Mixing Tried-and-True Marinades

A little acidity, some seasonings, maybe some chiles, and some time turn your meals into something entirely different, taking meat up several levels in flavor and juiciness.

You don’t need too much time to get the great results that marinades give, just a little planning so you can ensure that you give meat plenty of time to soak up the flavor before you cook it.

Cut that short, and you lose the effect.

In this chapter, you find marinades of all kinds and for most meats from barbecue cooks who’ve tested variation after variation before hitting on their masterpieces. They’ve done the work so all you have to do is some mixing and refrigerating and collecting of compliments.

Priming Pork or Poultry

Dark or white and other white, chicken and pork don’t offer a lot in the way of strong flavor on their own, but they both take to flavors you add like a teenage girl to sarcasm. You don’t have much to worry about when it comes to marinade flavors clashing with the mild meat, so chicken and pork make good media for experimentation.

Chapter 5 gives you points to consider when mixing up your own marinades from scratch.

Cooking whole chickens or turkeys often presents a problem because the two kinds of meat (white and dark) have very different makeups, the dark legs being more rife with connective tissue that can make meat chewy. Using a brine or marinade to weaken that connective tissue helps you get a more even texture across the two types of meat. But your best bet is to cut the chicken apart so that you can cook the legs and breast separately.

Plumping a bird or chop with brine

When you use a brine, the meat you cook stays plumper than unbrined meat does. That’s because brine makes use of salt to wreak tasty havoc on the muscle fibers of meat. One element of that result is opening up the muscle fibers to the liquid in the brine; another is preventing the muscle fibers from reconnecting when cooking is done. Both components make for juicier, more tender meat.

Brines typically get about 5 percent of their total weight from salt.

Many brine recipes, including Charlie’s, account for what would otherwise be overwhelming saltiness in the finished product by adding sugar. Experiment with honey, molasses, or brown sugar to impart further flavor while you combat the salt.

Rinse off any brine you use before you cook the meat, unless you enjoy digging into a salt lick on your plate.

Charlie’s Pork Brine

Charlie Lamb of Charlie’s Butcher Block used early competitions to hone his barbecue skills, picking the brains of fellow cooks but says that getting your hands dirty is the best way to progress: “The more you do it, the better you get — as long as you learn from your mistakes,” he said. “Experiment, and don’t get discouraged.” His brine recipe is simplicity defined, belying its delicious effect.

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: About 10 minutes, plus time to cool

Yield: 3 quarts

  • 3 quarts water
  • 3⁄4 cup kosher salt
  • 1⁄2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 In a large stock pot, combine all ingredients and mix.
  • 2 Bring to a boil.
  • 3 Remove from heat and let cool.
  • 4 Add pork, and brine in the refrigerator for as long as 24 hours.

Variation : Charlie says that you can add any flavor you like to turn this brine into a marinade. He recommends fresh garlic and black peppercorns but encourages you to get creative.

Make sure that whenever you brine meat, you do so in the refrigerator or in a cooler. You want to make sure the temperature of the brine and the meat stays below 40 degrees.

Poultry and Pork Brine

The KRE Smokers team uses this recipe for whole turkey or chicken, and the team smokes it with pecan and hickory, and then a little cherry wood to give the bird color at the end.

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Yield: About 1 gallon

  • 10 cups apple juice
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 cup coarse kosher salt
  • 1⁄4 cup sugar
  • 1⁄4 cup brown sugar

1 In a large pot, combine all ingredients and mix.

2 Warm over low heat until sugars and salt dissolve.

3 Let cool in refrigerator until cold.

4 Add meat and brine (12 to 14 hours for turkey or pork loin, less for smaller meats).

5 After marinating, rinse brine off meat before cooking or adding other seasonings.

Many of the meats you find in grocery stores have been “enhanced” with a solution that’s much like a brine. Manufacturers inject a mix of water, salt, and sodium phosphate to do basically the same thing you do at home with a brine. The theory is just the same: The salt opens up space within the proteins for the water to hang out and keep the meat moist. The sodium phosphate helps the meat hold onto the added water. Enhanced meats may also contain compounds that inhibit bacteria from growing.

