If you’re gearing up for football season, you know that half the fun happens before the game even begins. Tailgating is becoming a tradition that’s as big as mascots, cheerleaders and team colors. Putting out an impressive spread will help you score big with friends and give you season long bragging rights as the tailgate champion.
Unless you’re a hardcore tailgater, you’re probably just grilling on a propane or charcoal grill that is small and portable. Just because you’re keeping it simple doesn’t mean you have to skimp on flavor. Marinades can make a big difference and give you a lot of versatility with flavor profile.
Here are some tips for a successful marinade:
Time: As a general rule of thumb, 6 to 12 hours of marinating time is good for chicken, beef or pork. If you’re grilling at your tailgate, you’re transporting the meat anyway, so trim the meat at home, get it into a marinade and then all you have to do at the tailgate is get cooking. Keep marinating time to less than 6 hours if your marinade is highly acidic. The acid starts to react with the surface of the meat and can make the texture tough after cooking.
Ratio: Marinades typically have a 3 to 1 ratio. 3 parts oil or fat-based ingredients and 1 part acid. Oil/fats include any type of oil, mayonnaise, yogurt, milk or coconut milk. Acids include vinegar, wine and juice.
Salt: Marinades need help to penetrate the surface of the meat and salt does the job. Add 1 tablespoon of salt for every 1 cup of liquid.
Sugar: Brown sugar, honey, molasses, agave nectar – even jelly or jam – can define the flavor profile. Sugars also help balance acid but should be used sparingly in grilling marinades so they don’t burn.
Spices/Seasonings: These ingredients bring the marinade to life. You can lean more herbal, spicy, earthy or smoky. Aromatics like garlic, onion and shallots offer another layer of flavor.
Meat Prep: Trim excess fat and cut the meat into the size it needs to be for serving. Also, cut some slits in the underside of the meat to give the marinade access to more surface area.
Hold the Sauce: If you plan to baste your meat with barbecue sauce or a glaze, wait until the meat is on the grill and has already begun to cook. Any sauce that is thick and high in sugar will burn when the meat touches the high heat of the grill. It also acts as a barrier on the meat and keeps it from getting a good sear.
Honey Lime Marinade
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large limes, juice and zest
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons Sriracha
1/2 tsp black pepper
Place all ingredients in a jar and shake to combine. Use as a marinade for 1 pound of chicken for up to 6 to 8 hours.