you are looking for.

One sugar that is easily forgotten is honey. With the natural sugar in honey you will also be able to take advantage of some of the natural properties of honey that help prevent illness from certain types of allergies.

This is what the basic marinade will look like:

4-8 oz=70-140 ml

2-4 oz = 60 – 120 ml

1/2 tsp – 2 Tbl

1/2 tsp – 2 Tbl

Wine, Citrus, Vinegar, Yogurt or Buttermilk


herbs and spices


A good rule of thumb is 4 ounces of marinade per pound of meat.

Tumbling, injecting and vacuum packaging will infuse the marinade faster.

After marinating discard any unused marinade unless you are going to heat it for use in basting the meat while it is being grilled or smoked.

Acidic Marinades for Flavor

Acidic marinades are used primarily to break down the connective tissue in the meat.

This is one of my favorite acidic marinades:

This should cover about 2 pounds of chicken thighs:
1/2 – 3/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 – 3/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup cilantro flakes

1 tablespoon tarragon

1/4 cup parsley flakes
salt and pepper to taste.
Marinate your chicken 2 – 6 hours ahead of time
Preheat Grill to 350F (or your preferred temp)
(I use a grill topper to put my chicken on – optional)
place on grill 3 – 4 minutes per side
check internal temp to be sure it is cooked through.

Enzymatic Marinades for Tenderness

shrimp on skewers after marinade
shrimp on skewers after marinade

While enzymatic marinades are great for tenderness you should be careful not to allow the meat to marinade too long. The enzymes in such marinades are great but if left too long can cause the meat to become mushy instead of tender.

Fruits such as raw pineapple, kiwi, figs, papaya, honeydew melon, and ginger all have great enzymes to break down meats and connective tissue to make them more tender. Pay attention to how long you use this marinade to prevent having your protein in the marinade too long.

Fruit enzymes can be slowed or halted by heat. These enzymes are heat tolerant and require higher temperatures to slow the process of tenderization. That is why when put on the grill it may take a little longer for the slowing the process of the tenderizing enzymes and before the true action of the grill begins.

The use of fruit enzymes will actually help your digestion since the enzymes have already begun the process of making the amino acids in your protein available for easier digestion.

Buttermilk and Yogurt May be the Best Marinades

marinating chicken for grill
marinating chicken for the grill

Buttermilk and yogurt have been used for centuries in countries like India, Iran, Italy, Lebanon and Turkey as a means not only of tenderizing meats but adding flavor into the meat.

Yogurt and buttermilk both are lower in fat than regular milk but also have lactic acid which is the catalyst that starts the tenderizing process. That is one of the reasons that buttermilk is so often used in Southern Fried Chicken.

When using buttermilk as a marinade, find the freshest herbs for your recipe that you can. The fresher your herbs in your recipe the more pronounced the flavor will be. Buttermilk heightens the flavor in a way no other marinade can.

It may seem that chicken is the protein that benefits from marinating in buttermilk or yogurt but that is not the case. Indeed, lamb or pork can be marinated with yogurt to include a flavor that when mixed with the herbs and spices of the local area make for a truly succulent meal. Your meal will not only be delicious but tender as well. Imagine your pride in your grilling prowess after using one of these marinades.

What is the Right Marinade for You

Finding the right marinade for you will depend upon the flavor profile your are hoping to achieve and the cut of meat.

Many people like only the acidic marinades while others like the enzymatic marinades. Dairy marinades have been around for centuries with great success.

The flavor you prefer may indeed be the best one for you due to the ease of preparation or convenience. Some marinades are premade which takes the preparation from you and gives control to the companies that make your favorite marinade.

Each of these methods of marinating have their own strengths and flavor profiles. You will need to make the decision as to which marinade you prefer.

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20 thoughts on “Marinades The New Dimension to Awesome Flavor”

  1. I’ve always wondered how meat can be so delicious and what the secret spices are. I always use marinade, but I was not very familiar with all these ways of marinating. Since everyone and my family are big meat lovers, these ways of marinating will be very useful to me.

