Marinating meat serves as a meat tenderizer and flavor enhancer. Marinades start with an oil and acid, such as vinegar, citrus juice or wine, and are further enhanced with spices, herbs or aromatics.
The acid in citrus juices, wines and vinegars break down proteins, thus tenderizing the meat while also balancing out spicy and sweet flavors in the marinade. While meats like beef and lamb can handle 24 hours marinating, seafood generally requires an hour or less and chicken no more than two hours. Marinating too long can actually “cook” seafood and turn chicken mushy.
Meat should always marinate in the refrigerator – never at room temperature. Marinate in a sealable plastic bag if you can. It’s much easier to turn these bags over often, ensuring that all surfaces are coated in the marinade.
When ready to grill, be sure to treat the marinated meat with the same care you would treat any raw meat. If you wish to use part of the marinade as a basting sauce, boil it for 5 minutes before using. Do not reuse marinade–discard any leftover marinade that raw meat has been soaked in.
Here’s a short video about how to marinate and grill meat: