Meat Lover’s Guide to Marinating Meat (plus 10 Primal Marinades)

A Primal commitment to regular consumption of pastured, organic (expensive/hard-to-find) meats often means buying in bulk when a good price presents itself. Grass-fed steak runs rather pricey, so the average Grok on a budget can’t survive buying a juicy ribeye from Whole Foods every night; he’s got to pick his spots and stock up when he can. If that means buying fifteen pounds of New Zealand lamb leg steaks in a single go just because they dropped to four bucks a pound, so be it. Thus, we’re left with freezers full of identical cuts of steak, roasts, and slabs of meat, along with a serious conundrum: what the heck do we do with all that meat? Maybe good meat can stand on its own merit (along with a bit of salt and pepper), but even the purest of carnivores will eventually tire of eating the same cut prepared the same way, day after day. And if you’ve got picky kids or spouses, forget about serving the same roast or the same chicken thigh over and over. You’ve got to switch flavors up or risk burn out – and possible regression to fast food and frozen dinners.

Enter Primal marinades.

An arsenal of recipes is always good to have at your disposal, but the more complex ones take planning to implement, and they often involve buying a bunch of ingredients for a certain dish that never get used again (you could use them again the next night and make the same dish, but that doesn’t really solve our problem, does it?). That’s wasteful, and if you’re the type to stock up on affordable meat, waste is probably anathema to your method. Marinades may be a better option. They (supposedly) help tenderize meat, they’re easy to prepare (and then forget about), and they provide a wide-enough range of flavors, textures, and options to keep even that tenth steak in as many days interesting and delicious. Plus, once you successfully marinade your meats, you can simply wrap ‘em up tight and freeze for later, effortless use.

Most popular marinades are composed of three essential, basic ingredients: a fat (usually an oil), an acid (vinegar, wine, or citrus), and flavorings (spices, herbs, garlic). There are other ways to marinate meat, though, including using dairy or the tenderizing enzymes found in things like ginger, kiwi, papaya, or pineapple. Each “school” of marinades has its pros and cons.

Proponents of the acidic method claim it breaks down the tough bonds holding proteins together. This is called denaturing, and denatured proteins form a loose mesh with their neighbors rather than tight coils. Initially, the loose mesh traps water and the result is a juicy, moist piece of meat, but too much acidic marinating can actually have the opposite effect. More than two hours in a highly acidic (pH around 5 or lower) marinade tightens the protein bonds, expels the trapped water, and results in tougher meat. To avoid this de-tenderizing, go a little lighter on the lime, the lemon, or the vinegar than you might be inclined. If it’s the flavor you’re after, you can always add the extra acid right before or after cooking. Otherwise, you might “cook” the meat (think ceviche, where the lime juice “cooks” the seafood) prematurely.

Enzymatic marinades work by breaking down the connective tissue in meat. You can buy commercial meat tenderizers, but most of them are derived from papaya or pineapple, so I’d recommend just using the fresh ingredients themselves. As with the acidic marinades, you don’t want to use enzymatic marinades for too long. The meat won’t get tougher, but it may get excessively mushy (as opposed to just tender). Two hours is a good cut off time, to be safe.

Dairy is the mildest marinade, and, given enough time to work, the most tenderizing. You’ll generally want to use Greek yogurt or buttermilk (something slightly acidic) – think Indian tandoori or Southern fried chicken. We’re not sure if it’s the mild acidity of the dairy that tenderizes the meat, or if it’s the calcium activating tenderizing enzymes in the meat itself (both theories have been floated around online), but we do know that it works. This obviously won’t be an option for Primals who avoid dairy altogether.

The best marinades are often the simplest, made with fresh, quality ingredients that just taste really good together. In a pinch, you can throw together a few items – say, olive oil, lemon, garlic, and salt – that mesh well in your mouth and be confident they’ll work as a marinade, too. Or, you can get complex and creative with a wide range of ingredients. For those of you who aren’t totally confident in your ability to create on the fly, we’ve put together a list of ten Primal-approved marinades for a variety of meats.

1. Cuban Mojo

This is a powerful, highly flexible marinade. It pairs well with beef, pork, chicken, and fish, but the high acidity makes it easy to over-marinate. Don’t go over an hour with this one.


