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Ditch the Bottled Stuff: How to Make a Marinade From Scratch

Chicken breasts in a bowl of hot chili marinade.

Bottled marinade is convenient, and there are certainly some flavorful options out there. However, making it from scratch is easy, delicious, and cheap. We’re sharing some basics about marinating, along with some yummy recipes.

The Benefits of Homemade Marinade

Homemade (or premade) marinades serve two different functions when it comes to cooking up notably tough cuts of meat. Marinades (particularly the acidic kind) help break down the proteins on the surface of the meat. This, in turn, creates a flavorful bite without a saucy texture, and tenderizes the meat.

If you’ve heard that marinades don’t do anything and you can skip them (a trendy cooking opinion at the moment), we encourage you to check out this video from Adam Raguesea. It’s very informative and he goes to great lengths to test different marinade types and times.

As far as store-bought versus homemade, there are numerous benefits. When you make a from-scratch marinade, you know exactly what you’re putting on the meat (and in your body).

This means no preservatives, and you’re in charge of the amount of salt or sugar that’s added. You’ll also save a few calories and a few bucks by using ingredients you already have at home.

The best part, of course, is that, as a home chef, you have the opportunity to doctor up a marinade until it meets your desired flavor. Using spices and herbs, you can create precisely what your taste buds want, and you’ll be in control of the experience from start to finish.

Elements of a Delicious Marinade

A classic marinade requires the following simple components:

  • Fat: An essential element in a marinade, it helps the meat retain moisture and keeps the piercing acidic flavors from overpowering the character of the dish. You can use olive, vegetable, or canola oil, or full-fat Greek yogurt.
  • Acid: This breaks down the connective tissue on the surface of the meat, which helps to tenderize it and provide some balancing flavors. To add a little zing to your marinade, try using lemon or lime juice, wine, buttermilk, or vinegar.
  • Flavorings: This is the fun part, where you can add some pizzazz to your dish. You can use spices, herbs, garlic, or seasonings and take your marinade from bland to grand. You can also use ingredients like soy sauce, maple syrup, or citrus fruit zest. Always add a dash of salt, though.

What you do with this formula is entirely up to you. We recommend using about four parts of oil, with one-part acid, and then adding your flavorings. So, for every one cup of oil, you would add about 1/4 a cup of acid, like vinegar or citrus juice.

Prepare the Marinade

Preparing a marinade is as easy as can be. Using the ratio we provided above, mix four parts of fat with every one part of acid. Whisk in your flavorings, including that dash of salt, and your marinade is ready to use!

Be sure to soak the meat in a large plastic Ziplock bag, or a glass bowl. Avoid using aluminum as the acidic liquid is not suitable for it. Marinate chicken and beef overnight for optimal flavor and tenderness.

You can marinate firm fish (like swordfish) for up to an hour, and flakey fish (like haddock) for up to 30 minutes.

Simple Marinade Recipes

The following marinade recipes are easy, but they use ingredients that go a bit beyond what we covered above:

  • The Best Steak Marinade: Using pantry staples you likely already have, you’ll learn to create a steak marinade you can use forever. The olive oil, soy sauce, lemon, herbs, and garlic come together within minutes and create a flavorful meal to remember.

    Get the Recipe: Dinner at the Zoo

Sliced marinated steak.
Dinner at the Zoo
  • Teriyaki Marinade: Green onions, oil, brown sugar, garlic, and soy sauce work wonders in this Asian-inspired marinade. This one also doubles as a sauce once it’s simmered to a thick glaze.

Get the Recipe: The Spruce Eats

  • Greek Yogurt Marinade: Yogurt marinades are all the rage, and once you try this one, you’ll understand why. This marinade is perfect for bone-in or boneless chicken, and you’ll enjoy every mouthwatering bite.

Get the Recipe: Food and Wine

Now that you’re a professional marinating boss, it’s time to pull out some of your favorite pantry staples and get mixing!

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »
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