Marinades are an easy and cost-effective way to add a punch of flavor to your food. With a great marinade, you can save by buying cheaper cut of meat. Chances are you have all of the ingredients in your pantry to make the perfect marinade right now. Even amateur cooks can come up with their own budget-friendly marinade recipes when they follow these tips.
1. Use a foolproof formula
The key to a great marinade is three essential elements: 1) an acid to tenderize the meat, 2) herbs and spices to flavor and 3) oil to provide moisture and seal in the flavor.
2. Use the 3 to 1 rule
When in doubt, go 3 parts oil to one part acid. While acid is key to tenderizing your meat, too much acid can make it mushy.
3. Don’t forget the salt
Salt intensifies all of the other flavors. However, if you’re already using a salt heavy ingredient like soy sauce, then skip the extra salt.
4. Pantry spice round-up
Your $2 marinade recipe can quickly become a $20 marinade if you have to go out and buy spices specifically for that recipe. Instead use up what you have in the pantry. Look at the ingredient in spice blends to see what goes well together.
5. Chop, chop, chop
Things like garlic, chilies, ginger, and lemongrass can be great additions. Be sure to cut them up very a small so the flavor spread throughout your meat.
6. Add sugar to caramelize
Ingredients like brown sugar or honey can balance the acidity in your marinade and add a nice caramelization. It works best on meat cooked low and slow, as sugar will quickly burn on a piping hot grill.
7. It doesn’t have to be labeled “marinade”
In a pinch, you can substitute every day items like salad dressing (Italian dressing is a favorite) for a marinade. Or, try this surprising combination of one-part Italian dressing, one-part BBQ sauce.
8. Bag it up
Large plastic bags are great for marinating meat because it’s easy to periodically massage the meat and make sure all surfaces get thoroughly coated.
9. Containers can work, too
If you skip the bag, go with a non-reactive glass or plastic container. For best result, use a container made specifically for marinating. They have raised grids on the bottom so marinade envelopes food and a tight seal so containers can be flipped.
10. Finding the sweet spot
It seems simple. If you want more flavor, marinate longer, but there are some exceptions. Delicate meat like fish and shrimp will actually start to break down if left in the acid too long. They also can absorb flavors faster so 15–30 minutes should be just fine.
Here are more ideas for a festive and budget-friendly Memorial Day BBQ!