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Marinating 101: How to Pump Up the Flavor of Any Kind of Meat

A simple, foolproof way to prevent bland food.

One of our all-time favorite kitchen techniques happens to be the simplest: marinating. Using a marinade is minimum effort, maximum reward. Let meat or fish hang out in a flavorful bath in the fridge for a few hours (or overnight) and it is guaranteed to be tender and tasty when you cook it. Check out some tips and tricks for marinating any kind of meat to maximize deliciousness!

What is a Marinade and Why Should I Use One?

The term marinade is just a sauce that you submerge a protein in to help pack in flavor, tenderize the meat, and just make your food taste really, really good. There are SO many types of marinades you can make, depending on which protein you’re using (meat or seafood or even tofu!), with sauces that range from light and citrus-based to thicker, sweeter glazes.

The Best Types of Marinades for Each Protein

Beef, Lamb, and Pork

If you’re cooking beef, lamb, or pork, you want a marinade that contains acids, oil, and thicker sauces or pastes. Acids, such as lemon and lime juice, help get the meat superrrr tender and juicy, while sauces like soy sauce, chili paste, or miso work to balance out the acidity and provide a savory boost! The oil is arguably the most important part, as it helps emulsify the marinade into a thicker sauce that makes it infinitely easier to coat the meat AND can ensure that your food will cook more evenly. With steak, you can marinate it for up to 24 hours to really tenderize the meat and let that flavor absorb.

Chicken and Poultry

Chicken can stand up to  most of the ingredients you’d use to marinate beef, but one key John-approved hack is marinating chicken in buttermilk (or even yogurt), which has cultures that work to break down proteins in chicken aka tenderize the meat. Another trick is to create a brine (a mixture of salt and water with herbs and seasonings to enhance flavor and moisture) that you’d typically soak lower-fat meats in (like chicken) to get that juicy, melt-in-your-mouth texture. 

Seafood and Shellfish

When it comes to preparing fish, go a little lighter with the ingredients. Acid-based marinades (lemon or vinegar) work best for fish, herbs provide tons of strong flavoring, and oil can help prevent the fish from drying out. Unlike meat, fish requires shorter periods of marinating time, otherwise the acidity can actually cook the fish and turn it into ceviche (which is delicious, but not what we’re going for here!). For best results, marinate seafood up to 30 minutes but don’t go beyond one hour. 

How to Marinate

Prepare your marinade by combining all of your ingredients in a resealable plastic bag or large bowl (cover in plastic wrap when you’re done) and place it in the fridge. Make sure to turn your bag occasionally or stir the ingredients so that the sauce gets evenly distributed all over the food. General rule of thumb: The smaller the cuts of meat, pieces of chicken, or fish filets, the less time you should marinate for. 

We know it’s tempting, but marinades DO NOT double as dipping sauces for your prepared food if they have been in contact with raw meat or fish. You can either save half the marinade as a glaze or sauce to add to the protein while cooking, or you can bring the marinade to a rapid boil to kill any harmful bacteria in it.

Now go forth and marinate everything for the most flavorful dinners of your life. It’s worth the extra time and effort—we promise!

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