Please remember these are suggestions and ideas, not etched-in-stone recipes. Making homemade marinades is a good way to begin trusting your own taste, so sample as you put them together and vary measurements and ingredients as you like. They’re a snap to pull together, have none of the dubious ingredients in commercial versions, and can be inexpensive to do at home once you have gathered the ingredients.

Marinades and sauces containing sweeteners like sugar, honey, or molasses will burn quicker than those without sweeteners. Watch them closely, and move whatever you’re grilling to indirect heat if it starts to burn.

Depending upon the recipe and if time allows, meats could be marinated in the refrigerator for anything from 45 minutes to overnight. Don’t marinate soft vegetables longer than 10 minutes as they will throw off water and become soggy before they ever touch the grill. Hard vegetables like potatoes, carrots, etc., can marinate for up to 30 minutes.

The Balsamic Cheat

There is a neat trick you can do to inexpensive balsamic vinegar. You can make it taste more like the densely rich and delicious pricey balsamic by boiling it down to a syrup in a skillet or saucepan with a little brown sugar. Figure 1 to 3 tablespoons sugar per cup of inexpensive balsamic, depending on how acidic it might be. The syrup keeps in the fridge for months.

Basic Asian Marinade

Purée together a 2- to 3-inch piece fresh ginger, 4 large garlic cloves, and 1/3 cup each soy sauce and rice wine or dry sherry. Optional ingredient is 2 to 5 tablespoons sugar; another is Chinese Five Spice powder or 1 star anise, broken.

Basic Mediterranean Marinade

Blend together 2 minced large cloves of garlic with 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice, 1/3 cup good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil, a tablespoon of fresh rosemary or oregano leaves, and salt and pepper to taste.

Basic Mexican Marinade

Stem and seed 4 to 6 large dried mild to medium hot red chiles (Ancho, Guajillo or New Mexican). Soak them for 30 minutes in hot water to cover.

Drain the chiles and purée them in a blender with 2 large garlic cloves, 1/3 cup orange juice, 1/4 cup canola oil, 1 teaspoon dry oregano (preferably Mexican) and enough water to make a thick, creamy consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Perfectionists strain the marinade before using it.

Basic Southeast Asian Marinade

Purée together the pulp and juice of 1 medium lime, a 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, 3 to 4 large garlic cloves, 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce, 8 branches fresh coriander or 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, 2 to 3 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Add very hot fresh Thai chiles, or milder Serrano or jalapeños to taste.

Italian Balsamic Marinade

Blend together 4 minced large garlic cloves, 1/3 cup each balsamic vinegar and good-tasting extravirgin olive oil, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, and 1 tablespoon dry or 10 leaves fresh basil. (See Sidebar: The Balsamic Cheat.)

Simplified Hot Jerk Marinade

Purée together 1 fresh scotch bonnet or habanero chile (use gloves to handle these searingly hot beauties) with 1/4 cup each of good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil and cider or wine vinegar, half an onion and 1 generous teaspoon each of thyme, allspice, black pepper and cinnamon.

From A Summertime Grilling Guide by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift. Copyright © 2012 by American Public Media.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper
Lynne Rossetto Kasper has won numerous awards as host of The Splendid Table, including two James Beard Foundation Awards (1998, 2008) for Best National Radio Show on Food, five Clarion Awards (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2014) from Women in Communication, and a Gracie Allen Award in 2000 for Best Syndicated Talk Show.
Sally Swift
Sally Swift is the managing producer and co-creator of The Splendid Table. Before developing the show, she worked in film, video and television, including stints at Twin Cities Public Television, Paisley Park, and Comic Relief with Billy Crystal. She also survived a stint as segment producer on The Jenny Jones Show.