A marinade is a sauce usually made one of two ways. It can either be acidic based (made using vinegar, lemon juice, or even wine) or enzymatic based (made using ingredients such as ginger, kiwi, papaya, or pineapple). Each of these “schools” of marinade have their pros and cons but we won’t get into that here. You’ll have to make up your own mind about which one your prefer or if you even have a preference.
Marinades are commonly used to flavor meats and fish as well as tenderizing tougher cuts of meat. Marinades are also used on other types of food but it isn’t as common. Marination is similar to the process of brining, however brining doesn’t usually involve any acidic elements.
If marinating soft vegetables, try not to marinade them for more than 10 minutes as they will quickly become soggy before ever being cooked. Harder vegetables such as potatoes can marinate for longer – perhaps up to 30 minutes.
Meats are typically marinated in the refrigerator, anywhere from 1 hour to even overnight, depending on the recipe. One thing to keep in mind is that frozen meats should never be used for marinating, except for some extreme cases which I can’t think of at the moment. If raw frozen meat is used, the marinade can break down the surface and turn the outer layer mushy and funky looking as it can’t work its way far enough into the frozen piece of meat to do its job.
Many marinades and sauces contain sweeteners such as honey, sugar, or molasses and they will burn quicker than those without sweeteners. Be careful when grilling over fire with these sweet marinades as the sugars will begin caramelizing quicker than you might expect. Be vigilant while in charge of the grill is all I’m saying. If they begin to burn, move them over indirect heat where they can stop burning.
As mentioned earlier, the idea behind marinating is to add flavor to food as well as make those chewier pieces of meat more tender. This happens due to the acids (or enzymes) that are present in the marinade. It causes the tissue of the meat to break down, which then allows more moisture to be absorbed. The end result is a juicer piece of meat.
Now, there is such a thing as having too much acid in your marinade which can actually ruin your food. Good marinades should strike a nice balance between the acid and the oil and spices used.