  • Bulb (yes, bulb) of garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup lime juice
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • Zest from the citrus
  • 2 tsp cumin


Mix it all up and cover your meat completely. Remember, don’t marinate for longer than an hour.

2. Skirt Steak Marinade

This recipe is adapted from an Alton Brown recipe. We love his scientific approach to cooking, but his ingredients sometimes need a Primal adjustment. This is one of those times. Oh, and any thin cut of steak will do: skirt, flap, Milanese, etc.


  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp salt, dissolved in two ounces water
  • 4 scallions, cut in half
  • 2 big cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1 tsp red chile pepper flakes/powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp honey


Mix it all up and cover your meat completely. Marinate in the fridge for an hour.

3. Balsamic Marinade

This works equally well for steak, pork, and chicken. Balsamic is one of the weaker vinegars, so you don’t have to fret too much over over-marinating, but given enough time it will break down and eventually toughen the meat.


  • A few splashes of balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Sea salt and black pepper to cover all sides
  • Thyme (fresh or otherwise)


Rub the meat with all the ingredients. This is more of a wet rub, but it will impart a lot of flavor. Leave the meat in the fridge for half an hour before cooking. If you want to reach more meat faster, go ahead and add some olive oil to the mix (along with more of everything else), which will allow for a more traditional, liquid marinade.

4. Tandoori Chicken

If you allow yogurt, this is a great marinade for chicken. Just give yourself plenty of time to let the flavors set.


  • Tub of Greek yogurt (FAGE is a good option)
  • 4 large cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 spicy peppers, minced
  • Juice from one lemon
  • 1 tbsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp coriander
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • Sea salt and black pepper


Mix the ingredients together, leaving the salt and pepper aside. Salt and pepper the chicken, then coat liberally with the yogurt mixture. Marinade for at least half a day, or overnight.

5. Leg of Lamb Yogurt Marinade

You can certainly marinate an entire lamb roast, but you’ll want to at least butterfly the leg to get more surface area for the marinade to reach.


  • Tub(s) of Greek yogurt (FAGE is great, make sure you have enough to entirely coat the meat)
  • 1 tbsp coriander
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp black pepper (ground or cracked)
  • 1 medium-sized hot chile, minced and seeded (could be a Serrano, could be a habanero, could even be dried powder – your choice)
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 inch of ginger, minced
  • 1/2 cup freshly chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 cup freshly chopped mint


Mix everything together in a pan. Coat the lamb on all sides with the mixture, then place into the fridge to marinate overnight. Let it go for at least twelve hours, after which you can just pop the pan into the oven to cook. When it’s done, reduce the drippings/marinade over low heat until it’s a thick, creamy sauce.

6. The Lazy Grok’s Chipotle Marinade

This one’s really, really easy. It goes best with chicken or pork, but any meat should work well.


One can chipotle peppers (with adobo sauce)


Skim the sauce from the can and cover your meat of choice. Marinate for two hours. Include the peppers if you’re brave.

7. Greek Style Lamb Marinade

This will go well with any lamb cut, especially the cheaper ones like shoulder (which, as a bonus, also happens to be extra fatty).


  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4-5 tbsp fresh oregano (or 2 tbsp dried), minced
  • 2 tbsp parsley, minced
  • Grated zest from 1/2 a lemon, along with the juice
  • Extra virgin olive oil (enough to coat the lamb)


Mix the ingredients together. Salt and pepper the lamb, then slather the mixture all over it. Place in a bag or in plastic wrap inside the fridge for at least two hours.

8. Simple Steak Marinade

This one’s pretty similar to the earlier example, but with some added flavors. Goes well with lamb, too.


  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup fresh thyme, minced
  • 1/2 cup fresh rosemary, minced

9. Grilled Chicken Marinade

Although summer’s over, this marinade is a great excuse to get out and grill. Just bring an umbrella.


  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (red wine vinegar works, too)
  • 1 tsp hot chile powder
  • Grated zest from an orange
  • Juice from the orange
  • Sea salt and pepper


Salt and pepper your chicken and fire up the grill. Mix all other ingredients together and coat the bird. Let it marinate for forty five minutes while the coals heat up, then slap it on the grill.

10. Thai Pork Chop Marinade

We say pork chop because it’s ideal, but any pork cut will do: loin, butt, belly.


