Simple, versatile ingredients that you probably already have on hand can be the most effective for marinating. What do my five favorites have in common? They all accomplish one or more of the following: They add big flavor, tenderize meats, seal in juices, and help form the deliciously caramelized crust on foods that’s a hallmark of grilling.
Best of all, a good marinade fills your backyard with the complex, mouthwatering aromas that mean summer eating at its best. And don’t worry if you’re in a hurry: Most of the benefits of marinating occur in the first few hours, and even a few minutes give you fantastic flavor.
Not only is it the beverage of choice at many a barbecue party, but beer’s rich flavor and a concentration of enzymes that tenderize meat make it a go-to ingredient for marinating. For best flavor, avoid overly light beers like pilsners and pale ales in favor of medium-strength amber ales or amber lagers. Likewise, stay away from very dark beers like stouts and porters unless you’re sure you want their taste dominating your dish.
Try this easy Beer-Marinated Citrus Grilled Chicken opens in a new tab for a great introduction to beer marinating. The recipe suggests using a whole cut-up chicken, but you can substitute summer favorites like drumsticks or even bone-in pork chops if you like.
Lemon, lime and orange juice top my list of absolute marinade favorites. Just add a judicious amount of garlic, a few herbs and a little oil if you like, and you’ll have one of the easiest, most memorable soaks around, and one that will reward you with tantalizing aromas from the moment your food hits the grill.
Citrus marinades are ideal for vegetables, great for even the mildest fish, and delectable on pork and chicken breasts.
Lime juice is put into service for a terrific vegan dish of Spicy Grilled Tempeh opens in a new tab; zest the limes before you squeeze them and you’ll also have a great garnish for your finished dish.
Oil-based marinades add moisture to the surface of foods and help keep them from drying out on the grill. Oil is also effective at sealing in juices and preventing sticking, particularly important with lean proteins like fish and chicken breasts.
A high percentage of oil is one of the reasons that most vinaigrettes work beautifully as marinades. Make up a batch of this Classic Vinaigrette opens in a new tab and you’ll have a terrific marinade that also does double-duty dressing summer salads.
Sugar, Honey and Agave
One of the quickest ways to ensure a nice, deliciously caramelized crust on grilled foods is to use a concentrated sweetener in your marinade. It’s popular with barbecue cooks around the world, from Southeast Asia to the American South.
Yes, yogurt! Indian food fans are probably familiar with yogurt-marinated tandoori dishes, and similar soaks work beautifully for grilling. They’re my favorite for lamb: Not only does the calcium in them activate enzymes in the meat to help tenderize it, but the yogurt forms a wonderfully flavorful, crispy crust during cooking.
Try this basic recipe for Indian-Style Spicy Yogurt Marinade opens in a new tab on meats, chicken or eggplant. With a briefer soaking time ─ just 20 to 30 minutes you can use it on seafood like salmon and shrimp as well.
For more delicious, summery things, check out www.wholefoodsmarket.com/summer opens in a new tab.