Marinating for Summer Grilling

Summer weather arrived early this year and many of us have enjoyed quite a bit of grilling already. Although it is not only for grilling, many people like to marinate meat before cooking it. To marinate means to soak or steep food in a flavored liquid. Usually that liquid is acidic which helps tenderize the meat and enriches the flavor. Because the liquid is acidic, it causes the tissues in the meat to break down which has a tenderizing effect and once the tissues are broken down the meat can hold more liquid making it juicier.

The two most important things to remember when marinating are to always marinate your meat covered in the refrigerator (not on the counter top) and never reuse the marinade. If you want to use part of the marinade as a sauce, set aside the amount you need for the sauce purposes before you use the rest.

When choosing a container to marinate the meat in, select glass, stainless steel, or food grade plastic bowls or bags. Using zip top food grade plastic bags makes for easy clean up when you are finished. They also allow you to easily flip and massage the food to make sure it is all covered with the marinade. To be safe you may want to place the plastic bag inside a container just in case there are any leaks.

How much marinade do you need? One half cup marinade per pound of meat should cover the meat sufficiently.

How long to marinate? Longer does not always mean better when it comes to marinating. It is certainly convenient to marinate meat in the refrigerator overnight but you can get similar results in a much shorter amount of time. Fifteen minutes to two hours is sufficient for small pieces of meat like boneless chicken breasts and shrimp. Steaks, chops and vegetables can be marinated in one to three hours. If you have a very large piece of meat such as a brisket, pork shoulder, or turkey you will probably want to allow 24 hours for them to marinate.

It has happened to all of us that we have planned ahead and then plans changed at the last minute. If you have meat marinating and that happens to you, you will be safe to allow the meat to continue marinating. You can store marinated poultry in your refrigerator for up to two days. Beef, veal, pork, plus lamb roasts, chops and steaks can be marinated up to five days. A word of caution though – although the marinating meats will be safe, over marinating can cause animal proteins to become tough or mushy.

The basic ingredients in a marinade are acid (vinegar, lemon juice, wine), oil (any good cooking oil), and flavorings (fresh herbs or spices from your pantry). Start with three parts oil to one part acid, add salt and pepper, then experiment with your herbs and spices. You can add a little sweetness with sugar or honey if you like. If you don’t have time to make your own marinade, bottled Italian salad dressing works well.

And finally, cook your meat safely. Use an instant read thermometer and cook poultry to 165 degrees, ground meats to 160 degrees, and steaks and roasts to 145 degrees and allowing a 3 minute rest time.


Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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