The Basics of Marinades, Rubs & Basting Sauces

MarinadesRubs1 There are 3 reasons marinades, rubs, basting sauces (and brines) are used – to improve texture, create tenderness, and add a ton of flavor to your food.

The type of meat – be it red meat, poultry, pork, fish or shellfish,  the cut of the meat (or the way it’s prepared) – steak, thin fillet, roast, or cubed, along with the type of recipe you’re making will determine which of these flavor-infusing methods will best suit your needs.


Marinades2 Used mainly for grilling, rubs add a wonderful flavor and aroma (and sometimes crunchy texture) to an already tender cut of meat.

Estimate about 2 Tbsp of rub mixture for every 4 servings of meat, poultry or fish. To use, rub meat with a bit of oil first, then use your hands to rub in the spice mixture, patting to adhere. Let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours before grilling. This allows the salt in the rub to start to breakdown the proteins, thus tenderizing the meat even further.

Basting Sauces

Marinades3 BBQ sauce is the perfect example of a basting sauce. It’s a thick sauce that is brushed over the meat several times during the grilling process (usually during the last half of cooking).  Plan for ¼ – ½ cup of sauce for every 4 servings of meat, poultry or fish.

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After you have prepared a basting sauce, reserve some of it to use for dipping if desired. Do not use the same sauce used for basting, due to the potential for bacterial contamination.


Marinades4 In comparison to the other flavor-infusing methods, marinades contain a larger amount of acid and are intended for meats to be immersed for an extended period of time.

Depending on the flavor of the dish you are trying to create, here are a variety of acids that can be used in marinades; citrus juice, wine, vinegar, tomato juice, buttermilk, and yogurt.  It’s these acids in the marinade which over time help to break down the proteins, thus tenderizing the meat.

The amount and type of acid used will determine how long the meat sits in the marinade. If you are making tandoori chicken, with a marinade consisting of buttermilk and a little bit of cider vinegar, the chicken breast can sit in that mixture for up to 24 hours if desired. However, if you are making a beef stir-fry and want to marinade the thinly sliced pieces of steak in an Asian style marinade that contains lots of soy sauce and vinegar, it should marinate for no more than 4 hours.

The amount and type of acid used will determine how long the meat sits in the marinade

Since the marinade will only penetrate 1/8-1/4” into the meat, longer marinating time will not make any difference (unless you use a flavor injector). The surface of the meat, if over-marinated, will start to develop a cottony texture – due to the proteins and enzymes that have broken down too much.

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Paprika-Crusted Baked Cauliflower

When using wine in a marinade, take care not to over-marinate. The alcohol can actually change the texture of the meats surface, similar to the way lemon juice ‘cooks’ shellfish (as in a ceviche).

If you don’t have a recipe to follow, here are some general marinating times you can follow. The thicker the meat (or ‘tougher’ the cut), the longer it can marinate for.

  • Large roasts: 12-24 hours
  • Beef, pork, lamb: 4-24 hours
  • Whole chicken:  6-24 hours
  • Chicken pieces: 4-12 hours
  • Fish: 30 minutes-1 hour
  • Shellfish: 15-30minutes


DO use a non-reactive container – aluminum* or copper, will react with the acids in the marinade and will impart a bitter metallic flavor and can change the color of the food. Instead use stainless steel, glass, ceramic, or a large Zip-Loc bag. DON’T soak too long – since marinades will only penetrate 1/8-1/4″ into meats, over marinating will not impart more flavor. The acids in the marinade will actually start to break down the foods enzymes and start to ‘cook’ it or change the texture, resulting in a discolored and sometimes off tasting meat.
DO seal container – prevents other foods from touching raw meats and getting contaminated. DON’T wipe marinade off – after marinating, use tongs to allow liquid to drip off. What is left on the meat will add more flavor as it cooks.
DO make sure food is well coated in marinade – Prepare enough marinade so meat is completely covered (but not swimming) in liquid.   If using a Zip-Loc bag, remove as much air as possible, this will allow better absorption of flavors into the meat. DON’T use the marinade as a basting sauce unless it has been boiled for at least 3 minutes to kill bacteria that was introduced from the raw meat. Better yet – once you make the marinade set aside 1/4 of it to use as a basting or dipping sauce.
DO keep it moving – turn the food once or twice while marinating, allowing both sides to soak up all those flavorful juices. DON’T over salt the marinade – it can start to dry the meat out if left in the marinade for extended periods of time. Instead, salt just before grilling.
*Note: unless the bowl is marked, it is hard to tell the difference between aluminum and stainless steel. Best to use one of the other types of containers mentioned.
Marinades – use ½ cup marinade for every 4 servings meat, poultry or fish.
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A brine is similar to a marinade, in that is used to flavor the meat, however its main purpose is to add moisture (by being fully immersed in a salt water bath). For more information on brines, check out this recipe.

