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Marinades - Part One: What Makes a Great Marinade

Posted by Chef Perry Perkins on

One of the simplest ways to flavor food is to marinate it. That is, treat it like a sponge.

Basically you mix up a bunch of ingredients in liquid, and soak the meat in it, allowing the meat to absorb the favors it’s submerged in. Salt, sun, oils, spices, and marinades all started out as ways to preserve meat in pre-refrigeration societies, and they discovered that they were a great was to improve the flavor of the meat, as well. Worcestershire sauce is one of the results of those early attempts to preserve foods.

Marinades typically consist of a fat, an acid, an oil, and spices, and works on all kinds of meat, as well as fish, tofu and vegetables. You can order classic mixes like Cuban Adobo, or make up your own (more on that in my next post…)

Flavored oils can add a lot of flavor to you meat while, at the same time, making for a juicer end product. If you prefer to NOT add flavor, but still want added moistness, consider using Grapeseed oil, which is both flavorless and high a very high smoke point. Some of my flavorful favorites are olive, peanut, truffle, sesame, walnut, or chile oil. I often use coconut milk, buttermilk, or yogurt, as well.


(Vinegars, lemon juice, wine, beer, spirits, or yogurt)

The acidic ingredient softens the meat, chemically altering the muscle fibers, and allowing it to absorb the flavors of the sauce. Since acids can be vinegar, wine, beer, lemon juice, lime juice, etc., they can also greatly enhance on the flavor.

Tenderization can also be caused by enzymes found in some fruits and vegetables. Just like with acids, the muscle fibers are broken down by the fruit and veggie enzymes, too.

These enzymes are in foods such as raw onion, fresh ginger, pineapple, and green papaya. Another even more powerful form of "tenderization" comes from fermented dairy foods like yogurt and buttermilk.

The bacteria in these milk products, with their digestive qualities, breaks down the muscle fibers, and meat seems to stay moister when these are used.


Fresh or dried herbs, ground spices, and chilies, shallots, garlic, ginger, citrus zest; condiments such as mustard, ketchup, or fish sauce. For your oil base, try olive, peanut, truffle, sesame, walnut, or chile oil. You can also use milk, coconut milk, buttermilk, or yogurt. For acids, experiment with vinegars, citrus juice, and yogurt. Again, you can get premixed seasoning for specific flavor combinations, as well.

Alcohol - As well as being an acid, alcoholic products like wine, beer, and spirits as work to add a great flavor punch to he finished product. Two current favorites for BBQ and grilling are bourbon and tequila (my favorite...sometime I even use it on the meat...) Things like soy sauce Worstershire sauce, miso, and fish sauce make great kickers, as well.


As far as ratios, that's up to you, but a good rule of thumb is… "Easy as 1, 2, 3"... (1) 1 part acid + (2) 2 seasonings, minimum (3) 3 parts fat or oil + = 1 great marinade!


  • ave time by planning your marinating time in advance, like beginning the night before, or before you leave for work in the morning.
  • Mom always told us we should throw out the rest of the marinade when done. This, as it turns out, is not always true. If you bring your marinade to a continuous boil for at least 60 seconds, it's perfectly safe and can make an excellent base for sauce or glazes.
  • As handy as those disposable aluminum pans are, NEVER use them to marinade, as a chemical reaction can spoil the food.
  • Always marinate in the refrigerator, and remove the meat from the brine before bringing it to room temp. This significantly reduces the onset of bacteria.

In all, marinade is probably the most effective and simple ways to add a ton of flavor and tenderness to what might be a cheap or tough cut of meat.

Try it!

Keep Smokin!

~ Chef Perry

La Caja China Cooking

La Caja China World

La Caja China Party

La Caja China Smoke (Coming soon!)

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