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Making Your Own Signature Grilling Marinade

Summer is grilling time. We grill everything in this house- beef, chicken, fish, veggies, even salad. One of the easiest ways to put your personalized signature on grilled food is to create your own marinade. It is a simple process that requires next to no culinary skills, as long as you follow a few guidelines. So think of this post as “The idiots guide to creating a customized marinade for the grill”


This is simple. You can put anything including the kitchen sink in your marinade. Just follow these simple rules:

  • Fat– Most of the time, I use a 3:1 ratio of fat to acid. This can be olive oil, vegetable oil, yogurt, coconut milk, soy sauce or any other fatty liquid. Without getting too “sciency”, fat is a hugely important part of the marinate, because it is what helps makes the flavors transfer to whatever you are cooking.
  • Acid – Most homemade marinades that I have tasted fall short because they don’t use enough acid. Acidity gives you that “tang”, and can make a really heavy meal taste light and fresh. Wine, beer, citrus juice (lemon, lime, orange, etc), and vinegar are great examples of acid.
  • Seasoning – Pretty much anything. I’ll use onions, scallions, garlic, ginger, chile peppers, fruits like pears and peaches, and, of course, any number of fresh or dried herbs and spices depending on what I’m making. One tip with regard to seasoning- go light on the salt in your marinades. You can always salt your food before it goes on the grill. You can’t “unseason” it if you have a marinated that is too salty.

I usually just dump this all in the blender (I use a Vitamix), and a minute later, I have a customized marinade.

A simple grill marinade for boneless, skin-on, chicken thighs. Olive oil, thyme, garlic, lemon juice, crushed red pepper, and lemon zest.
A simple grill marinade for boneless, skin-on, chicken thighs. Olive oil, thyme, garlic, lemon juice, crushed red pepper, and lemon zest.


The general rule is that the tougher the meat, the longer it can marinate. Skirt steaks, flank steaks, and chicken can stand up to long marinade times (24 hours or more), while with pork chops, I usually marinate for only an hour. Fish, on the other hand, can usually do with a quick 20-minute bath; any longer than that, and the acid in the marinade starts to “cook” the fish.

What to Marinate

Thin cuts of meat usually work the best- basically, the moire surface area, the better the candidate for marinating. Some vegetables take well to marinades. Eggplant, zucchini (and most summer squash) and mushrooms suck up liquid and flavor like sponges. I’ve even marinated fruits. Pineapple tastes especially good in a tequila, lime marinade.

That’s really it. Fire up that grill and get cooking!

Do you have a special marinade for the grill? Let me know. I’m always looking for new “secret recipes”.

Grilled Marinade
A simple marinade for grilled veal chops. Oil, lemon juice, chile pepper, garlic, and lots of fresh herbs

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