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How to Make a Perfect Marinade

Salmon steaks marinated in fresh herbs, spices, and lime juice.

Marinated food tastes better. Mastering the art of the marinade is fundamental to preparing delectably tender meats and more flavorful vegetables. Fresh spices and a few pantry staples are all you need to create a wide variety of marinades.

What is a Marinade?

The Culinary Institute of America defines a marinade as, “ A [mixture] used before cooking to flavor and moisten food; may be liquid or dry. Liquid marinades are usually based on an acidic ingredient, such as wine or vinegar; dry marinades are usually salt-based.”

Wet marinades are useful for larger or bone-in cuts of meat that need more time to absorb flavors or tenderize. This Jerk Chicken recipe is a good example of using a wet marinade with varying acidic ingredients.

A dry marinade is a mixture of mostly spices, salt, and oil that is rubbed onto the surface of a food. Citrus zest or freshly chopped herbs may be added as well. Dry marinades are often the easiest kind to make and can be as simple as mixing any of our spice blends with some olive oil. This Persian-style grilled carrots recipe is a perfect example of that dry marinade simplicity.

Historically, marinades were used to preserve foods in addition to making them more delicious. This is evident in two-week-long recipes like corned beef or sauerbraten. These dishes are still popular today because the meat becomes tender, juicy, and intensely flavorful.

How To Make a Marinade

Marinades can be made from combinations of oil, acid, salt, sugar, spices, herbs, and even fresh, aromatic vegetables. Three parts oil to one part acid is the general rule with most marinades, but the acidity can always be adjusted for tastes or ingredients.

Acid is a fundamental part of the marinating process. It adds a sharp, tangy flavor, but more importantly it tenderizes the food and makes it more succulent. This is especially important for tougher cuts of meat and neutral-tasting vegetables.

Vinegar, fruit juice, beer, wine, yogurt, soy sauce, and even cola are acidic ingredients that are the primary tenderizers called for in most marinade recipes.

Fresh ingredients like onions and sliced citrus can be added to infuse their flavor too. The onions can be added raw or browned slightly to bring out their sweetness. (It is recommended to dice or julienne the onions first.)

Spices and herbs are all on the table. Both whole and ground spices can be used. If the recipe needs to marinate overnight, it is probably best to use a whole spice rather than ground, so as not to overpower the general flavor profile. You can also toss a whole cinnamon stick or bay leaf into a longstanding marinade.

When it comes to salt, avoid the fancy stuff. Classic Kosher salt or Himalayan pink salt are perfect for creating a marinade. Anything special like Hawaiian black lava salt will just dissolve and lose its unique qualities. (There’s nothing wrong with using the fancy salt if you would like to though.)

How To Use a Marinade

Using a marinade properly comes down to subject and surface area. Tougher and larger cuts of meat can be marinated for several hours or several days. Small and tender cuts of meat— like a fish filet or chicken breast tender—should be marinated for just an hour or two tops. If you over-marinate a tender ingredient it could become mushy. If the food needs to marinate for over half an hour it should be placed in the refrigerator.

To speed up a marinating process you can cut pieces of meat into bite-size cubes, thus increasing the surface area. (Ideally for skewers, kebabs, or stir-fry.) This also makes the food more flavorful. Another good trick is to take a knife and make slits into a piece of meat to allow the marinade to penetrate further—an important technique for making jerk chicken.

Wet marinades often leave you with leftover liquid. If that liquid is reheated to a full boil it can be used to baste the meat as it finishes cooking or as a sauce to finish the dish. If not properly reheated, the leftover marinade should be discarded.

Below you will find a few of our best marinade recipes. You can also browse our collection of rubs and marinades recipes. Don't forget to explore our selection of spice blends for rubs and marinades too. If you have questions about making marinades, or have a recipe you would like to share, email us at or leave us a comment below.

Flank Steak Marinade

Grilled Beef Flank Steak marinated in spices and worcestershire sauce.


Adobo Skirt Steak

Beef skirt steak marinated in traditional Mexican spice rub, oil, and lime juice.


Mojito Jerk Chicken

Spicy and sweet Jamaican jerk chicken cooked with rum and spices.


Hawaiian Shoyu Chicken

Sweet and sour Hawaiian shoyu chicken with salad and rice.


Adobo Chicken Marinade

Adobo chicken marinade in a small dish.


Quick Tandoori Chicken

Spicy grilled Indian tandoori chicken served on a plate.




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