When it comes to cooking techniques, there’s one that almost every home cook uses: marinating. That’s because it couldn’t be simpler: just stir together the ingredients, soak the food, and you’re ready to go. But as easy as that is, there are a few things you may want to know about what makes a good marinade and the most important “dos and don’ts” for using one.

The Makeup of a Marinade

To flavor foods effectively, a marinade should contain three fundamental components: an acid, a fat, and seasonings.

Acids are the flavor foundation.

Some excellent acids for marinades are cider vinegar, wine, beer, buttermilk, peach nectar, and lemon, lime, orange, and cranberry juice. Other acidic juices, like those from raw pineapple, papaya, melon, ginger, and kiwi, are fine for short soaks; but take note: they all contain enzymes that can turn meat into mush, and the longer the marinating time, the mushier the meat will get.

Fats keep the food moist.

Common examples include mayonnaise and full-fat Greek yogurt. You can also use flavored oils like hot chile oil, basil oil, or Asian sesame oil as part of the fat component, but since these can be very concentrated, use them sparingly, if you’re adding seasonings to the marinade as well. Some people are tempted to leave the fat out of a marinade to make it lighter, but it’s not a good idea. Not only does the fat keep the food moist, but it also promotes browning and prevents food from sticking to the pan or grill.

Seasonings act as flavor boosters.

There are endless good choices. Try fresh or dried herbs and spices; aromatics like garlic, shallot, scallion, onion, fresh ginger, or citrus zest; condiments like hot sauce, ketchup, soy sauce, fish sauce, mustard, jam, marmalade, or Worcestershire sauce; or even a touch of spirits. Just beware of adding too many sugary ingredients, which can cause the food to burn on the outside before it’s cooked on the inside.

Marinating Dos and Don’ts

Always marinate in a nonreactive vessel, such as a stainless-steel or glass container, or in a heavy duty zip-top plastic bag. Do not marinate in an aluminum container, which will react with the acidic ingredients, change the color of the food and give it a metallic flavor.

Marinate in a closed container in the refrigerator, making sure that none of the marinade and raw meat juice can contaminate other foods.

Use enough marinade to coat the food. Your food doesn’t need to be swimming in marinade, but it should be well coated.

Marinades generally penetrate only the outer 1/4 inch of the food, which doesn’t take very long. Soak shellfish for about 15 minutes and fish for 20 to 30 minutes. Meat and poultry will vary according to the recipe you are using. Don’t over marinate. If your food starts to turn a cloudy grayish-white, take it out of the marinade because the acid and enzymes in the marinade are “cooking” the food.

Note that citrus and vinegar marinades are stronger and work more quickly than mayonnaise or buttermilk marinades.

Turn the food as it marinates. Do this at least once to make sure all sides of the food are exposed to the marinade.

Don’t wipe off the marinade. Just remove food from the marinade and let the excess drip off; what’s left will create a delicious exterior.

Salt marinated food just before cooking. There’s not much salt in these marinades because a salty marinade tends to dry out food. Salting before grilling is important because it brings out the food’s natural flavor.

Never use a marinade as a sauce unless it has been boiled for three consecutive minutes to kill any bacteria from the raw food.

                    Types of Marinades

Oil-Based Marinades

Oil-based marinades are the most often used when it comes to day-to-day preparation of meats. This is because they are ideally suited for preserving or adding moisture during the cooking process. They also promote even distribution of flavor by preventing herbs and spices from settling in one area, and they give meat a glossy sheen. You can keep it simple by adding just pepper to the oil marinade, or spice it up with minced garlic or fresh herbs.
Olive oil and sesame oil are both great for marinades and each one contains a great deal of flavor and nutrients, so as little as half a cup is all that is usually needed. Sesame oil is rich in powerful antioxidants and vitamin E while olive oil is the leader among natural oils for providing monounsaturated fatty acids and helping keep LDL (bad) cholesterol levels down while raising HDL (good) cholesterol. And thanks to the natural flavor, you can skip popular ingredients such as sugar or molasses that would add unnecessary calories.

Italian Dressing Marinade

Bottled Italian dressing is a popular marinade, but this homemade version is so much fresher, and you can change the herbs to suit your taste. The small amount of mayonnaise helps emulsify the ingredients. Use for steak, pork, lamb, chicken, fish, scallops, shrimp, or vegetables.
Yields about 2 cups, enough to marinate 2 lb. food.


