The Best Ways to Marinate Meats for Grilling


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There are 2 main reasons you should marinate your meat before grilling. One, it makes the meat very tender and gives it such a soft texture, that the meat literally melts in your mouth. Two, you get to enhance the flavor of your meat using any marinade of your choice. With the right recipe, your beef can go from tasting good to tasting deliciously awesome. Marinating your meat gives you the opportunity of creating a feast with your simple everyday ingredients. There are various ways to do this so feel free to express your creative side and spice up the taste of your beef or steak.

Marinate and Marinade

Marinate and marinade are two similar but different words. Marinade refers to the sauce you soak the raw meat in to give it flavor, while marinate is the act of soaking the meat in the sauce. Once you have the basic knowledge, marinades can easily be made at home with the ingredients you already have.

Basic Ingredients for Making Marinade

The basic ingredients used for making marinades are salt (or soy sauce), oil, and seasoning. Sweeteners, like sugar or honey, can also be added to give the meat a bold and intense flavor, with an attractive crust. The honey can either be brushed directly on the meat or melted into the marinade sauce.

The salt is the most important ingredient as it ensures the marinade is absorbed by the meat through the process of osmosis. It does this by first drawing out juice in the meat and then the juice gets reabsorbed along with the marinade. Garlic, onions, herbs, spices are some other ingredients your marinade must-have. The more quantity of salt you use, the more herbs and spices you need.

Fat or oil is another necessary ingredient in preparing a marinade. It allows for some of the spices and flavors to be retained in the meat, as well as moisture. It also helps in even distribution of the flavor so that no one flavor overpowers the other. When combined with oil, herbs and spices give out a tantalizing aroma. Sesame oil, olive oil, and mayonnaise are examples of oils you could use.

You can also decide to add some acids or enzymes like citrus juice, papaya, or vinegar to enrich its flavor. The acid or enzyme would weaken the meat surface tissue thus allowing it to be tender. However, the acid should be used in small amounts and for a short period to keep the meat from becoming too soft and dry.

Herbs and spices are necessary ingredients for making a marinade. They add flavor to the sauce and are available in different options, some of which include ginger, garlic, chili powder, parsley, basil, thyme, curry, and much more.

Marinating Tools

When preparing your marinade, there are certain kitchen tools that will help make the marinating process faster and easier. Here are some necessary tools for you to have before marinating.

  • Zip-loc bags: This is typically the first thing you need when preparing to marinate meat. A zip-loc bag is used to hold the meat while it’s marinating. It helps to make the process easier and less messy. It ensures the marinade covers all parts of the meat and you don’t even need to touch the meat yourself. The bag can also be placed in the refrigerator while the meat is marinating.
  • Glass or stainless bowl: This is usually the preferred alternative when a zip-loc bag is absent. Depending on the size of your meat, you can either use a large or medium-sized bowl. Avoid using metal or pottery bowls as the acid in the marinade can react with them.
  • Whisk: It is the most ideal tool for stirring and combining the marinade ingredients.
  • Skewers: When grilling marinated meat, a skewer is usually the best way to go about it. It is a swift and efficient method for grilling. Skewers can either be stainless or wood. Bamboos are often used for wood skewers and should be soaked in water before grilling.
  • Glass baking dish: For larger cuts of the meat, you’ll need a big space like a baking dish, to marinate the meat. It provides adequate space for you to cover all parts.

Marinating The Meat

To get the best of your marinade, your meat needs to be completely covered in it. The best way to get this done is by using a zip-loc bag for the marinating. Place the marinated meat inside the bag and halfway through the marinating time, flip the bag so the marinade covers the other side also. If you do not have a zip-loc bag, you can make do with a large bowl covered with cellophane.

Stir the meat in-between the marinating time, to ensure the marinade spreads evenly.

When marinating for a longer period it is advisable not to place the meat at room temperature because of harmful bacteria that could contaminate it. Rather, put your marinated meat in the fridge as this helps to prevent any bacterial growth on raw foods.

Do not reuse marinade especially if it was used in marinating the raw meat. The marinade would have already combined with the juice of the raw meat, along with the bacteria in it. If you want to use it as a sauce for your meat, you have to boil it first. A better option would be to make enough marinade and keep some in a separate bowl that you can serve from later.