Another benefit to marinating meats before grilling, is that it can actually reduce the carcinogens that are created when meat is charred. Using antioxidant-rich herbs and spices like rosemary and thyme, and soaking in the marinade for at least an hour can reduce the amount of those cancer-causing compounds by up to 87%, according to research done at Kansas State University.

 The Recipes

Unless otherwise mentioned, combine all ingredients together and mix well. Use the marinating times listed above as a guideline.


Tandoori Marinade (for chicken or lamb)
¾ cup plain yogurt
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1 Tbsp garam masala
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

Indian Marinade (for meat or chicken)
1 cup plain yogurt (not light)
2 Tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
½ tsp coriander

Lemon, Herb & Garlic Marinade (for meat, pork, fish, shellfish, chicken, and veggies)
1/3 cup oil
¼ cup white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
2 Tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
4 tsp lemon zest
2 Tbsp lemon juice
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

Apple Cider Shallot Marinade (for pork or chicken)
¾ cup GF apple cider
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
4 shallots, finely chopped
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tsp whole allspice
1 tsp GF Dijon mustard
½ tsp GF Worcestershire sauce

Spicy Mexican Marinade (for meat, pork, or chicken)
7oz canned chipotles in GF adobo sauce (may not use it all)
½ medium white onion, chopped
¼ cup GF beer
¼ cup fresh cilantro, packed
2 Tbsp lime juice
1 cup GF mayonnaise
Salt to taste

In a blender, puree the chipotles, then set aside. Puree the onion, beer, cilantro and lime juice until smooth and pour into a bowl. Stir in the mayonnaise then add a teaspoon of the chipotle puree at a time, taste as you go until you get the spiciness you desire. Salt to taste.

Wine & Mustard Marinade (for meat, pork, fish, chicken and veggies)
8oz GF Dijon mustard
½ cup grainy mustard
¾ cup white wine
½ cup butter
4 scallions, chopped
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper

Whisk together the mustards, set aside. In a small sauce pan melt the butter. Add remaining ingredients, then whisk in mustard mixture until smooth and emulsified. Cool completely before using

Red Wine Java Marinade (for meat)
1 cup espresso or strong coffee, room temperature
1 cup red wine
½ cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp GF Dijon mustard
1 ½ Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp GF Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp cinnamon
2 tsp pepper

Italian Marinade (for meat, fish, chicken, and veggies)
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup white wine
1 tsp mayonnaise
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 Tbsp fresh oregano, finely chopped
2 tsp fresh sage, finely chopped
1 tsp dried minced onion
1 tsp dried minced garlic
½ tsp red pepper flakes
½ tsp salt
1 cup oil

In a bowl pour in the vinegar and wine. Whisk in the mayonnaise until smooth. Stir in the remaining ingredients, except the oil. In a very slow stream add the oil (drop by drop for the first tablespoon), whisking vigorously.

