Most foods benefit greatly from marinating. Good barbecue marinade recipes include ingredients that add flavor, increase moistness and help make the meat more tender.
All sorts of ingredients can be added for flavoring. Another important
marinade ingredient is an acid of some kind...vinegar and lemon or lime
juice are commonly used for this. The acid helps soften the proteins,
breaking them down, which then opens up the meat surface to allow the
moistness components, the oil and other liquids, to be absorbed.
However, marinating doesn't flavor meats completely through to the center unless the cuts are 1/2 inch thick or less. Marinades affect only the surface of meats, down to around 1/4 inch deep. Meats can be marinated for longer than the recommended time, but by doing that, the acids attack the meat so thoroughly, the surface will become mushy.
But even though the surface of the meat is all that's improved, marinating is still a worthwhile process for adding flavor and moistness to meats.
First, what isn't an emulsion? Try this. Add 1/2 cup of vegetable
oil to a glass measuring cup. Then add 1/2 cup of vinegar to the same
cup. The vinegar sinks to the bottom because the oil is a lighter
liquid. Now try marinating a chicken thigh in the cup. The top half gets
oily, the bottom half sour with vinegar. Not much good as a marinade
Now, pour 1/2 cup of vinegar into a mixing bowl. Grab a whisk, and start mixing (briskly) as you very slowly drizzle in the oil. The oil breaks up into very small droplets, which become coated with a layer of vinegar. When you're done mixing in all the oil, the bowl is filled with vinegar-trapped oil droplets. This is an emulsion.
The oil is evenly blended with the vinegar now, and has a difficult time rising to the top. Over time, the emulsion will separate, but before that happens, a chicken thigh place in the bowl would have its entire surface in contact with both the vinegar AND the oil, from top to bottom. As the acidic vinegar breaks down the protein, the oil is right there to be absorbed. With added flavorings, those would be absorbed too. That's the importance of an emulsified marinade.
Putting together an effective marinade is really pretty easy.
As the oil and other liquids blend together, the marinade will become
opaque, looking like a thin salad dressing. You now have an emulsified
If your marinade recipe includes chunky ingredients (chopped onions, green onions, etc), leave them out during the whisking part, and add 'em in later.
And to make things really easy, you can use a blender to do the hard work. Add everything but the oil and large pieces, then slowly add the oil as the blender emulsifies the marinade.
Give marinating a try. Whip up one or two of these next time you're doin' some barbecue.
Bourbon Steak Marinade - You can use your favorite bourbon in this marinade. For me, it's Maker's Mark Marinade.
Lemon Tarragon Marinade - Good for more delicate grill-ables like fish and chicken, this one makes especially good grilled chicken breasts.
Pork Marinade - This is just a good, basic marinade for any cut of pork.
Flat Iron Marinade - Flat iron steaks benefit greatly from a nice soaking in a flavorful marinade. This is the one to use.
Ribeye Steak Marinade - It's not that ribeye steaks need a marinade to taste good, but a good marinade can improve upon the steak's near-perfection...there's butter in this marinade...;-)
Beef Brisket Marinade - This marinade is made using a hearty Porter Ale, along with some interesting herbs and spices. Great for brisket, and can be used with barbecued beef roasts, too.
Marinated Chicken Breasts - The marinade here is a homemade Alabama white bbq sauce, with some added herb for flavor.
You'll enjoy the flavor these marinade recipes have to offer. Give 'em a try!