When you go to the restaurant and order a grilled steak, it has those beautiful grill lines and is so juicy it makes your mouth water before the steak ever hits your lips. With a little practice and just the right combination of marinade and seasonings, you can learn to create a steak marinade just as good as, if not better than, those you thought you could only fine at your favorite steak house.
There are two ways to season meat for grilling: dry rubs and marinades. A marinade is a wet mixture of oil, vinegar, and water with herbs and/or spices that you soak food in prior to cooking. A dry rub, as its name implies, is a dry mixture of herbs and spices.
The type of seasonings you use in a dry rub is entirely up to your tastes. Hotter spices will give you more of a Mexican flare—cayenne pepper, dried chiles, cardamom, and dried onion flakes. Heather, who creates our Frugal Mom Menu, has a favorite meat rub that she uses on pork, chicken, and beef.
Heather’s Meat Rub
- 6 Tbsp. brown sugar
- 5 Tbsp. chili powder, I recommend a mild one unless you like heat
- 3 Tbsp. paprika
- 2 Tbsp. black pepper
- 2 Tbsp. garlic powder
- 1 Tbsp. onion powder
- 1 Tbsp. meat tenderizer
- 1 Tbsp. dry rosemary
- 1 Tbsp. dry thyme
- 1 Tbsp. mustard powder
- 1 Tsp. cumin
- 1 Tsp. cayenne pepper
Mix all ingredients together and store in a resealable plastic bag.
Spicy can be combined with sweet for a Caribbean taste. For example, combining a spicy rub with pineapple juice as a sweetness that complements the spicy heat.
Marinades, unlike dry rubs, require a little more time because the longer your meat marinates, the more tender and flavorful it will be. The marinade will tenderize the meat and the flavor of your marinade seeps throughout the meat. The acidic component of the marinade is what breaks down the collagen in the meat to make it more tender. I like to marinate meat at least overnight, sometimes longer. Unlike meat, most fish should only be marinated for a few minutes (15 at the most) to avoid over-tenderizing.
When marinating meat, first thaw the meat and trim the fat off. Combine your marinade ingredients in a plastic bag or plastic container meant for marinating. Seasoning packs work well when you don’t have the time or desire to shake a little of this and a little of that into the bag. McCormick’s GrillMates are an easy alternative to making your own if you are in a hurry.
Experimenting with new tastes is fun when making your own marinades. Frontier Natural Products has a reference guide telling what spices are best for different meats and vegetables as well as which spices complement each other. Try mixing a few spices and herbs in a small bowl and add some olive oil and vinegar (try different types of vinegar for variety). Just a tip when it comes to vinegar – don’t be too heavy handed with the vinegar as it can easily overpower the flavor of the other ingredients. Typically, marinades use a 1:1 ratio of oil and vinegar. If you need more liquid you can add water.
The benefit of making your own marinade is that you know what is in the mix and you can choose quality ingredients. The following chicken marinade is one we favor for bulk cooking chicken for the freezer.
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 tsp. oregano
- 1 tsp. basil
- 1 tsp. garlic salt or Adobo
- 1/2 tsp. pepper
Marinate 2-4 pounds of chicken at least overnight before grilling. I like to cook extra of this chicken and chop the leftovers, freezing them in 1-2 cup increments for use in casseroles and soups.
Enjoy trying some new flavors on the grill this summer!