How to Marinate Meats for the Grill

July 2, 2024 by Kenmore

marinating meat
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Nothing beats the smell, sound, sensations, and sizzle of fresh meat, chicken and seafood on a hot grill! And, if you’re like us, that unmistakably smokey, robust, grilled-in flavor profile is the best part of all.

Infusing maximum flavor into your meats before you grill them is an essential part of taking your grilling game to the next level… and one that’s super-easy to do. Regular readers may recall our post on using spice-centric dry rubs to enhance and complement grilled foods. But today we’re going to dive into another popular flavor-boosting secret: the art of marinating.

So get ready to tantalize your taste buds and impress your family and guests with every juicy bite!

What Is a Marinade?

Marinating is like giving your meats a spa day, soaking them in a flavorful concoction of herbs, spices, oils, and acids to tenderize and infuse them with mouthwatering goodness. It’s a simple yet powerful technique that can elevate even the most humble cut of meat into a culinary masterpiece.

The Basic Formula

how to marinate meat
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When it comes to marinating, the possibilities are virtually limitless! From zesty fresh citrus blends to savory soy-based marinades, the key is to find the right balance of flavors to complement the meat, poultry or seafood you plan to grill. It makes sense to experiment and find what tickles your taste buds. Here are the essential components to a good marinade mix:

Acids: Ingredients like citrus juices, vinegar, and yogurt not only add flavor but also help tenderize tougher cuts of meat.

Oils: Olive oil, sesame oil, avocado oil, etc. can add plenty of richness and mouthwatering tenderness while helping to prevent your meats from sticking to the grill.

Herbs & Spices: Get creative with fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, or cilantro, and spices like paprika, cumin, or garlic powder for that extra punch of flavor. Or add a dash of cayenne to kick up the heat factor!

How Do Marinades Work?

how to marinate meat
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Traditional spice mixes and flavorings cannot get deep into meat because it can’t penetrate it very far beyond the surface. Instead, it just builds up on the outside.

This is where a marinade shines. Oil helps hold the seasonings on the meat and does a better job of penetrating beyond the surface. It’s great to use when you have limited time and want to maximize flavor. Marinades often blend many seasonings together to create a more complex flavor profile.

How to Marinate Meats

To get the best results, completely cover raw meat with the marinade and set your soaking time to match the size, type and thickness of the meat you are preparing. Very thin cuts or more delicate flesh (like seafoods) may need only 20-30 minutes of marinating, while a thicker cut of meat with a denser muscle (like beef or pork) may require several hours… or even overnight.

Safety First!

While marinating adds incredible flavor, it’s important to handle your meats safely to prevent foodborne illnesses. Always marinate in the refrigerator, or 30 minutes at most on the countertop, and discard any leftover marinade that has come into contact with raw meat.

Prepping the Meat

Before diving into the marinade, it’s essential to prepare your meats properly. Trim away and discard any excess fat before you begin; this will help you avoid unwanted flare-ups on the grill caused by dripping fat. Be sure to score the surface of tougher cuts with a fork to help the marinade penetrate below the surface, and pat it dry with paper towels to ensure maximum flavor absorption.

In for a Soak!

how to marinate meat
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Now comes the fun part – marinating your meats! There are a few basic techniques you can use:

Bag it Up: Place your meat and marinade in a resealable plastic bag, squeeze out any excess air, and massage the marinade into the meat. This method ensures even coating and (best of all!) easy cleanup.

Bowl and Cover: If you prefer, you can marinate your meats in a bowl, ensuring they’re fully submerged in the marinade. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for optimal flavor infusion.

Injecting Marinades: This is a more advanced technique for experienced grill-masters. For larger cuts like roasts or whole chickens, you can use a marinade injector to pump flavor directly into the thick of the meat.

Be sure not to over-marinate, as the acids can break down the proteins and result in a mushy texture.

Grill to Perfection

new gas grill

Once your meats have marinated to perfection, it’s time to fire up the grill! Remember to preheat your grill to the appropriate temperature and oil the grates to prevent sticking. Depending on the cut and thickness of your meats, grill to your desired level of doneness, and don’t forget to let them rest before slicing to seal in those delicious juices.

Enough With the Prep…Let’s See Some Recipes!

All right, all right! We hear you. And if you’ve read this far, we definitely owe you some versatile marinade recipes that ensure flavor-forward grilling results. Read on!

Can’t-Miss Beef Marinade

For literally any type of beef steak or even beef-kabob chunks, this marinade will have your mouth watering. Note: Marinade quantity is intended for about 20 oz. of raw beef. Adjust the amounts accordingly for larger or smaller amounts of meat.


  • 1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice (about 2 large lemons)
  • 1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons of Italian Seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes


Whisk together all the marinade ingredients in a small bowl.

Place the beef inside a resealable bag and pour in the marinade. Seal the bag, shake to coat evenly, and place in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or overnight if you prefer bolder flavor. Then grill as usual.

Mediterranean Chicken Marinade

This easy-to-make marinade will have you feeling like you’re dining in a sunny taverna in the Greek islands! Note: This recipe is for approximately 20 oz. of boneless, skinless chicken breast cutlets; adjust the amounts accordingly for a larger or smaller quantity of chicken.


  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice (about 2 large lemons)
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • A handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons dry oregano
  • 1 teaspoon each: cumin, paprika, coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon each: cinnamon, nutmeg
  • Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste


Whisk together all the marinade ingredients in a small bowl.

Place the chicken inside a resealable bag and pour in the marinade. Seal the bag, shake to coat evenly, and place in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or up to 12 hours before grilling.

How to Marinate Meats FAQs

The following are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about using marinades for grilled meats.

How do you marinate meat for grilling?

Mix the marinade ingredients and pour over your meat, poultry or seafood in a resealable bag or bowl, making sure the meat is completely covered by the marinade, and then place in the refrigerator. Marinating times will vary widely, from 30 minutes for shrimp or fish to overnight for larger cuts of meat. Discard the leftover marinade when ready to grill.

What are the 3 main components of a marinade?

Marinades come in a broad variety of styles and flavors, but most recipes consist of a balance between three main ingredients: acids, oils, and flavorings. Acids add tangy flavor and help to tenderize meat. Oils and fats add richness to the meat. Flavorings, such as herbs and spices, enhance and elevate the flavor profile.

What meats are good to marinate?

Virtually any cut of beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, fish, and shellfish can be successfully marinated to complement its natural flavor. Marinating truly shines when used with tougher cuts like flank steak, skirt steak, or pork loin chops. However, it’s important not to over-marinate thin, delicate cuts as they might gain a mushy texture. And gourmet steak enthusiasts will warn against marinating or otherwise flavoring top-shelf steaks like NY strip or ribeye, other than basic salt & pepper, to let the natural meat flavor shine.


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