The best marinades usually contain three working components: Salt, acid, and flavouring.
Salt is the most important ingredient because it is a flavor enhancer and it is good at penetrating meat and altering proteins to hold more of its water during the trauma of cooking. Soy sauce is a great source of salt. Shoot for about 6% salt by weight.
Acid., citrus marinades were probably among the first, historically. They have it all, acid, sugar, flavor, aromatics. Acid can denature protein on the surface and make the surface of the meat mushy so use them judiciously, no more than 1/8 of the blend, and only for their flavor.Typical acids are juices from fruits, all types of vinegar, buttermilk, yogurt, and even sugar free soft drinks.
Flavorings include herbs and spices such as oregano, thyme, cumin, paprika, garlic, onion powder, and even vegetables such as onion. It is also a good idea to add some sugar, it aids in browning the surface, but go easy. Too much will burn the surface. You want it to caramelize after the water evaporates without burning.
Now here’s some Important Notes !
Refrigerate. Keep marinating meats in the fridge.
If your marinating anything with alcohol, cook the alcohol off first. Alcohol doesn’t tenderize, cooking tenderizes.
Alcohol marinade in effect cooks the exterior of the meat, preventing the meat from fully absorbing the flavors in the marinade.
Raw alcohol itself doesn’t do anything good to meat, so put your wine or spirit in a pan, add your aromatics, cook off the alcohol, let it cool, and then pour it over your meat. This way you have the richness of the fruit of the wine or Cognac or whatever you’re using, but you don’t have the chemical reaction of ‘burning’ the meat with alcohol or it’s harsh raw flavor.
Thin cuts are best for marinating.
Now here’s a neat trick. Fresh pineapple, kiwi, papaya, and ginger have enzymes that tenderize meat. These enzymes work fast. Within 30 to 60 minutes the meat is ready for the grill. Some people like the softer meat, others feel it is mushy.