For safety reasons, avoid marinating with metals, aluminum dishes, or foil and pottery. This is because the acid present in the marinade can react with any of these metals and affect your marinated meat.

How long Do You Marinate The Meat?

The length of time needed to marinate any kind of food typically depends on the type of food you are marinating and also on the recipe used. Seafood and vegetables generally do not require lengthy marinating time. Within 10-30 minutes, they are finished. Depending on the cut of the chicken, the average time for marinating is usually between 1-12 hours. Pork chops, loins, and red meat can be marinated for as little as 30 minutes up until a whole day (24 hours).

Marinade recipes also determine how long marinating will take place. Those made with acid or enzymes are best marinated for a short time to avoid overexposure of the acid to the meat. This can make the meat very tough, dry, and mushy. 30 minutes to 2 hours should be adequate for marinating with an acid-based recipe.

Other marinade recipes can last longer in the refrigerator. From 4 to 24 hours, you can marinate your meat for as long as you desire. The more time you spend marinating the meat, the tastier it gets when you grill it. However, vegetables should not be marinated for more than 10 minutes else, they become soggy and waterlogged before the grilling starts.

Things to Consider when Marinating Meat

There are a number of things to look out for when marinating meat before grilling it. Preparing a marinade is quite easy but there are certain things to remember when doing so.

Time: Marinating requires you to be very time conscious. If you spend less time marinating, you will not get the desired flavor and if you spend too much time, the meat becomes too soft and mushy. It is best to follow the stipulated time for marinating. Once the time elapses, the meat should be grilled. This allows you to get the best of the marinade flavor. The average marinating time for small steak cuts is usually 1-4 hours while tougher beef can take between 6-24 hours.

Acid and Enzyme: Adding acids and enzymes to your marinade is all about finding the right balance. The proportion of acid, salt, oil, and sugar has to be even to get the perfect taste. Too much of it can dry the meat out.

Sweetener: Sugar, honey, molasse are common sweeteners often used in preparing marinades. They have a tendency of burning easily at very high temperatures so you’ll need to be alert while grilling the meat.

Important Tips on Marinating Meat Before Grilling 

  1. Understand the different types of meat cuts and the recipe that goes well with each. This includes knowing their marinating time.
  2. Select the appropriate and desired recipe. Are you going for a yogurt-based, oil-based, or acidic-based recipe?
  3. Prepare your marinade and pour it in a zip-loc bag along with the beef. Massage well so that the marinade covers the meat completely. You can opt for a glass or stainless steel bowl if a zip-loc bag is unavailable.
  4. Put your marinating meat in the fridge to avoid bacterial growth. Other protein foods with shorter marinating times like vegetables or seafood can simply be left on the counter.
  5. Flip the bag with the meat halfway through the marinating time to ensure evenness.
  6. Unless properly boiled, do not reuse marinade used for raw meat as a sauce. You need to boil the marinade first.
  7. Acidic or enzyme-based marinade should only be used for 30 minutes- 2 hours. Prolonged marinating will damage the texture of the meat.
  8. When the marinating time is almost over, the meat should be placed on the counter to cool and attain room temperature before grilling. This helps to make it juicy.
  9. Before grilling the marinated meat, oil your grill or skewer to avoid sticking. This is also applicable if you are using a saucepan.


Various Ways to Marinate Meat Before Grilling

The secret to successful marinating lies in the marinade being used. There are a number of marinade recipes, each one producing a unique and exciting flavor to your meat. Here are some marinade recipes to use to marinate your meat before grilling it.

  1. Basic Barbecue Red Wine Marinade 


  • 2 cloves garlic (crushed)
  • 1 tsp dried herbs (mixed)
  • 1tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 150ml (1/4) pint red wine
  • 1 tbsp virgin olive oil
  • 1 dried bay leaf (crumbled)
  • Freshly ground black pepper


Mix all the ingredients together with a whisk, place in a zip-loc bag with the meat, and leave to marinate. Barbecue marinades work mainly on the outer part of the meat, they do not affect the interior of the meat. As a result, they usually do not require extended marinating time. Within 30 minutes – 2 hours, the marinade can tenderize the meat and they are ready for grilling. You do not compulsorily have to refrigerate them because the marinating time is short and the meat needs to be at room temperature when you start grilling.