  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 1 hot chile, minced and seeded (Thai, if you can get it)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp salt dissolved in a bit of water (instead of soy sauce)


Mix everything together and coat your pig in the stuff. This is a pretty potent marinade, so you only need to marinate for about half an hour. You can go up to an hour at a time, if you like.

Well, we hope those marinades work out for you. Feel free to hit us up in the comment boards with more – we’re always eager to try our readers’ concoctions.

macten, tclarkcreations, Tai Toh, Maggie Hoffman, Another Pint Please…, food_in_mouth, Simon Aughton Flickr Photos (CC)

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45 thoughts on “Meat Lover’s Guide to Marinating Meat (plus 10 Primal Marinades)”

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  1. Thank goodness for this post!

    For several years, a large portion of my diet has been meat-based, and this post is exactly the useful information that supports a diet which has benefitted me in incredible ways — from body composition (~5% bodyfat) to overall health (my blood work continues to be outstanding!).

    Thank you!

    1. Ogg, it is indeed important for us to know!! Now only i know that meat need to and better to marinate befor we grill or cook it!!

  2. Ironically I am about to post about similar topics (meat vs veggies, why and what I eat), saw this post last minute on facebook. Good stuff, might try the cuban mojo one =) (loved it as a kid)

  3. This article makes me want to go home and cook! Can’t wait to try them all.

  4. Good stuff! I’ve been wanting to try making Tandoori chicken, now I’ll probably do it tonight! The Cuban Mojo looks fantastic, as well.

  5. This is going RIGHT in the catalog. I swear I have half the articles on this website bookmarked in one way or the other.

    When it comes to marinates or sauces like the ones above, I generally write them off as a freebie when detailing in my food log. But because most of these sauces are heavy on the olive oil, should I be counting it? Or, because it’s hard to measure, CAN it be counted? I’m always looking for ways to up my fat intake, and sometimes find it hard.

  6. Mark,
    Although I find the Primal Diet to be correct, I find it difficult to find a good collection of recipes that have not been covered in your book.
    When are you coming out with your book on Primal recipes? I wasn’t sure if it was you who said it, but I understand that the book would give an idea of meals to eat in a day.

    I Like Turtles

    1. Yes! I’ve got a cookbook in the pipeline. It is taking a bit longer than expected and I know many of you have shown interest. I’m trying to get it out ASAP without sacrificing on any quality. Thanks for your patience!

  7. Mark,

    This is a FANTASTIC post. This is actually the kind of thing that I have been thinking about working on for a site of my own, simply paleo or primal grilling recipes and tips. I think it’s really important for people to know how to enjoy cooking and make healthy food taste good. To me, a HUGE component of that is the herbs, spices, rubs, and marinades. If you get this right, you’re golden!


  8. Mmm, my mouth is watering!

    I have to say, I accidentally fell into the PB way of eating less than two weeks ago, after getting really, really frustrated with my 1 year at the gym with a trainer stint, but no apparent changes to my body. As a last ditch attempt at the nutrition issues, we (my PT and me) looked at anti-inflammatory eating, which is almost the PB way. But the other day, I noticed that eating only fruit (and lots of it!) for breakfast meant a very hungry Kristy indeed only 45 minutes later. Me and carbs don’t work! So, protein, here I come!

    So, here I am. Your site looks great, today’s recipes look wonderful and I will try them out.

    By the way, I’ve lost 10 pounds in 2 weeks, my hips have decreaed by 3 inches, my arms are now more muscle than fat… I am so happy!

  9. Kristy,

    Congratulations! keep it up! I am not one of the resident experts, but I’d say that “lots” of fruit is a lot of sugar, and that if you switched out some of it for good old fashioned veggies (again preparation is key to make them enjoyable,) you might experience a different outcome. More protein is great, and lower carbs is great, but broccoli and spinach may not jazz you up and crash you the way that a lot of fruit would. Personally, I try to limit to no more than 3 pieces of fruit a day.

    Mark, if I am off base here, or anyone else, for that matter, please weigh in.

    Keep up the great work!

  10. I do like the idea of these primal marinades! I haven’t actually experienced boredom eating primal, but here’s just another good way to prevent it at all!

    @ Kristy and James:
    You guys are right on. I can’t eat just fruit for breakfast or else I’m starving! I do keep track of my nutrients, and I aim to keep my carbs between about 50 and 100g a day, which is easy to do if you load up on veggies and a little trickier if you eat too much fruit. It seems to work for me. Also, I thought the article on the “Primal Blueprint Carbohydrate Curve,” linked on the right side of the webpage, was super-helpful.

