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Not only will a flavorful marinade make your meat recipes tender, but it will make them delicious too

Some cuts of meat can be tough, so what do you do about this dilemma when you want to improve the results of meaty main courses? Our cooking and baking expert, Cordon Bleu-trained pastry chef Andrea Boudewijn recommended using a marinade. 

While some home cooks may question the effectiveness of soaking and basting the meat in marinade to soften the texture, Boudewijn said that the right ingredients will definitely have a tenderizing effect. The Pyrex 3-Piece Glass Measuring Cup Set, McCormick’s Grill Mates Everyday Grilling Variety Pack , the Cuisinart Griddler and other essentials are included in this article to help you achieve delicious results. 

How do meat marinades work?

Regardless of your favorite types of meats to prepare, you’ll improve the texture and flavor when you marinate them before cooking. Boudewijn explained how marinades work. 

“Marinades not only add flavor, texture and color to a dish but can make meats more tender. The two main ways to do this is by adding enzymes like mango or papaya or an acidic element like lemon juice or vinegar to your marinade,” she said. “Enzymes and acids penetrate the meat and actually break down the fibrous tissue, making it softer on the teeth, more pliable for cutting, and it allows other flavors in the marinade like soy sauce, honey, and onion powder to absorb more easily in the cuts you’re serving.”

Boudewijn added that salt assists enzymes in reacting and softening meat but is optional. So if you or someone you are cooking for is on a low-sodium diet, you can skip the extra salt and still get great results when you follow Boudewijn’s advice for marinade ingredients.   

Meats that typically require marinating

Tough, dense cuts of red meat like brisket, chuck roast and bottom round are examples of the types of meats that benefit the most from marinades, Boudewijn said. She added advice about the best time recommended for marinating. “Never marinate meat longer than 24 hours — less time if marinating small cuts. Twelve hours tends to be a good all-around amount of time.”

The best ingredients for marinades

Some ingredients work better than others for tenderizing meat. Our expert recommends using ingredients with a high acid content for the marinade, including vinegar, pineapple, mango, citrus juice, buttermilk, kiwi, yogurt, papaya and other acidic foods. “The more acid, the faster/deeper the softening process,” Boudewijn said. 


  • Use marinades to add flavor to your favorite meats. “Your Thanksgiving turkey, ribs, steaks, chicken breasts, fajita meat, Moroccan lamb and more benefit greatly from the added flavors,” Boudewijn said. 
  • Give certain types of meats a boost of color by marinating them. Our expert gave an example of how this use of meat marinade works. “Swordfish cubed and soaked in a red wine marinade comes out the most beautiful shade of lavender and looks so interesting contrasted with green when served on a banana leaf. We eat with our eyes first, so color and presentation are almost as important as flavor,” she said. 
  • Use a meat tenderizer mallet as an alternative to a marinade. Boudewijn said this simple kitchen gadget works best on boneless steaks. You should place boneless chicken in a thick freezer bag before using a meat tenderizer, and fish doesn’t need to be pounded, she added. 
  • Keep storage bags and containers on hand. They’ll be useful during the meat tenderizing process. 
  • Take inventory of your kitchen gadgets. Some of the tools Boudewijn recommends having on hand when marinating meat include a barbecue mop, a pastry brush and a baster.
  • Fire up the barbecue grill. Toss marinated meat on it for mouth-watering results. 
  • Have side, bar or dish towels ready for clean-up. Keep them close by while marinating meat to wipe up any splashes or spills quickly. 

Boudewijn’s marinade recipe

We asked our expert for ideas for making a marinade that will make your favorite meats tender and tempting. 

“There are so many good ingredients to include in your marinade. Mine is simple and usually contains some combo of soy sauce, onion powder, smoked salt, freshly ground pepper and fruit juice. There are lots of other ingredients you can use though!”

  • vinegar, all kinds
  • fruit and fruit juices
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder
  • tomato
  • honey (truffle honey, yum)
  • wine
  • liquor
  • chile powder
  • shallot
  • cinnamon
  • cardamom
  • and more!

Best items for marinating meat

Kitchen-Best Pyrex 3-Piece Glass Measuring Cup Set

Pyrex 3-Piece Glass Measuring Cup Set

A measuring cup set will be useful for measuring and pouring marinade. The Pyrex set of three includes 1-cup, 2-cup and 4-cup sizes. Each one is made of strong tempered glass and includes a spout for added convenience.

Sold by Amazon

Kitchen-Best McCormick Grill Mates Everyday Grilling Variety Pack

McCormick Grill Mates Everyday Grilling Variety Pack

Made by a top brand in spices, this set includes four tasty spice combinations that will give your meat marinades flavors that pop. 

Sold by Amazon 

Kitchen-Best Cuisinart Griddler

Cuisinart Griddler

Once your meat is marinated, it’s simple to cook it on a panini press. The Griddler doubles as a grill, as it features a versatile hinge that makes it possible to use the machine in the open or closed position. The temperature controls are easy to operate to achieve perfect cooking temperatures. 

Sold by Amazon and Home Depot

Kitchen-Best Farberware Measuring Spoons, Set of 5

Farberware Measuring Spoons, Set of 5

When you spice up your meat marinade, a set of measuring spoons will guide you in achieving precise flavoring. This affordable set includes five color-coded spoons. 

Sold by Amazon

Kitchen-Best Nordic Ware Baker’s Delight 3-Piece Baking Sheet Set

Nordic Ware Baker’s Delight 3-Piece Baking Sheet Set

Boudewijn said baking sheets are ideal for roasting marinated meat in the oven. Made by a top brand, this set includes a half sheet, quarter sheet and jelly roll pan. 

Sold by Amazon, Wayfair, Kohl’s, and Macy’s

Kitchen-Best Chicago Metallic Professional Roast Pan

Chicago Metallic Professional Roast Pan

A spacious size, nonstick cook surface and aluminized steel construction make this roast pan ideal for large cuts of meat after they’ve soaked up a flavorful marinade. 

Sold by Amazon

Kitchen-Best KitchenAid Gourmet Utility Whisk

KitchenAid Gourmet Utility Whisk 

Whipping the ingredients of your marinade together won’t take much effort when you use a whisk. This one has a thick handle that’s simple to grip and a stainless steel top that resists corrosion. 

Sold by Amazon

Kitchen-Best OXO Good Grips 16-Inch Locking Tongs

OXO Good Grips 16-Inch Locking Tongs

Tongs are essential for placing the meat in the marinade, then moving to the grill or a pan for roasting. OXO Good Grips tongs are long, durable and feature an easy-to-grip handle that resists slipping during use. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Kitchen-Best Saltverk Flaky Sea Salt

Saltverk Flaky Sea Salt

If you decide to salt your marinade, a unique salt like these sea salt flakes will make it easy to achieve the right flavor without adding too little or too much. 

Sold by Amazon

Kitchen-Best Cave Tools Skewers Set

Cave Tools Skewers Set

It’s easy to roast small pieces of marinated meat on skewers for flavor-rich shish kebab. This set includes 10 skewers made of durable stainless steel. A storage bag is included. 

Sold by Amazon  

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Jennifer Manfrin writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money. 

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