3 spoons showing 3 different marinade recipes

Marinade Magic for Grilled Favorites

Publish Date May 2, 2024 3 Minute Read
Author MyMagazine Staff

Looking for tender, juicy meat that’s bursting with flavor? It all starts with the right marinade. Marinating meat prior to cooking adds flavor and prevents meat from becoming dry or tough.

It can be confusing figuring out which marinades go with which meats — and how long the meat should marinate. With a little understanding of the science behind marinades and how they work, you can master this popular global technique and create marinade magic in your kitchen.

What is a marinade?

Marinades are a liquid mixture of acid, such as citrus juice, yogurt or vinegar; flavorings like herbs, spices and aromatics; and fat, typically oil. The meat absorbs flavor by soaking in the marinade, but that’s only half the magic. Marinades also break down muscle fibers, which makes tough pieces of meat more tender and keeps lean meats from drying out. This is especially important when grilling because fire’s heat is so strong.

The key to a successful marinade is mixing up the right combination of these three components, then pairing it with the right protein. To start, here are a variety of versatile marinades, all designed to enhance the flavor of your favorite proteins.

Marinade Recipes

Marinating Tips and Tricks

Start with the right container.

Use a nonreactive container, such as a glass or ceramic baking dish. Avoid aluminum and cast iron, which will react with the acid in a marinade. You want to maximize contact between the meat and the marinade, so if the meat is not submerged, turn it periodically so that all sides are exposed to the liquid. A zip-top, gallon-size plastic bag may also be used for easy cleanup.

Put food safety first.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • A marinade that has been used on raw meat may contain harmful bacteria. (This is why most recipes advise you discard the marinade.)
  • Always refrigerate meat that is marinating longer than 30 minutes.
  • If you want to use a marinade that has touched raw meat for basting or as a sauce, you must first place it in a small saucepan on the stove and bring it to a full, rolling boil. This will kill any possible bacteria as well as thicken the marinade to a more sauce-like consistency.

Say cheers to marinades.

Did you know that a little wine, beer or spirits can make a marinade more effective? Alcohol bonds with both fat and water molecules which helps capture the flavors in fat and water-soluble compounds and transmit them to our taste buds. A marinade containing alcohol will help the other flavors in the marinade — like spices, aromatics or citrus — penetrate the cells of the meat so it takes on more of those flavors.

Pick flavors that complement your protein.

Different aromatics pair well with different meats. Lamb, which is popular around the Mediterranean and in South Asia, is typically marinated in yogurt. Citrus juices, such as lemon and lime, work especially well with chicken, fish or shrimp. And beef’s richness is enhanced when marinated in ingredients with a lot of umami, such as soy sauce or tomato paste. For beef, focus on marinating tougher cuts, like short ribs or skirt, flank or hanger steak, rather than expensive, tender cuts like filet mignon.

lamb chops marinating in a yogurt marinade

What’s the right amount of marinating time?

The timing depends on the strength of the marinade, the kind of meat being marinated, and the size and thickness of the piece of meat.

Short on time? You can speed up the time it takes for a marinade to penetrate to the center of a piece of fish or chicken by cutting deep slashes in the meat (making sure not to cut all the way through).

More isn’t always better when it comes to marinating meat. Keeping it on for too long causes the muscle fibers to break down too much and results in chalky or mushy meat. This is especially true with smaller pieces of meat or highly acidic marinades.


brisket, prime rib, pork shoulder

12–24 hours


beef or pork tenderloin, whole chicken, fish

12–24 hours


bone-in chicken, chops, fish steaks, tofu

1–3 hours


boneless chicken, fish fillets, shrimp

15 minutes–2 hours

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