  • 2/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon mayonnaise
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
  • 1 teaspoon dried minced onion
  • 1 teaspoon dried minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Fine sea salt
  • 1 cup olive oil


In a medium bowl, combine the vinegar and wine. Whisk in the mayonnaise until the color is milky white and there are no lumps. Whisk in the fresh garlic, parsley, oregano, sage, dried onion and garlic, red pepper flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Slowly whisk in the oil until completely incorporated.

Make ahead tips

The marinade will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Grilled Balsamic Chicken Breast

Makes 8 servings.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    


4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (8 oz each)

For the Marinade:

  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • kosher salt, to taste
  • fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary


Cut breast in half lengthwise so you have two chicken cutlets.

Combine the marinade ingredients and pour over chicken. Let it marinate in the refrigerator a minimum of two hours, but preferably 4 to 6 hours.

Preheat an indoor or outdoor grill to medium-high. Make sure your grates are clean and lightly rubbed with oil to prevent sticking.

When the grill is hot, lay the chicken on the grill. Cook the chicken until well browned on both sides and firm, but not hard to the touch, about 7 minutes on each side. Transfer to a plate when done.

Chunky Tomato-Basil Vinaigrette


  • 1-1/2 lb. fresh ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice (2 cups)
  • 1 large or 2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup lightly packed chopped fresh basil
  • 3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 to 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 


Gently mix all the ingredients together in a medium bowl, taking care not to break up up the tomatoes. The vinaigrette should have a slightly peppery bite. Set aside at room temperature until serving time.

Mediterranean-Style Flank Steak


  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh aromatic herbs (thyme, sage, rosemary, marjoram, or a mix)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1-1/2- to 2-lb. flank steak, trimmed of any excess fat and membrane
  • 1 recipe Chunky Tomato-Basil Vinaigrette


Mix the oil, garlic, herbs, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Rub all over the steak and let sit for about 20 min. at room temperature.

Meanwhile, heat a gas grill to medium-high (you should be able to hold your hand 2 inches above the grate for 3 to 4 seconds) or prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire. If your grill has a hot spot, position the thicker end of the flank steak nearer the hottest part of the fire.

Grill until medium rare, 12 to 15 min., turning the steak every 3 to 4 min. to ensure even cooking. The thickest part of the steak will register 135°F to 140°F on an instant-read thermometer.

Transfer the steak to a cutting board and let it rest for 3 to 5 min. Slice across the grain, portion onto dinner plates, spoon on the tomato vinaigrette, and serve.


Citrus-Based Marinades

Where oil-based marinades enhance moisture, the acidic properties of orange juice, lemon juice, lime juice and other citrus fruits can be used in marinades to tenderize meat and add a natural, sweet flavor. Citrus-based marinades are popular because of the refreshing flavors they offer. Citrus-based marinades are inherently healthy since these fruits are loaded with vitamin C, and many are naturally sweet, eliminating the need for refined sugar or other sweeteners. As healthy as citrus is; it’s also a pretty smart choice for what it lacks: cholesterol, sodium and fat. And you can avoid processed ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and preservatives when you prepare citrus marinades yourself rather than buying them in bottles or packages.

Citrus Turkey Breast                                                                                                                              

It’s important to allow the meat to rest before slicing to ensure that the juices are properly distributed.Citrus Grilled Turkey Breast (Light). Photo by kellychris

Serves 8


  • Juice of 2 oranges
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 5 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 small white onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1 bone-in turkey breast (4 to 6 pounds)


Combine orange and lime juices, garlic, onion, herbs and salt in processor and blend until smooth. Transfer 1/2 cup sauce to a small bowl and refrigerate.
Rub turkey with remaining sauce and place in a baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in refrigerator at least 2 hours (up to 12 hours).
Remove turkey from refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Roast in the oven for about 1 hour to 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Baste once or twice with pan juices during cooking.
Transfer turkey to a cutting board; let stand about 10 minutes before slicing.
Serve with reserved sauce.

Lemon Shrimp

4 servings, about 3/4 cup each



  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons dry white wine
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound medium shrimp, (30-40 per pound), peeled and deveined


  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or basil


Combine lemon juice, wine, 2 teaspoons oil and garlic in a medium bowl. Add shrimp and toss to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 15 minutes, tossing occasionally. Drain well, reserving marinade.
Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp and cook, turning once, until barely pink, about 30 seconds per side; transfer to a plate. Add bay leaf, crushed red pepper and the reserved marinade to the pan; simmer for 4 minutes. Return the shrimp and any accumulated juices to the pan; heat through. Season with salt, sprinkle with parsley.

