Marinades for Meats

By Mark Lawrence

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Have you noticed that meat is a lot tougher these days than is was 30 years ago? That's because of the industrial way we now have of killing animals, which is particularly hard on the meat. Marinades are potions that you soak the meat in for a time. Marinades have three purposes: they tenderize meats, they add edible oils, and they add flavor. Because of this marinades generally have three basic ingredients: acids, oils, and spices.

For tenderizing acids we normally use some combination of fruit juice and vinegar. Lemon juice is most common, but pineapple juice, orange juice, apple juice and grape juice or wine are also common.

Vegetable oils are essential to life: you have to eat some, and your body can't make them. Your blood picks up the oil molecules from your stomach and delivers them to the rest of your body. Animal fats grab onto the same transport locations in the blood, but your body can't use them for anything but calories. So if you eat a lot of animal fats, it's like inviting a bunch of bums to move into the subway system: pretty soon the cars are all full up, and no one can get to work. Adding oils to your meats means that some oils get through and your body gets satisfied.

Beef in the US is generally quite tough, you would expect to have to marinade the beef for 4 hours at room temperature or overnight in the fridge. Pork is less tough, 90 minutes should be fine. An hour for chicken, half an hour for fish. If you exceed these times, the fruit juice can reduce the meat to mush.

After the meat is marinated, you should discard the remaining marinade - don't save it. Raw meats in general and raw chicken especially have a lot of bacteria, and they will just love to live, grow, and form little societies in the left over marinade. If you want to serve the left over marinade as a dip, first boil it for a least a minute or two.

4 tbl oil, choose from:
  • olive oil
  • canola oil
  • mayonnaise
  • thousand island dressing
4 tbl acid, choose from:
  • lemon juice
  • pineapple juice
  • orange juice
  • vinegar

flavors, choose from:
  • tomato sauce
  • 1 tbl soy sauce
  • 1 tbl Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbl red wine
  • 2 tbl beer

spices, choose from:
  • sugar
  • pepper
  • garlic
  • ginger
  • mustard powder
  • white onion
  • green onion
  • rosemary
  • thyme
  • cloves
  • red pepper
  • japapeno peppers

A good basic marinade is olive oil and lemon juice, or thousand island dressing and lemon juice.

If you use canola oil, 2 tbl pineapple juice, 2 tbl vinegar, 1 tbl minced garlic and 1 tsp red pepper you get sweet-and-sour.

If you use mayonnaise, orange juice, walnuts and red pepper on shrimp, you get Walnut Shrimp.

Canola oil, pineapple juice, garlic, red pepper and jalapenos on pork gets you Al Pastor.

2 cups Tomato sauce, 2 tbl olive oil, 2 tbl vinegar, 2 tbl brown sugar, 1 tbl minced garlic, 4 tbl minced onion, 1 tbl mustard, 1 tbl Worcestershire sauce and red pepper gets you Texas BBQ. Cook the garlic and onion in the oil until light brown, add remaining ingredients and cook BBQ sauce over low heat for 30 minutes before using on the meat. More authentic: store the cooked BBQ sauce in the fridge for 3-5 days before using to let the flavors mellow.


  1. Mix the marinade ingredients in a bowl.

  2. Place 1 tbl of the marinade in a large bowl, add one piece of meat, then pour another tbl of marinade over the meat, coating it completely. Keep adding meat one piece at a time with one tbl marinade, coating each piece. Pour remaining marinade over the bowl of meat.

  3. Set bowl aside for a time - 4 hours for beef, 90 minutes for pork, 1 hour for chicken, 30 minutes for fish

  4. Cook meat on a grill or pan fry it. You won't need any more oil, the marinade will suffice.

  5. Optionally cook remaining marinade and serve it as a dip for the meat.

To mince the garlic: place the garlic cloves on a cutting board, and place the flat of a large chef's knife on a clove, then hit the other side with your fist. Peal the clove (it will be easy now). Place the pealed cloves near each other on the cutting board, hold the tip of the chef's knife on the board with one hand about 3" away from the cloves, and rock the blade up and down repeatedly. The edge of the knife is always touching the cutting board, you can't possibly get cut.