Chili Lime Marinade (for pork, salmon, or chicken)
1 ½ Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
2 Tbsp honey or agave
2 Tbsp water
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp lemon grass, minced
1 Tbsp chili flakes
1 ½ Tbsp ginger, minced
2 Tbsp coconut oil, melted

Sweet & Sour Marinade (for meat, pork, or chicken)
½ cup GF balsamic vinegar
½ cup honey
½ cup brown sugar, packed
¼ cup GF soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced

Asian Citrus & Ginger Marinade (for meat, pork, fish, shellfish, poultry and veggies)
½ tsp orange zest
1/3 cup orange juice
1 tsp lime zest
¼ cup lime juice
2 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp canola oil
2 Tbsp soy sauce
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1 Tbsp Sriacha sauce
1 Tbsp icing sugar (used in place of granulated sugar since it dissolves instantly)
½ tsp salt


Caribbean Seasoning (for meat or chicken)
1 Tbsp dried thyme
2 tsp slat
2 tsp pepper
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp powdered ginger
¾ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp nutmeg

All-Purpose Spice Rub (for meat, pork or chicken)
3 Tbsp paprika
1 Tbsp brown sugar, packed
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp slat
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp pepper
½ tsp dry mustard
¼ tsp cayenne pepper

Salt & Pepper Rub (for meat, pork, or chicken)
2 Tbsp coriander seeds
2 Tbsp black peppercorns
2 tsp coarse salt
2 tsp dried minced garlic

Over medium high heat, toast coriander and peppercorns in a dry skillet until fragrant, about 4 minutes.

Zesty Oregano Rub (for chicken, shellfish, or fish)
1 Tbsp flaky salt
2 tsp fresh oregano, minced
2 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp lime zest

Sesame Lemon Rub (for chicken or fish)
2 Tbsp sesame seeds
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp lemon zest
½ tsp salt

Basting Sauces:

Maple Mustard Basting Sauce (for chicken, pork or fish)
2 Tbsp oil
2 small onions, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 cup white wine
½ cup maple syrup
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
2 tsp dry mustard
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1/3 cup GF Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp butter, cold

Saute onions and garlic on oil under tender. Stir in wine and bring to a boil for a minute to reduce. Add syrup, vinegar, mustard powder and salt and pepper. Boil until slightly syrupy in consistency, about 3 minutes.  Stir in remaining ingredients until sauce is smooth. Pour into a blender and puree until smooth.

Honey Ginger Basting Sauce (for meat, pork, chicken or salmon)
2 Tbsp oil
6 shallots, minced
6 cloves garlic, minced
6 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
½ cup GF hoisin sauce
½ cup honey
2 Tbsp GF rice vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil
½ tsp chili pepper flakes
2 tsp cornstarch

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  1. Thank you very much for clearing up my confusion about marinades, basting, rubbing and brine; especially thanks for how to use them on which kind of meat and fish. This is so very helpful. I will start cooking with every one of your suggestions immediately.
    I have a question, though: when I doe my mother’s old recipe of a German dish called “Sauerbraten” (a large lump of beef), the marinade is made with raw onion rings, laurel, cloves etc. and red wine, and the meat is totally submerged in that fluid. It stands there (turning once a day) for 3 or 4 days, then the meat is wiped with paper towels, seated all around in hot fat (oil or lard) and simmered with a some of the marinade. It’s delicious. And it seems that the entire roast is soaked through with the marinade and nothing on the outside is deteriorated or broken down or rubbery. Can you explain that, please?

  2. My thoughts are that the wine isn’t that acidic, so its breaking down the proteins at a slower rate. Also, by the act of searing before roasting, you are creating a lovely crunchy crust on the meat. So any part of the meats surface that was potentially over-marinated, you wouldn’t be able to tell because of the crust. It’s actually a genius method!

  3. Thank you very much for your reply. Makes me feel good now using this method. Thanks, Heidi

  4. How long will the unused sauces and marinades last in the refrigerator? I’d like to make a bigger batch and have it on hand. Thanks!

  5. Ones without dairy/egg products in them (ie. yougurt, mayo), I would say 5-7 days, and those with dairy/egg about 3 days. I would be more tempted to freeze any extra sauces/marinades then keep them in my fridge. Since I inevitably end up changing my meal planning halfway through the week, and end up having to throw out stuff like that, that I’d saved.

  6. Thanks Maria; that helps immensely. I like the freezing idea: it’s more versatile as long as I remember I have it in my freezer!! 😉

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