Grilled Zucchini-and-Summer Squash Salad


  • 2 tablespoons grated orange rind
  • 3/4 cup fresh orange juice (about 3 oranges)
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice (about 3 limes)
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 red onions
  • 4 zucchini, each halved lengthwise (about 1 1/4 pounds)
  • 4 yellow squash, each halved lengthwise (about 1 pound)
  • Cooking spray
  • 3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil


Combine first 7 ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag. Peel onions, leaving root intact; cut each onion into 4 wedges. Add onion, zucchini, and yellow squash to bag. Seal and marinate in refrigerator 1 hour, turning bag occasionally.
Prepare grill.
Drain vegetables in a colander over a bowl, reserving marinade. Place vegetables on a greased grill rack and grill for 8 minutes or until tender; turn and baste occasionally with 3/4 cup of the marinade. Place the vegetables on a serving platter; sprinkle with the basil. Serve the vegetables with the remaining marinade.

Wine Marinades

People have been cooking with wine for almost as long as they’ve been drinking it, and for good reason. The spectrum of flavors wine provides is vast, and using it for marinating can be as healthy as it is delicious. Like citrus, wine is acidic and will tenderize the meat as well as enhance its flavor. This keeps the ingredient list simple since you have one element doing the work of two. You could easily add in some garlic or fresh herbs to enhance the flavor, but using just the wine will also do the trick.
When using wine, it’s best to keep the shade of the meat and the shade of the wine in the same neighborhood. Red wines generally pair well with dark meats like steak, lamb or duck, while pork and poultry are best marinated in white wine. And even though wine can be high in calories, just a little bit can go a long way. Most of the calories come from the alcohol, which you can reduce by bringing the marinade to a boil (alcohol begins to evaporate at 178 degrees Fahrenheit).

Red Wine and Coffee Marinade

This marinade is especially good for steak. It does not contain added salt, so remember to salt your food just before grilling. 


  • 1 cup brewed espresso or very strong black coffee, at room temperature
  • 1 cup full-flavored red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz or Zinfandel
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 medium cloves garlic, grated on a rasp grater
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Coarsely ground black pepper


In a medium nonreactive bowl, whisk the coffee, wine, olive oil, garlic, mustard, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, cinnamon, and 2 teaspoons pepper until well blended.

Make ahead tips

The marinade will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Chicken Baked in White Wine Marinade

4 servings (serving size: 1 breast half)                                                                                                                                                                                                          


  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup thinly sliced onion
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 4 (8-ounce) bone-in chicken breast halves
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Combine first 6 ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag; seal. Marinate in refrigerator 4 hours or up to 24 hours, turning occasionally.
Preheat oven to 375°.
Place the chicken, skin side up, in an 11 x 7–inch baking dish. Pour marinade over chicken. Cover and bake at 375° for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 40 minutes or until done. Transfer chicken to a platter. Discard skin, bay leaf, and marinade. Sprinkle chicken evenly with salt and pepper.

Grilled Rib-Eye Steak With Red Wine Marinade

2 (8-ounce) boneless rib-eye steaks, preferably 3/4- to 1-inch thick
Red Wine Marinade

For the marinade:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
  • 1 bay leaf, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt 
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard

Combine the red wine, garlic,  shallot, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, salt, black pepper, and the mustard in a large resealable plastic food storage bag.

Place the steaks in the bag with the marinade; remove most of the air from the bag and seal. Lay the bag flat in a large baking dish.

Let it sit in the marinade at room temperature for to 1 hour.

For the steak:

Prepare the grill for direct and indirect heat. If using a gas grill, preheat to medium-high (450F). If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal or wood briquettes; when the briquettes are ready, distribute them under the cooking area for direct and indirect heat. Lightly coat the grill rack with oil and place it on the grill.

Remove the steaks from the bag and place on a plate.   Pour the marinade into a bowl, discarding the bag.

Cook the steaks over the direct-heat side of the grill for about 5 minutes; until the meat is nicely browned.

Baste the steaks with the marinade and place them on indirect heat side.

Baste and turn the steaks every 2 minutes until the internal temperature of the meat registers 135 to 140 F. on an instant-read thermometer, for medium-rare. 

Wet Rubs

Wet rubs or pastes are a good transition between traditional soaking marinades and dry rubs, which we’ll discuss in the next section. They’re usually thick and stick to the meat, providing an even coating. This gives you more control over the taste because the rub can be applied in large or small amounts as needed.
Spicy mustard is a great wet rub base because it’s low-calorie and packs a robust flavor. You could also add a light vinegar or mix in some honey to sweeten the mustard’s kick. Avoid barbecue sauces and ketchup in rubs because the flavor benefits usually don’t outweigh the sugar, sodium or preservatives they contain.