  1. Turkish Grilled Chicken Marinade


  • Boneless chicken thighs (8)
  • 1 lemon
  • Plain Yogurt (1 cup)
  • 2 cloves garlic (crushed)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp hot paprika
  • 2 tsp mint (freshly cut)
  • 1 inch cube of fresh ginger juice


Extract the juice of both the lemon and the ginger. Add all other ingredients except the yogurt and chicken. Combine thoroughly. Add the yogurt to the mixture and stir until well combined.

Add the chicken and marinate for 6 hours. Refrigerate for the first 4 hours and then leave on the counter for the last 2 hours. This allows the chicken to be at room temperature just before grilling. Remove any excess yogurt and grill each chicken thighs for about 15 minutes, turning it where necessary.

  1. Asian Flat Iron Steak Marinade


  • 1 flat iron steak (or flank)
  • Onion powder (1 tsp)
  • Worcestershire sauce (2 tbsp)
  • Maple syrup (1/4 cup)
  • Soy sauce (1/4 cup)
  • Balsamic vinegar (2 tbsp)
  • Garlic powder (1 tsp)


Excluding the steak, thoroughly combine all ingredients until smooth. Place in a zip-loc bag along with the steak and refrigerate for about 1-4 hours. Remove the steak from the fridge and let it cool to the room before grilling it. Grill over medium heat until the steak is completely cooked.

  1. Teriyaki Marinade 


  • Soy sauce (1 cup)
  • Water (1/2 cup)
  • Brown sugar (3/4 cup)
  • Distilled white vinegar (1 tbsp)
  • Vegetable oil (1 tbsp)
  • 3 medium green onions (finely sliced)
  • 4 cloves garlic (minced)


Combine all ingredients and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Place in a zip-loc bag with beef, refrigerate and marinate for 4 – 24 hours. Remove from fridge and allow to cool before grilling. Grill until the desired level of doneness and serve with sauce.

  1. Jamaican Jerk Marinade 


  • 1 medium-sized chopped onion
  • Finely chopped scallions (1/2 cup)
  • Soy sauce (3 tbsp)
  • White Vinegar (1 tbsp)
  • Vegetable oil (1 tbsp)
  • 1 finely chopped hot pepper
  • Sugar (2 tsp)
  • Ground cinnamon (1/2 tsp)
  • Ground black pepper (1 tsp)
  • Fresh thyme leaves (2 tsp)
  • Salt (1 tsp)
  • Jamaican Pimento or ground allspice (1 tsp)
  • Ground nutmeg (1/2 tsp)
  • A dash of hot sauce (optional)



You will need a blender for this recipe.

Mix all ingredients into the blender and blend until smooth. Add desired beef or pork to the marinade and marinate for about 4-8 hours. Refrigerate for the most part and leave to cool to room temperature before grilling. Grill over medium heat until the desired level of doneness is attained.

  1. Beef Rib Marinade 


  • 4 cloves garlic (crushed)
  • Honey (3 tbsp)
  • Sea salt (1 tbsp)
  • Ground black pepper (1 tsp)
  • Olive oil (1/4 cup)
  • Lemon juice (1/4 cup)
  • White vinegar (1/4 cup)
  • Cayenne pepper (1 tsp), optional


Combine all the ingredients together in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Place the ribs in a bowl large enough to contain it, like a baking dish, and lie them flat. Pour the marinade over the ribs and ensure they are completely and evenly covered. Leave a portion of the marinade for the sauce. Turn the ribs to the other side to make sure all the sides are coated. Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 12-24 hours before grilling.

The portion of marinade left out can be served as a sauce once the beef ribs are cooked. If you don’t have any extra portions of the marinade, you can make use of the marinade used to marinate the beef ribs, but ensure you boil it first. Pour the marinade into a saucepan and boil it over medium heat for about 3-4 minutes. Once boiled, allow to cool for a few minutes before serving with the beef ribs.


Marinating meat is one of the ways by which you can enjoy a lavish meal in the comfort of your home. Once you understand the basics of making a marinade, you can create delicious and unique flavors to enhance the taste of your beef. The steps to marinating any kind of meat before grilling are quite similar, so as long as you follow the recipe instructions and you watch out for the marinating time, you are good to go. Be careful with sweeteners as they start to burn after becoming caramel and ensure acidic or enzyme-based recipes don’t marinate for too long.