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You ever notice how a great marinade can instantly elevate what otherwise would end up as a pretty boring piece of grilled meat? Soaking your meat in oils, juices, spices, and other ingredients is a quick and easy way to level-up your BBQ game, and doesn’t require a lot of unnecessary mess either. Here’s what some of our favorite grill-masters have to say on bringing your carne to life this season.
First thing’s first: Before you can even get to the marinades, there are some general rules to remember no matter what type of meat you’re grilling to always ensure you’re bringing out its primo properties.
Sage Lau, owner of Thank You Come Again at DeKalb Market Hall, says “Freshness and the right proportions are key,” and advises your meat should always be fatty. He also recommends marinating overnight when you can, and never freezing meat as it can instantly suck the juiciness right out.
“The cooking surface you use should be very hot when the meat is placed down to sear the edges and lock in the juice,” Lau says. “The flame itself should be low/lowered so the meat doesn’t dry out while cooking.”
The marinade will help with that, too, but only so much. See also: When to use the lid on your grill vs when to leave it closed.
Left Bank Chef and co-owner Laurence Edelman likes to get creative marinating his hanger steaks. “I love a dark marinade like pineapple juice with Chinese [rice] wine and soy sauce,” he says. “The pineapple juice tenderizes and flavors the meat.”
Similar in its easability—and utilizing many ingredients you likely already have in your pantry—is Bill Fletcher’s suggestion for rib-eye. The owner and chef at Fletcher’s BBQ says you should look for two-inch thick boneless rib-eye steaks and marinate for 4-6 hours in 1⁄2 cup olive oil, 1⁄4 cup balsamic vinegar, and 2 tablespoons Worcestershire. “Whisk all that together, and before adding the steaks, coat all sides with 1⁄2 cup minced fresh rosemary, and one tablespoon coarse black pepper,” he says. “Pat them dry after removing from marinade, coat with a few pinches of kosher salt, and let air-dry one hour at room temperature before grilling.”
Fletcher advises serving these babies with a horseradish aioli—his recipe calls for 1⁄2 cup mayo, two tablespoons prepared horseradish, two tablespoons plain yogurt, one tablespoon of red wine vinegar, one teaspoon minced rosemary, and one teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.
Though it’s slightly more involved, Chef Jordan Terry, who started as a meat cook before rising to his current role as executive chef at Dirty French, tells us he likes a marinade inspired by Indochina. To make it, blend 100 grams fish sauce, 50 grams honey, 25 grams shallots, 10 grams garlic, 30 grams hoisin, 10 grams rice wine vinegar, and 2 grams makrut lime leaves; then, pour it over the chicken and grill with excess marinade, allowing it to char with the skin, he says.
For Fletcher, “My go-to summertime chicken method involves brining breasts on-the-bone in a solution of 6 quarts water, 1⁄2 cup kosher salt, 1⁄2 cup white sugar. I do this overnight. In the morning I remove from brine, pat dry, and let them air dry in the fridge all day, uncovered, until I’m ready to grill. After grilling, I toss the breasts in a light dressing made from 1⁄4 cup olive oil, juice from 2 fresh lemons, and 1 tablespoon of minced fresh garlic with salt and pepper to taste.”
“I like grilling lamb in the springtime, as it’s a bit more unexpected,” says Chef Marc Vidal of Boqueria. At the restaurant, their pintxos morunos—grilled spiced lamb skewers—are very popular and with good reason: “I marinate boneless lamb top rounds for two days with toasted cumin, coriander, fennel, onion, pimenton, and lemon and serve them with pickled shallots and salsa verde,” he says. “The acidity and freshness of the dish is perfect for warm weather grilling, and the skewers make great small bites for a cookout.”
For mutton, Fletcher likes to keep things simple with a blend of 1⁄2 cup olive oil, the juice of a lemon, one tablespoon of minced garlic, and one tablespoon of oregano. “Grill mutton low and slow over indirect heat, and add some wood chips to your fire,” he advises.
The rich, earthy taste of venison—or meat coming from a deer—is best when it’s cut with something on the sweeter side. “Since it’s so lean, marinate venison with blackberries or blueberries to give it a nice taste,” Cibo e Vino’s Executive Chef Maro Gjurasic says.
Pork is ideal to marinate in fresh orange slices, orange juice, honey, garlic, olive oil, and fresh bay leaves, Edelman says. “The citric acid does wonders to break down tough micro-fibers, and the sweetness from both the honey and the oranges give the cut a seriously delicious skin. Bay leaves are just good—always, and always good with pork,” he adds.
Since pork does well with robust flavors, Fletcher advises on sweet and savory combinations for summertime preparations. “For a process that’ll work for many different cuts of the pig, pick up some country style pork ribs, or a pork tenderloin, or slice a pork shoulder into steaks,” he says. You’ll then want to whisk together 1⁄2 cup tamari or soy sauce, 1⁄2 cup white sugar, 1⁄2 cup neutral oil, 1⁄4 cup hoisin sauce, two tablespoons rice wine vinegar, 1⁄2 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder, one tablespoon fresh minced ginger, and 1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt. “Reserve half of this marinade, then dunk your pork in the rest of this in a bowl overnight. The next day I pat dry the pork, and put a coat of fresh coarsely ground black pepper on all sides.” After that, let ‘em meet the grill for low-and-slow indirect grilling, Fletcher advises.
“Use the reserve as a finishing sauce at the table, but add the juice of 1 fresh lime, and 1⁄4 cup of freshly minced cilantro before you do,” he says.
“For seafood, we often find our inspiration from New Orleans, and will marinate shrimp or lobster with blackening spices and Tabasco before charring,” says Terry. This easy-to-follow recipe for his Blackening Oil uses many ingredients you already have on your spice rack: Combine 200 grams olive oil, 5 grams cayenne, 20 grams ground black pepper, 10 grams onion powder, 10 grams garlic powder, 20 grams Tabasco, 10 grams Worcestershire, 2 grams dried thyme, 2 grams dried oregano, and 5 grams sweet paprika. Cover your seafood in it, grill, and enjoy!
Chef Akria Back recommends a Korean bulgogi marinade for fish (he also clued us in on the absolute best fish to grill in the first place). The easy mix of ingredients ticks all the flavor boxes: sweet, salty, gently spicy, acidic, and deeply savory. Get his fish marinade recipe, and feel free to try it on other proteins too.