Three-Mustard Bistro Marinade

Use for steak, pork, lamb, chicken, fish (especially salmon), or vegetables (especially mushrooms and potatoes).Yields about 3 cups, enough to marinate 3 lb. food.


  • 1 -8 oz. jar Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup grainy mustard
  • 1/4 cup honey- mustard
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter or Smart Balance Blend
  • 4 or 5 scallions, trimmed, white and green parts chopped
  • Fine sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper


In a medium bowl, whisk together the Dijon, grainy mustard, honey- mustard, and white wine.
Melt the butter in a 3-quart nonreactive saucepan over low heat. Whisk in the mustard mixture, scallions, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and heat, whisking, until the sauce has emulsified. Cool completely before using as a marinade. Let the flavors meld a few hours before adding fish or poultry.

Make ahead tips

The marinade will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
This marinade is excellent for salmon. Bake fish in a 400 degree F. oven for 15-20 minutes or grill fish 10-12 minutes.

Grilled Pork Chops with Basil-Garlic Rub


4 pork bone-in rib chops, 3/4-inch thick

Parmesan cheese

Toasted pignoli (pine) nuts

Basil-Garlic Rub:

  • 2 cloves garlic , peeled
  • 1 cup fresh basil, packed
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice , fresh
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


With machine running, drop garlic through feed tube of food processor to mince. Stop, add fresh basil, and process until chopped. Add lemon juice, oil, salt, and pepper and process to make a thin wet rub. Spread both sides of pork chops with basil mixture. Let stand 15 to 30 minutes.

Prepare a medium-hot fire in grill. Brush the grate clean and oil the grate. Grill chops, over direct heat until medium rare, 5 to 6 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit.  Follow with  a 3-minute rest time.

Makes 4 servings

Serving Suggestions:

Top the chop with shavings of Parmesan cheese (from a wedge of cheese using a vegetable peeler) and sprinkle with toasted pine nuts.

Dry Rubs

Dry rubs are generally used by cooks who favor slow cooking over speed, and dry rubs are usually reserved for meat prepared on the grill. But they are also the simplest to prepare, and with just a few ingredients, you can create a savory, healthful rub.
Onion powder, chili powder, basil and paprika are all great ways to season your rub. Just a pinch of any of these ingredients carries enormous flavor and is ultra-low in calories. Cayenne pepper, for example, offers a savory, intense heat and loads of nutritional benefits, including vitamin A and beta carotene. It’s also known to boost immunity and help lower cholesterol, all without a single calorie or gram of fat. Brown sugar is a common base for dry rubs used for pork because of the sweet, aromatic flavors it produces when cooked slowly over low heat. But the high number of calories means it’s not the best choice to use on an otherwise healthy cut of lean pork.

With a little imagination you can add flavor to your vegetables, taking them from bland and ordinary to sumptuous and delicious. The process is simple. Place your chosen vegetable in a roasting pan and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Then take your favorite dry rub, and liberally sprinkle to taste over your vegetables. Stir the vegetables, oil and dry rub together to thoroughly coat, and place in a 400 degree F. oven to roast.

The great thing is that dry rubs work with just about any vegetable, beans, beets, broccoli, potatoes, and more. It is entirely up to you and your culinary imagination to decide which dry rub to use and on which vegetables. A couple of common and popular combination are Lemon-pepper and green beans and Poultry or Steak Rub on potatoes.

Roasted Root Vegetables

Dry Rub:

  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Root Vegetables                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

  • 2 large carrots
  • 2 sweet onions
  • 2 beets
  • 2 large parsnips
  • olive oil


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Mix the dry rub ingredients together in a small bowl.

Cut all vegetables into equal sized chunks and spread over a cookie sheet. Sprinkle the spices over the vegetables.

Drizzle olive oil over the vegetables, then using your hands, toss the vegetables until they are nicely coated.

Place baking sheet on the oven’s center rack and roast for about 30-40 minutes.

Grilled Spicy Tuna Fillets


  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Salt to taste
  • Tuna steak
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, coarsely ground
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground coarse black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Lemon wedges, and extra virgin olive oil, for serving


One 1-inch thick tuna steak per person (Multiply the recipe, to serve 2, 4, 6, etc.)

Drizzle the tuna with lemon on both sides and sprinkle with salt.

In a bowl mix together all the spices. Dip each cut side of the fillets into the spice mixture,  and press so that it will stick to the surface of the fish. 

Heat the broiler, the charcoal grill or an oven top grill, and cook the tuna fillets until seared and firm.

Serve immediately with lemon wedges and drizzle with olive oil.