Enhanced meat isn’t necessarily bad (although it does obviously contain a lot more sodium than meat alone), but it makes your job harder. With all those added elements, you have less control over the end result of your cooking. Did you oversalt your dry rub or was all that salt in the chicken already ?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that any enhanced meat is clearly labeled. Keep an eye out for fine print that includes words like marinated, injected, or enhanced.

Finding formulas for marinades

Marinades hold a lot of power but unfortunately don’t reach the magic status that some people attribute to them. Meat is mostly water to begin with, and flavor itself is fat soluble instead of water soluble, meaning that the two aren’t exactly a match made in meat heaven. Even so, soaking a meat in marinade does a lot to impart flavor, and the acid in a marinade works to tenderize the meat.

(Chapter 5 tells you more about the process.)

Rub and Marinade for Eight-Bone Pork Roast

The results of this pork roast are impressive enough that the simplicity of Paul Kirk’s recipe is a surprise.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 45 minutes

Yield: 1⁄2 cup rub and 1 roast (about 6 to 8 servings)

  • 1⁄4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons red port wine
  • 2 tablespoons cane syrup
  • 2 tablespoons muscadine jelly
  • 1⁄4 cup minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 roast, about 6 to 8 pounds

1 In a small bowl, combine the butter, port, syrup, and jelly.

2 Spread mixture over roast.

3 In a second small bowl, combine the remaining ingredients.

4 Add the broth to the roasting pan for grill or smoker.

5 Cook at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 145 degrees for medium rare.

A thick-skinned wild grape that grows best in hot, humid climates, muscadines have a delicate, sweet flavor. Muscadines have black or purple skin, unless they’re scuppernogs, a greenish-bronzeskinned variety of muscadine. You find them growing primarily in the southeastern United States, where they’ve become a favorite of jelly makers. Live elsewhere? You can most likely find muscadine jelly (or syrup, or even wine) in gourmet shops or order it online.

The basil breakdown

Maybe the best remnant of the disco era, basil started taking hold in American cooking late in the 1970s and has since become almost a staple, trickling down from fine dining to even fast-food restaurants. It got a late start in the United States, but it’s been around for thousands of years and a part of many cuisines during that time.

Basil is an aromatic herb and shows up in endless varieties, but the one you most commonly find in the grocery store is sweet basil. Even that may taste very different (bringing flavors as diverse as lime and cinnamon) depending on where and how it’s grown.

Hindus include a particular species of basil — Ocimum sanctum, also called tulsi or holy basil — in their religious practice and use it as a remedy for insect bites, colds, stress, and a host of other ailments.

Basil is an easy plant to grow. A single plant can produce more than a family can handle during the course of a summer, and it flourishes inside as well. Good thing, because, like many fresh herbs, basil can cost a mint at the grocery.

Garlic Basil Chicken Marinade

Garlic cloves and fresh basil add discernable but not overpowering flavor to Paul Kirk’s chicken marinade.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: None

Yield: 11⁄2 cups

  • 1⁄2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1⁄4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1⁄4 cup distilled water
  • 8 fresh basil leaves
  • 4 large garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1⁄2 cup canola oil

1 In food processor, combine vinegar, lemon juice, water, basil, garlic, sea salt, and black pepper.

2 Process, slowly adding oil in a steady stream. Store in refrigerator in airtight container.

Prepping Beef and Lamb with Flavors That Blare or Whisper

Beef and lamb tend to have some intense flavors right out of the gate. You can work with a marinade to override those by applying intense flavors or give them just a complement of soft marinade flavors.

Cajun Marinade for Grilled Beef Tenderloin

Paul Kirk puts beef tenderloin right in the name of this recipe, but you have no reason not to use it on any old steak you may want to throw on the grill.

