The BarbaCuban’s Tips for Using Marinades Properly


You’ve picked up a bottle of an awesome marinade, like BarbaCuban’s 90 Miles to Mojo Marinade. If you’re a novice home cook, you might not be familiar with all the ins and outs of using a marinade to maximum benefit. Plus, there are some important food safety issues to be familiar with. So, we’ve put together some essential tips for using marinades to help make your meals a success.

What Exactly Is a Marinade?

A marinade is a liquid that you soak food in prior to cooking. Usually, it’s used for meats, poultry, and seafood, but it can be used for certain veggies too. Most cooking methods benefit from marinating, but it’s especially helpful when grilling.

A marinade has three main purposes:

  • Imparting flavor into the food
  • Helping to prevent the food from drying out during cooking
  • Tenderizing the food

To accomplish all of this, a marinade needs a few ingredients:

  • An acid to penetrate, flavor, and tenderize the food (e.g., vinegar, wine, citrus and certain other fruit juices, soy sauce, tomato sauce); alternatively, it could have something with a tenderizing enzyme called protease (e.g., yogurt, milk, buttermilk, papaya, kiwi, pineapple) 
  • An oil to coat the food and help distribute flavors (and it helps food get crispy on the grill)
  • Flavoring agents (spices, herbs, fruit juices, etc.)

Tips for Using Marinades

A quality marinade does a lot of the work for you. Still, you need to know how to use it. These tips for using marinades help you turn out flavorful, juicy, tender dishes every time.

  • As a general rule, the longer you marinate, the more flavor you impart. But this doesn’t mean the longer the better; you make food too acidic by over-marinating it, and can also make it mushy if it becomes too tenderized.
  • As another general rule, thicker and/or tougher foods need longer marinating times than thinner and/or more delicate foods.
  • The more acidic the marinade, the less marinating time you need.
  • Fish, shrimp, and other seafood typically needs the least amount of marinating time. Usually, 15 to 30 minutes is good for a thin, delicate fish and for shellfish. Sturdier fish like salmon or tuna and tougher seafood like squid and octopus can soak for 30 minutes to an hour or two.
  • Poultry can soak anywhere from 2 or 3 hours (like for cutlets and wings) to 12 hours (for a whole bird).
  • Beef, pork, lamb, and other red meats can generally marinate anywhere from 2 or 3 hours (like for thinner steaks, chops, cubed meat) to 12 hours (for a whole roast).
  • Most veggies only need to marinate for about 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how hearty they are.
  • Always marinate in a nonreactive vessel (e.g., glass dish, food-grade plastic dish or sealable bag, ceramic dish, enamel dish, stainless steel tray or pot) to prevent an off taste. Cover it with a lid or plastic wrap.
  • If you’re marinating in a plastic food bag, put the bag in a bowl in case it leaks. You don’t want that raw meat juice getting on other stuff.
  • Use a fork to poke some holes into thicker, tougher cuts to help the marinade penetrate.
  • Fully submerge the food in the marinade, or flip it over halfway through the marinating time if it’s too thick.
  • Marinate food in the fridge. Meats, poultry, and seafood shouldn’t be left out at room temperature.

Throw away the marinade after using it since it’s full of bacteria from the raw food. And wash the marinating dish. But if you really want to reuse the marinade to baste or as a sauce, bring it to a full rolling boil for at least 5 minutes before using it. Better yet, just set some of your marinade aside before soaking to use at the end.