Our Guide to Marinating Meats and Fish for Father's Day Grilling

These tips will take your outdoor cooking game to the next level.

Photo: Ryan Liebe

If you're grilling this Father's Day, bump up the smoky grilled flavor and deliciousness factor by utilizing a marinade, just like we've done for the Soy-Lemon Flank Steak recipe that's pictured here. Marinating adds moisture that may be lost with the heat of the grill and infuses food with flavor to create perfectly grilled, juicy meat, fish, and vegetables that will delight Dad.

Here, we share our essential formula: It's the backbone of our best grilling recipes and hits all the right notes while still leaving room for creative flavor combinations to suit Dad's specific preferences. We'll also discuss when to marinate—spoiler alert: it's not always before you grill—and for how long. We'll also lay out guidelines and provide tips to help you maximize flavor when dealing with minimal marination time. Simply put, we have all the marinating tips to help you take your grilling game to the next level, and we're sharing them just in time for Father's Day.

The Essential Formula

This formula wins every single time, and the best part is that it will help you turn any flavors Dad likes into a perfect marinade. Start with a glug of oil, which infuses the marinade flavors into the meat or vegetables and helps keep it juicy tender. We always advise using oil that adds flavor, such as olive, coconut, avocado, or toasted sesame, but you could also select a neutral oil like vegetable or safflower. You'll avoid grill flare ups by not overdoing it on the oil—it should be a part of the marinade, but not the heart of it.

Next, you'll liven up the marinade with a splash of acid, which contributes a burst of bright flavor to both meat and vegetables. Try the traditional route by using vinegar or lemon or lime juice, or play with other acidic ingredients such as buttermilk or yogurt, both of which will also double as a great tenderizer. Next, give the marinade its individuality by adding in Dad's favorite flavors. Try minced garlic, onion, shallots, or scallions, any chopped tender herb, spices, or a spice mix, almost anything on the condiment shelf, or the heat of chiles, chile sauce, or ginger.

Salt is essential, but it doesn't necessarily have to come from kosher or table salt. Some of our favorite salty ingredients boost flavor and add umami, such as fish sauce, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, or miso. If the marinade is low on saltiness that is fine too, just season the meat or vegetables lightly after they finish marinating, before they go on the grill. Lastly, you'll want to include something sweet. A touch of sugar encourages caramelization, or that golden smoky char that is a signature of grilled food. Too much sugar might backfire and burn, so really add just a little bit. Try brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, or condiments like sweet chili sauce or ketchup.

Whatever you do, don't double dip: If you're going to use a marinade as a sauce or to baste food while on the grill, make sure to reserve marinade that does not come in contact with raw meat for the final sauce. This isn't an issue with vegetables.

The Post Marinade

Did you know marinades are not just for pre-grilling prep? A post-grill marinade is an amazing technique to add flavor to items right off the grill. Make the marinade per the above instructions and set it aside. Then, season the vegetables or meat with salt and pepper and grill, like we do in this zucchini salad recipe or this chicken thighs recipe. Then let the hot food soak up the marinade, contributing both moisture and delivering flavor.


For pre-grill marinating, submerge meat or vegetables in the marinade in a resealable bag or shallow baking dish and let the flavors meld. Make sure to toss occasionally if the ingredients are not fully submerged. In general, know that leaner, thinner, and smaller cuts of meat or vegetables marinate faster. Steak, chicken, lamb, and pork should usually be marinated for at least one hour or as long as overnight. Leaner cuts and smaller or thinner pieces of meat should marinate on the shorter end of the time frame, whereas larger, tougher cuts could benefit from a longer timeframe.

Seafood should only require 20 minutes to one hour in the marinade. Marinate shellfish such as shrimp and flaky, thinner fish fillets on the shorter end and reserve the longer marination time for meatier fish steaks like tuna or swordfish and whole fish. As for tofu and vegetables, allot for just 30 minutes of marinading time.

If marinating longer than an hour, make sure to seal in an airtight container or covered bowl or plastic bag and refrigerate while marinating.

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