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I have a secret to share. Well, honestly, it's not really a secret. It's more of a method and it's catching on like wildfire across the globe. This "secret" is the art of marinating.
Marinating is the process of soaking cuts of meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, tofu ... well, just about anything in a seasoned liquid (consisting of everything from orange juice to Grandpa's secret ingredient!) to enhance their flavors. While this sort of procedure can do wonders for many culinary techniques, it becomes nearly essential when it comes time to grill. At least, that's my humble opinion!
The key to a good marinade is to combine an acidic component (such as wine, vinegar or fruit juice) with other flavor-enhancing components (such as olive oil, spirits, spices, herbs and honey) to take full advantage of the marinating time. The acidic component's main task is to aid in tenderizing the food that is being marinated. However, most acidic ingredients also help to enhance flavors as well.
Almost anything that is cooked on the grill can benefit from marinating. However, very tender cuts of meat, poultry and seafood should not be marinated for especially long periods of time. Otherwise, the acidic components in a marinade can cause the food to become mushy or soggy. Likewise, tough cuts of meat should be pierced generously with a fork and allowed to marinate for longer periods of time to encourage a tenderer piece of meat for the grill.
One of the most convenient tools when marinating foods is the resealable plastic bag. While it's perfectly acceptable to marinate foods in any glass, stainless steel or plastic container, using resealable plastic bags makes mixing convenient, helps avoid spills and makes clean-up a snap. I highly suggest having a supply of them on hand for the grilling season. For my family, that's all year round -- even on frigid winter days!
In addition to the general practice of marinating, most marinades can be used to baste foods during the grilling process. However, marinades should not be applied during the last 5 minutes of grilling to avoid undercooking and safety concerns. Simply reserve any access liquid when removing the food from its marinating container and brush on generously during the grilling process.
Finally, I'd like to mention that marinades can also be used for injecting into larger cuts of meat (usually roasts) that are to be grilled. The result is a grilled sensation with every juicy bite bursting with extra flavor. Injecting a marinade requires the use of an injecting syringe that can be found at many department and specialty stores. Avoid using marinades with seeds or small chunks of vegetables in them as they will cause blockages in the syringe and make your life generally miserable!
Of course, I can't leave you without sharing a few of my favorite marinades. They are all simple and use ingredients that most of us have on hand in our refrigerators or pantries. I hope you try them out and enjoy them as much as my family does.