    • Bojana,

      I must warn you, once you have mastered the different marinades, you will be the one called for any advice about which marinade to use for which meat. Marinating your meat for the grill is one great way to get your family to try different ways of cooking and enjoying the different flavors.


  2. Wow, really great information and really tempting dishes! Now I’m hungry only to see this post.
    It really makes a difference when you start using marinades as you discover a new world of flavours. My favourite ones are mustard and honey for pork meat, and cilantro, lemon and olive oil for fish.
    Never thought of a marinade as a way to improve tenderness so this has been really enlightening! Thank you.

    • Johnny,

      I have been using marinades for more years than I want to remember. The first one I tried caused me a great deal of anxiety. Once I tried it and it worked out, I was ready to grill everything under the sun. I kept experimenting and found that there is an amazing world of marinades out there. I have even used some flowers in marinades.

      The mustard and honey is great with pork, you may also want to try a cinnamon stick as well. What a difference it makes.


  3. Glad for your post on marinades. I like the idea of yogurt or buttermilk to be used in marinades, I hadn’t thought of those as being acidic.
    It was also helpful that you gave the ratio of 3 parts acid to one part oil. Knowing the rule of thumb as 4 ounces of marinade per pound of meat is beneficial to know so you don’t prepare more than you need.
    The balance of acids, fats and seasonings is what makes seasoning food an art, and a science.  I’d like to add honey to my next marinade. I often put the meat in a zip lock bag and place it in the fridge for several hours. Thanks for the recipes.

    • Once you have your balance down it is easy to scale to the amount of meat that you are preparing. A word of caution with honey, honey is sweeter than sugar and takes less to achieve the right amount of sweetness. Part of the joy of grilling, smoking, the oven or crock for me is the experimenting for the right flavor profile. I never put a marinade on that does not have the right smell. If I do then it is a small test piece to give me an idea of the flavor profile of that marinade.


  4. Perfectly grilled meat with a taste that you enjoy is a joy, even if you are foodie or not. 

    In that context, a grilled meat to give you the flavor and tenderness you want depend on several factors.

    This article not only describe but explain why and how to flavor the meat to make it enjoyable. 

    I loved the grilled chicken marinated with buttermilk along with fresh herbs which is mostly used in India. The goat meat eaters use it and cook them with Indian spices in curry form.

     Thank you for this highly informative article.

    • Anusuya,

      Grilled chicken has been a family favorite for as long as I can remember. We use a variety of spices with it for different flavor profiles. Some of my Hispanic friends use yogurt or buttermilk with goat but they use cumin, chipotle peppers but not in a curry form. Some of my friends use my recipe using yogurt to make a dip for vegetables.


  5. This article gives me a new perspective on marinades.  I have always wanted to start experimenting with my own, but I just assumed it would be too complicated for me.

    I have tried a lot of marinades from the supermarket, but I always notice room for improvement.  None of them are just right.  Now I see that making my own marinades isn’t rocket science.  There are only a few basic ingredients, a few basic proportions, and a lot of room to add my own personal touch.

    Also, I’m looking for some stomach friendly options.  What would you suggest for someone like me who needs to keep acid to a minimum?  I know it’s not necessarily about not using citric fruits.  Possibly the key might be the other ingredients that can be used to neutralize the acid.

    • George,

      With what you described, I would suggest buttermilk or yogurt. Both are lower in acid and should help you get the flavor you are looking for. You may also want to look at the spices, some of them may be adding to your discomfort. The best thing you can do is to continue to experiment until you find the combination that works best for you. You may also want to cut down on the salt content. I am only suggesting this. For better information you may need to see your doctor.


  6. Hi Jerry!

    I have never thought to use yogurt. I’m going to try that. I love marinades but never made my own from scratch. I’m going to take your recommendations and try my own from scratch. But I am intrigued by the yogurt and cant wait to try that one first.

