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Kitchen Know-How: Using Marinades and Rubs for Flavor on the Grill

I love grilling - it is quick, easy (once you overcome the fear of lighting your hair on fire), and adds nice flavor. Sometimes I want a little more flavor kick than the charred grill marks provide, especially on otherwise bland tasting meats like chicken and pork. For those occasions I like to use different marinades or rubs to amp up the flavor. 

Marinades are generally acid-based, containing ingredients like vinegar, wine, citrus juice, or even buttermilk or yogurt. These acidic ingredients are usually mixed with oil, garlic, or other herbs and spices. The acid does a couple of things when you place meat into it – it tenderizes the meat, which is great for flank or skirt steak that can be a bit tough and, of course, it adds flavor. Acid can also, given enough time, start to “cook” the meat. Now the meat isn’t really cooked but the acid starts to breakdown the protein in the meat in a similar way to applying heat, causing the outer appearance to look “cooked.” Fish is especially sensitive to this, which is why fish recipes often call for a shorter marinating time. 

I find the easiest way to marinate is to place all the ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag – large enough to hold whatever meat you are using. Place the bag with meat in a pan with sides, just in case there are any leaks, and place in the refrigerator until it is time to cook. Depending on how long you are marinating, flip the bag over about halfway through to get both sides evenly coated. I do like to let the meat sit out of the refrigerator for about 20 minutes before cooking. This step helps the meat cook more evenly. When it is time to grill, remove the meat and place on your preheated grill. Do not use the remaining liquid as a sauce; it could contain harmful bacteria from the raw meat. If you want to use the extra liquid, make sure you boil it for several minutes first. Rather than risking cross contamination, if I want to use a marinade as a sauce to serve with the grilled meat, I will make extra and set it aside. Marinades are a great way to play with flavor and help prevent meat from overcooking or drying out during the grilling process. Here are a few marinades to try at your next cookout:

Balsamic Vinegar and Fresh Herb

Citrus Marinade

Curry Marinade

Rubs (sometimes referred to as dry marinades) are generally dried herb and spice blends that are rubbed on to the surface of meat before grilling. These are especially popular in slow cooked barbeque meats such as ribs, but can add flavor to quicker cooking cuts like pork chops or flank steak too.

Grilled Flank Steak Tacos

Pepper Rubbed Pork Chops

The next time you’re looking for some extra flavor from the grill, I recommend you give marinades or rubs a try.

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