Marinades & Rubs

by Mark R. Vogel

   Summer’s here and that means barbequing.  Well, actually, barbequing is not what millions of Americans do with their charcoal and propane grills in their backyard.  That’s grilling.  Real barbequing is cooking food with indirect heat and smoke but that’s another article.  In any event, many foods are pre-seasoned prior to being grilled.  This is almost always accomplished with a marinade or a dry rub.

            Marinades are seasoned liquids within which food is submerged.  Marinades are utilized as a flavoring agent and are thought to act as a tenderizer as well.  I say “thought to act as a tenderizer” because there’s only a kernel of truth to that belief.  A marinade will only have a tenderizing effect if it contains an acid (which most do), but even then, the effect is limited.  The acid in a marinade, be it wine, vinegar, citrus juices, etc., will break down the surface proteins on a piece of meat to some degree.  However, even with extended time, the penetration of the marinade is limited, some culinary sources say only three sixteenths of an inch. The exception is fish, which we’ll get to shortly.  Nevertheless, because some degree of tenderizing takes place, marinades are preferred for tougher cuts of beef such as London broil, and skirt, hanger, flank and chuck steaks.  However, marinades can be used for all kinds of foods. 

            A typical marinade recipe, includes some kind of oil, an acid, other flavorful fluids (hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, etc.), aromatics (garlic, onion, ginger, etc.), and any of numerous spices.  The specific ingredients may represent a particular culinary style.  For example, a southwestern marinade might contain chile oil, chile powder, lime juice, and cumin.  An Asian marinade could employ sesame oil, ginger, and five spice powder.  Marinades are also tailored to the type of food being marinated.  Beef usually demands heartier fluids and spices while fish requires more delicate ingredients. 

            Make enough marinade to completely cover the food.  If not you will need to flip it every so often to ensure uniform coverage.  Use a non-reactive container (to prevent the acids in the marinade from chemically reacting with the metal), or better yet, a large, sealable, plastic bag.  Refrigerate the food while marinating to inhibit bacterial growth.  And speaking of our microbial friends, if you plan to use the marinade for a sauce later, you must thoroughly boil it. 

            Chicken, beef, pork, and lamb should be marinated for at least a few hours but can be left overnight.  Fish should not be marinated more than thirty minutes, as its supple flesh can become mushy from protracted exposure to any acid in the marinade.   

            Dry rubs, as the name implies, are a mixture of dry ingredients: a hodgepodge of spices that are sometimes orchestrated (like some marinades), according to a type of cuisine, but often are simply based on the individual cook’s tastes.  I use a combo of salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and thyme as my basic dry rub.  Dry rubs are more likely to be employed for tender cuts of meat, i.e., rib and strip steaks, beef, pork and lamb tenderloin, etc., but again, they can be used on virtually all foods.  Like a marinade, food can rest with the dry rub on it for hours or overnight.  However, unlike a marinade, a dry rub can be applied and the food cooked forthwith with little or no resting time.




The below marinade is a distinct Mediterranean marinade minus the soy sauce.  I like the taste of the soy sauce but feel free to leave it out and simply add more salt.  I particularly like this marinade for grilled vegetables and chicken although it would work well for lamb.


1 pint olive oil

6 oz. soy sauce

Juice of 2 lemons

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon chopped rosemary

Half teaspoon coriander seeds, ground

Half teaspoon fennel seeds, ground

Half teaspoon onion powder

Salt and pepper to taste


            Measure the coriander and fennel seeds first and then grind them.  If your coriander and fennel is already ground, use a little less than a half teaspoon. 




I like this one for beef and pork, done spicy and Latin style.


1 cup water

One third cup white wine vinegar

Two poblano peppers, chopped

Three oz. onion, chopped

Two cloves garlic, chopped

One teaspoon cumin

One teaspoon coriander

One teaspoon salt

Half teaspoon black pepper

Small batch of cilantro, chopped


            Combine all of the ingredients except the cilantro in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for eight minutes.  Puree in a blender.  Chop the cilantro by hand and add it to the puree.  Allow it to cool before covering the meat. 

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