If there's one thing that has the ability to change the flavor of a grilled piece of chicken, it's a marinade. Not only does a quick soak enhance the taste of the chicken, marinades also have the ability to help tenderize tougher cuts of meat. Chicken isn't as tough as something like a rump roast, so most chicken marinades are strictly for flavor.
Creating your own marinade is a pretty straight-forward process because each marinade recipe follows the same key ingredients: oil, acid, salt, sugar and a flavoring. Leave one out and the marinade won't work as properly. Every ingredient has a specific purpose in the marinade. Let's take a look at each one.
Without oil even the best marinade wouldn't stick to the meat. Most common is olive oil or even a mild vegetable oil to distribute the marinade across the raw meat. Oil in the marinade also plays a second role when it comes to grilling. The oil will prevent the chicken from sticking to the grill as well as ensure a nice crispy texture.
Acid in marinade recipes help tenderize the meat and add flavor. Different acids you can use include fresh lemon juice, lime juice, rice wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar. Use a 3-1 ratio for the oil and the vinegar. Three parts oil to one part vinegar, just like a vinaigrette. And yes, you can totally use any vinaigrette as a marinade.
Every great marinade needs some salt to bring out the flavor of the meat but don't think that only table salt is the answer. Try switching it up with soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and even fish sauce.
Sugar caramelizes nicely when grilled, giving your chicken thighs (or meat) a beautiful golden crust. Use ingredients like honey, brown sugar and even ketchup to add a little bit of sweetness.
Finally a bit of flavoring is needed to round out the marinade. Use fresh herbs like rosemary, a touch of garlic or even a sprinkle of za'atar seasoning to bring your marinade over the top.
Now you've got the science of marinades down, let's take a look at some different marinade recipes you can try for dinner tonight.
1. Garlic Grilled Chicken Thighs
A whole garlic bulb flavors this five-ingredient chicken marinade. The chicken thighs marinade for about an hour then get a quick grill to become nice and tender.
2. Brown Sugar Soy Sauce Chicken Thighs
Sweet and salty, this soy sauce and brown sugar infused chicken goes great with seasoned rice. Top the chicken with a sprinkling of cilantro for a final touch.
3. Za'atar Grilled Chicken
Za'atar, a popular Middle Eastern herb mixture, gives this chicken a complex herb-y flavor that you'll love. you can buy the spice either at your local grocery store or here.