How to Make Your Own Marinade & Summer Grilling Tips
Across the nation the weather is hot and the beaches are packed. The smell of backyard cookouts drift through neighborhoods, making everyone’s mouths water. This weekend, how about mix things up and try creating your own marinade. Marinades are an easy, flexible way to experiment in the kitchen. Adaptable to fit your specific tastes, making your own with ingredients already in your cupboard is cheaper than buying a pre-made sauce.
Marinades are used not just to flavor your food, but they also aid in the breakdown process that happens when cooking, making your meat more tender. They significantly decrease the amount of carcinogenic heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that are produced when meats are cooked at high temperatures, and acidic marinades rich in spices help restore antioxidants lost during grilling.2 They may also slow the growth of harmful bacteria which makes your food safer, and not to mention, very tastey.1
If you’ve never made a marinade before, here are some basic tips:
CREATING YOUR UNIQUE MARINADE
Marinades consist of 3 basic parts: oil, acid, and flavoring (herbs, spices, and/or vegetables).
- Oil Selection: Great oils for marinating include safflower, avocado, peanut oil, and sesame (sesame oil has a very bold flavor and may need additional acids or dilution). Tip: Light or classic olive oil is preferred to extra virgin, which may solidify in the refrigerator.
- Acid Selection: Acids can come from vinegars (balsamic, red wine, etc.) or fruit juices (lemon, orange, pineapple, etc.). Tip: If you would like to use alcohol as your acid, beer, wine, or beverages with lower alcohol content are the best choice. Liquors and raw alcohol can scorch the surface of the meat, preventing the marinade from properly absorbing.3 If you’d like to use liquor for flavor, be sure to first cook off the alcohol and let cool.
- Flavor Selection: When choosing your herbs, spices, and/or vegetables, use your imagination! Popular flavors include garlic, basil, rosemary, honey, dry mustard, brown sugar, mint leaves, and vegetables like spicy peppers or onions. Be sure to include salt, as it is an important flavor enhancer and is good at penetrating the meat.3Tip: Both salt and water are necessary for a good marinade, working as a brine to penetrate into the meat and add essential moisture. Marinades made only of oils, acids, and herbs drain the moisture from your food. Adding both salt and water to your marinade will ensure that your meat stays juicy.
The proportions of the ingredients are not exact, which is the beauty of marinades, so play around with your creation. We suggest trying two parts oil, one part acid, one part water (to dilute slightly), and season to taste. In time, you’ll find the perfect combination, so be sure to write down what you’re using. You never know when your creation will become a famous family recipe!
When combining your ingredients, start with your acid and spices in a bowl. Then emulsify your oil by slowly adding it to your acid mixture and whisk rapidly until blended completely.
PREPARING YOUR MEAT OR VEGETABLES
Be sure to start with a thawed, skinless (if applicable), thin cut of meat. Why thin cut? Even if allowed to soak 24 hours, a thick cut of meat won’t absorb the marinade into its center and the surface will become mushy. It’s better to start with a thinner cut already portioned to allow for a more even absorption.
It is essential to use a nonreactive container when marinating. The acids from your marinade can react with aluminum, copper, and cast iron, which can negatively change the flavor of your food. Use a container made of plastic, stainless steel, porcelain, or even zipper bags.3 The zipper bags can more fully cover your meat with the marinade, just be sure to get out all the air and flip the bag frequently when soaking.
Many people recommend cutting or poking your meat to help the marinade’s absorption, yet this can release essential juices and leave your meat dry. We suggest that you do not poke your meat, but if you can’t help yourself, a flavor injector is a great alternative.
No one wants their meat mushy, so don’t over marinate. Generally, 2-3 hours is long enough for pork or beef, and chicken shouldn’t marinate for more than an hour. Fish, however, should marinate for a maximum of 30 minutes, so keep an eye on the clock! If you’re dealing with a tough cut of meat, like flank steak or venison, you can marinate much longer, even overnight.4
Never marinate at room temperature – though marinades can help slow the growth of bacteria, it can’t stop it completely, so always marinate in the refrigerator.1
ON THE GRILL
Now that you’ve created a delicious unique marinade, you probably want to use what’s left-over for basting. STOP! Before using the marinade that your raw meat has been soaking in, you must boil it for at least 5 minutes. Don’t risk transferring the bacteria from the raw meat onto your finished product. Alternatively, you can reserve some of your marinade, meat-free, specifically for basting.
Keep these tips in mind when marinating and you’ll be on your way to a safe and flavorful grilling experience.