Kirk’s recipe makes enough marinade for about 4 to 6 pounds of beef.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 2 to 8 hours of marinade time

Yield: 3⁄4 cup marinade

  • 1⁄4 cup Louisiana hot sauce
  • 1⁄4 cup teriyaki sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 tablespoon Creole or Cajun seasoning

1 In a small bowl, combine all ingredients.

2 Refrigerate or use right away.

Vietnamese Lemongrass Rub

This recipe from Brandon Hamilton creates a wet rub — any seasoning mix that incorporates a little oil to form a paste. The lemongrass offers a nice summery flavor that pairs especially well with lamb. You can use this rub with seafood or chicken, too.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: None.

Yield: 4 servings

  • 3 fresh lemongrass stalks, root end trimmed and 1 or 2 outer leaves discarded from each stalk
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons freshly chopped and peeled ginger
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 11⁄2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce (optional)
  • 5 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil
  1. Thinly slice bottom 6 inches of the lemongrass, discarding the remainder.
  2. Puree lemongrass, shallots, garlic, ginger, lemon zest, lime juice, sugar, salt, cayenne, water, and fish sauce in a food processor, scraping down the sides occasionally, until as smooth as possible, about 2 minutes.
  3. To finish the rub, slowly drizzle the peanut oil or vegetable oil into the rub mixture while the food processor is on. Continue processing until oil is incorporated.

Note : Use the wet rub just like you would a marinade, letting it sit on the meat in the refrigerator to absorb the flavors. Blot off the wet rub before you cook.

You can find lemongrass in the produce sections of most grocery stores. It’s a perennial grass that has an extremely tough texture but a very fresh and light lemon flavor that is used a lot in Thai and Vietnamese cooking. Look for firm stalks that are pale yellow or white at the bottom and green elsewhere. Leave browned stalks of lemongrass in the store. If you’re having trouble finding lemongrass, try an Asian market.

Teriyaki Marinade

This recipe from the Team N2Que works as well with chicken or fish as it does with steak.

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: None

Yield: 1⁄4 cup

  • 1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 minced shallot
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

1 Combine all ingredients in a large freezer bag or plastic bowl with lid and mix.

2 Refrigerate or use right away.

Tip: See Chapter 5 for advice about marinade times.

Playing barbecue doctor: Getting marinade down deep with injections

Marinade doesn’t exactly invade meat like the Vikings into the British Isles. It just can’t find its way into the middle of the meat without a little help. Injecting the marinade into the meat solves the problem, putting the juicy, flavorful marinade right where you want it. Injecting the marinade into the meat cuts down on the time you need to let it sit before cooking because you don’t have to wait around for it to mosey into the heart of the meat.

A number of meat injectors are available online and in kitchen stores. They’re like extra-big syringes that you draw marinade into and then poke into the meat so that you can slowly push the marinade right into the fibers.

Injecting meat doesn’t require any special talent; you don’t need to study up on special techniques to get this simple job done. Just make sure to inject the marinade throughout the meat so that you don’t end up with concentrations of marinade in some spots and untouched meat in others.

Hot Pepper Steak Marinade

A standby for Team Pepperitaville, this super-spicy marinade works especially well for steak, but it’s nice on chicken or pork, too. And just in case you’re planning to cook venison, as the team often does, add Italian dressing to the mix.

Preparation time: 45 minutes (including roasting and peeling)

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Yield: About 3 cups

  • 10 jalapeño peppers
  • 5 cayenne peppers
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 2 banana peppers
  • 4 Roma tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon Creole seasoning
  • 1⁄2 cup vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • Juice of 1⁄2 lime
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1⁄4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1⁄4 cup soy sauce
  • 6 ounces tomato paste

1 Roast jalapeño, cayenne, green bell, and banana peppers (see Chapter 12 for instructions; the oven-roasting method works better for the smaller peppers).

