It's official - Do not marinade food until after it's finished grilling

Grilled lamb 525

If we accept the New York Times as an authoritative source, their lead food article today, Flavor Is Only Skin Deep:  Welcome to the Post-Marinade Era of Grilling serves as an obtituary for the concept of marinading food to be grilled. John Willoughby and Chris Schlesinger, two experts who have written numerous cookbooks together on meat and grilling,  have bitten the bullet, writing:

"Marinating, it's said, not only adds flavor and moisture that will stay with the food through the rigors of the grilling process, but also tenderizes whatever you're about to put over the coals. There's only one problem with this comforting culinary scenario: as we've learned over 20-plus years of grilling, it's mostly just not true."

They proceed to refute these two reputed benefits from marinading, noting that:

  • only the outer surface at most is tenderized
  • any flavor that marinades impart is muted, too diluted by the liquid

That's not to say they're avoiding liquid flavoring agents - they just argue that the time to use them is after the grilling, not before it, "Recently, we've found a new way to take the marinade-free flavor dynamic to a new level, simply by keeping all the ingredients separate until the last minute. In this approach, we might use liquid, but after the cooking." (We should note that they are still proponenets of using rubs before grilling.) The article includes several recipes illustrating the point.

And, we have to confess, we've always kind of suspected that this might be true. In fact, it's always been the way we've grilled shrimp - very quickly and then putting the grilled shrimp in a bowl of olive oil, lemon juice, and herb of choice. All the flavor's there, and there's none of the hassle of remembering to marinade before-hand.

Photo by Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times


  • ellabee  on  8/21/2013 at 9:25 PM

    Rubs make sense to me. When we do kebabs, I mix spices into some oil and coat the chunks before skewering. Steaks and chops just need a little salt and pepper right before they go on. But a marinade that still seems necessary is the yogurt-herb bath for tandoori chicken.

  • FuzzyChef  on  8/22/2013 at 11:56 PM

    Please fix the title of this post. It's driving me batty.

  • Senkimekia  on  8/23/2013 at 5:41 PM

    Just want to throw a precautionary out there that there have been studies showing that marinading before grilling has been shown to significantly reduce the amount of cancer causing compounds on meat that accumilates during the grilling process. Too tired right now to go into describing the science behind it but I wanted to throw that out there in case I forget to later. You can google it and find out lots of information about it from many different sources including WebMD. This has been mentioned in peer reviewed journals so it's not just hocum.

  • Jane  on  8/24/2013 at 8:57 AM

    FuzzyChef - sorry we cannot change titles after they are posted as that is how the links on Twitter and Facebook are coded. If we change the title then the links no longer work. What is particular is driving you nuts? The title is meant to be tongue-in cheek.

  • ckbkchick  on  8/24/2013 at 12:01 PM

    I can't speak for FuzzyChef, but it may be what's bothering me about the title: I believe the verb is "to marinate" and the mixture used to marinate something is called the "marinade."

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