Quality chicken, pork, and beef can often be thrown directly on the grill without any seasoning — or with just a pinch of salt and pepper — and taste amazing. Many steaks — especially skirt, flank, and similar cuts — as well as pork and chicken, can be immensely improved with a little creativity and some great marinades.
Why marinate you ask? Marinating before grilling is an excellent way to add additional flavors AND textures to your meal.
It is the natural attributes of beef, chicken, and pork that make marinades work so well with these meats, according to ButcherBox in-house chef Yankel Polak. “The longer you leave a protein in a marinade the more flavor it should absorb,” he explained, “and, what’s more, marinating will tenderize a tough cut of meat.”
The problem is that, in reality, most marinades only penetrate about 2 millimeters deep. “And, get this,” Chef Yankel said, “it all happens in the first few seconds.”
So, while many people think that marinating meat for extended periods of time, or even overnight, is the key to having meat with amazing flavor, that’s not actually the case. “While there is nothing wrong with preparing your ingredients the day before, remember that a good marinade only needs minimal contact with your protein to do everything it’s supposed to do,” according to Chef Yankel.
But, you can’t just put anything on your meat to make it more delicious. While there are many options that you can pull right off the shelf of your grocery store to have a pretty good meal, making your own marinades is both healthier and leads to tastier food.
If you can, try to keep the marinades as all-natural as possible. It would be foolish to take a nice cut of grass-fed steak or humanely-raised pork and then douse it in some combo of corn-syrup and lab-made additives.
One thing to keep in mind when putting together a marinade is that different cuts and types of meat have different flavor profiles that will work better and make your food taste amazing.
“Think about the item you are cooking, whether that’s chicken, beef, or pork, and use ingredients in your marinade that will compliment the flavor,” Chef Yankel said.
According to our chef, the best complimentary flavor profiles are something with citrus for chicken, sweet flavors for pork, and marinades that are rich and savory for beef. This is why lemon and lime go great with other spices in chicken marinades, pineapple and maple are great to have in pork marinades, and balsamic and mushroom flavors work well on steaks.
“While they don’t alter the internal structure of the meat,” Chef Yankel added, “acidic elements in marinades will certainly give you that extra punch of flavor, the ‘wow’ factor that accompanies that first bite.”
Using a great marinade on your meat can change a mundane meal into something otherworldly. Experiment and you might discover unexpected flavor combinations that work wonders for your palate.
And, to save you some precious time, now you also know that you don’t even have to marinate for too long to get those flavorful benefits.