2 Peel and deseed roasted peppers, wearing plastic gloves or washing your hands immediately afterward.

3 Peel tomatoes (see Chapter 12) and garlic.

4 In food processor, process tomatoes and garlic until they’re almost smooth.

5 In a medium pot, combine pepper mixture and all other ingredients.

6 Over medium heat, cook mixture until it reaches the consistency you want. (It thickens as it cooks.)

7 Let cool and pour into airtight storage containers.

Note : A little of this mix goes a long way, but the marinade keeps well in the fridge for a good long time, so this 3-cup batch is likely to last a while.

Brisket Marinade

Sweet as Coke tastes when you drink it, it offers acidity in recipes like this one, from the GB-Que team.

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: None, but 8 hours to marinate

Yield: About 13⁄4 cups

  • 12-ounce can of Coke
  • 1⁄4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon chipotle pepper flakes
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Hot sauce to taste

1 In large bowl, mix all ingredients.

2 Use immediately or cover and store in refrigerator.

Hard-working muscles are the hardest to cook to tenderness, and brisket comes in large part from a cow’s pectoral muscle, one of the toughest parts of the cow — in both senses of the word.

Turning a tough cut tender is very different from just tossing a New York strip onto the grill.

Brisket needs to reach a higher internal temperature than other cuts of beef do before it’s at its best. Make sure you bring your brisket to an internal temperature of at least 185 degrees. (See Chapter 4 for more information on target internal temperatures and for the basics about cooking brisket.) Anything less than 185 degrees and you haven’t given the collagen enough time to break down. Experiment with cooking brisket even to as high a temperature as 195 degrees as you figure out which method produces the texture you like best.

Mixing Citrus Marinades for Poultry or Shrimp

Mixing lemon, lime, orange, and so on into a marinade is a peachy way to tenderize it. Fresh is preferable because the flavors are more intense when they’re coming right out of the fruit instead of out of a container, but using canned or otherwise packaged juice works fine, too.

Lemon Marinade for Smoked Turkey

Raisins add sweetness, and the cilantro and mint leaves give a nice sharp flavor to this marinade by Paul Kirk.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 5 minutes

Yield: About 11⁄2 cups

  • 1 cup water
  • 1⁄4 cup golden raisins
  • 1⁄4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons mint leaves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1 cup olive oil

1 In a small pan, bring the water to a boil.

2 Add the raisins, remove from heat, cover, and let stand 5 minutes.

3 Drain the water from the raisins and combine with remaining ingredients in a medium bowl.

Because you smoke a turkey over such low heat, stuffing becomes a problem. Cooking it on its own, in the oven, works better than cramming it into the bird, an alternative that may not bring the stuffing up to the right temperature. Anyway, smoke flavor doesn’t do much for stuffing, so keeping it out of the range of your hickory is preferable by far.

White meat cooks faster than dark meat, and any meat close to the bone is going to be holding a lot more heat than the rest of the bird, so when you test for doneness (a minimum of 165 degrees), make sure your thermometer is hitting the center of the breast. Salmonella is a dark, uncomfortable cloud hanging over your dinner.

Sweet and Sour Orange Marinade for Shrimp

Hot isn’t in the title for Paul Kirk’s recipe, but you do get the teeniest underscore of heat from the Anaheim chile. Try using a hotter pepper, like jalapeño, if you want further zing.

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: None

Yield: 4 servings

  • 1 Anaheim chile, seeded and minced
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon peeled, minced ginger
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
  • 2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon ground Szechuan pepper
  • 1 pound uncooked shrimp

1 In a medium bowl, whisk together all ingredients except the shrimp.

2 Add the shrimp to the marinade. Cover and refrigerate an hour or two.

A low- or medium-hot grill does great things for shrimp, which easily pick up charcoal flavor. The little suckers cook in no time, though, so keep a close eye on them and turn them as soon as you see that one side is pink. The second side won’t take as much time as the first, so be at the ready with tongs to snatch the shrimp from the heat as soon as both sides have lost their translucence.

Putting a pair of skewers through the shrimp makes them easier to handle, preventing them from rotating on the skewer. Just put two thin skewers about an inch apart through the shrimp to ensure that they don’t tear or turn.


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