    • Jamie,

      Once you learn the secret to marinating from scratch you will never want to buy another one. You will have learned something that so many other people who grill do not take the time to do. Also, you will be able to grill with the reassurance that your marinade  is healthier than one bought in the store. It is fresher and does not have all the preservatives in it.


  7. Talk about a subject that most people take for granted!  I had never thought to breakdown marinades history, and background like this.  It was a fascinating read on something everyone uses but never discusses.  Using the citrus flavor on my chicken is a personal favorite, especially in the summer. (hurry up summer!)

    • Jay,

      Spring and summer will be here soon. This is your opportunity to do a little experimenting with marinades. Just think what your friends will say when you present them chicken that has your unique flavor. They will be constantly asking you for your recipe. Just smile, thank them and keep the recipe.


  8. So, can it be like another form of a kabab because it does look like it cause of the stick through it?

    Also, are marinades like a type of seasoning too?

    It’s pretty cool that even ancient Egyptians used to make this delicacy. It intrigues me to make just by staring at the screen, I want to eat it now, who doesn’t love meat am I right? 

    I want to thank you for taking your time to give us the recipes for this flavor as I would want to try it on some chicken and experiment with food. I will definitely bookmark this page so when I’m about to cook to try new stuff I will pop up the page and go about my cooking.

    Acidic marinades sound more of a preference to me as it sounds like it’ll spice up the chicken and make it taste delicious. I will become good at this as long as I have your page to follow.

    • Caleb,

      Marinades will have a variety of seasonings in them. Kebabs can be marinated as well as larger cuts of meat. If you have never marinated meats for grilling you may want to use the basic ideas in this post to give you an idea of how to make a marinade. Another thing, I would suggest if you have a friend that is experienced grilling ask them what types of seasonings and marinades they use. This way you will get an idea of how easy it is to prepare your own as well as getting some tips from your friends.


  9. I was looking for some new inspirations when it comes to marinades. 

    I personally love chicken wings but want to do something different. 

    Olive oil is my favorite ingredient as well but did not know about the ratio with acid.
    Using fruit (or honey) instead of sugar is actually a great idea.

    Great article and I am gonna print it out so I have at on me. 

    PS. I had no idea about the history of marinades. Thanks a lot for the info. 
    My neighbors will be surprised with the knowledge I just gained 😉 

    • Michal,

      Your friends and neighbors will be absolutely amazed at the amount of knowledge you have acquired about marinades. You may want to experiment some to find the right combination of oils, acids and spices for that marinade that is yours alone. Good luck with your grilling. I would appreciate some pictures from your next grilling event.


  10. Hi there, this is an extremely helpful post on marinating food for the barbecue. A marinade can really enhance the flavour, and the tenderness, of the meat that you put on the grill. I normally use a combination of lemon juice or vinegar and wine, together with herbs and spices, but I have never thought of using either yoghurt or buttermilk in a marinade for chicken or lamb. 

    I will certainly be trying yoghurt as a marinade. Do you have a recommended minimum time of marinating a butterflied leg of lamb? I was thinking of about 24 hours or maybe longer? Thanks for sharing. 

    • I have never grilled lamb before so I was at a loss to give you any advice. I did some research on grilling lamb with a yogurt marinade for my own education and to give you the advice you asked for. Every recipe that I looked at suggested that once you have made your marinade to put you lamb in it and let it chill in the refrigerator overnight. Once it has been thoroughly marinated then set the temperature on your grill to medium-high. Cook about 10 minutes per side or to the doneness you prefer checking with a meat thermometer that has the different meats on it. 

      Once it has grilled to the point you prefer, take off the grill and let it rest about 15 minutes. Thinly slice and place on platter for all to enjoy. I have noted that a yogurt or buttermilk marinade often has more flavor than most.



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