  11. Wow, thank you for your comments! Yes, I wouldn’t have chosen to eat all fruit for breakfast, but I was out of my normal environment and it was either that, nothing at all or pastries! I tend to have some fruit and nuts at breakfast – which is very early in the morning, and this keeps ne going until around 11, when I have an early lunch. That’s the only time I have fruit in the day.

    I checked out my carb intake and it seems to be around the 75 mark each day – if I cut out the fruit, it would definitely go down! Still, I’m seeing fantastic results so I won’t get too obssessive (and I get easily obssessed, not in a good way!).

  12. Some of my favourites are:

    Soak some raspberries in balsamic vinegar overnight, add mango, olive oil and some chopped walnuts. Marinate for an hour. Great on pork. I usually bake it in the marinade.

    I also love to make ginger-rosemary chicken, mostly because rosemary grows like a weed in my yard. I marinate in lime or lemon juice for 2-3 hours and chuck in some fresh rosemary, ginger and marjoram or thyme if I’ve got it. I did not know about the acidic medium. No wonder my ginger-rosemary chicken is perfectly most one night and the leftovers were so chewy.

  13. Just tried number 2, the steak marinade. Totally awesome. My steak cooking life has just approached a new vista. :):)

  14. I fell of the wagon a bit, but with both my sister and bf out of town, I found myself some tim to make a scrumptous meal of tandoori chicken (minus the peppers, my dad has a sensitive gut). It was great and the colour was brilliant.

    I even took a photo! Hopefully a link to my photo…!

  15. I’m curious, is it supposed to be 2 tsp or 2 tbsp on the skirt steak marinade? I foolishly tried the 2tbsp as per above, and it was way too salty. I’m gonna try it again with 2 tsp instead.

  16. I’ve recently gotten into marinating since I’ve moved to Australia, and kangaroo is such a delectably healthy, convenient, and cheap meat here… unfortunately also on the tough side.

    So after reading this page, I’ve twice now marinated some kanga fillets in olive oil and apple cider vinegar and they’ve come out as tender and delightful as an expensive rib eye.

    HOWEVER… I am always telling people on my blog that you shouldn’t ever cook with olive oil because heating it damages the fats. So when I go to cook my marinated ‘Roo steaks dripping in olive oil…. I shudder, thinking “This can’t be good”.

    Thoughts anyone?

    1. As long as you don’t cook it in the marinade, its fine. Just pat the steaks dry in a paper towel when they’re done and stick them on the pan with some animal fat/butter/ghee. Or, you could use refined/non-extra virgin OO, though its less heat-stable, but an option in a recipe where you want to conserve an olive-y flavour.

  17. I hesitate to cook in EVOO now too. I use bacon fat, butter. I hear that refined coconut oil is good if you don’t want the oil to interfere with the marinade taste but I haven’t researched that. Anyone else?

  18. Great marinades, BUT, what about Sauces? I am looking for a delicious Paleo Steak Sauce! It seems that no one has made one! Any ideas??

  19. Thanx for all the recipe. I have tried some,namely chiken and lamb,they both taste delicious. Can’t thank you enough.

  20. What is the best way to cook most of these? I would like to try the Cuban Mojo tonight, but I know cooking can be a little touchy when using different types of marinades. Thanks!

  21. Tried the Cuban Mojo on venison backstraps (the filet mignon of venison). I needed a ‘quick’ marinade. I injected some into the meat and used the leftover marinade as a sauce by reducing it and adding more OJ along with a generous dollop of honey (locally harvested). It was outstanding.

    I live out in the country and harvest deer and upland game. Can’t get more ‘free range’ than that. I also process it all myself, so I take it from field to fork.

    Glad I found your website and I will be exploring it further.

  22. Well, I just tried marinade #2 and ruined four pounds of beautiful skirt steak. I should have known better than to use 2 TABLESPOONS of salt and gone with 2 teaspoons instead.

    1. Thank you… THAT was my question… 2 TABLESPOONS sounded scary..

  23. The Tandoori Chicken marinade is out-freakin’-standing. Marinated it 24 hours and it turned out perfectly. Thanks for the recipe!

    1. Hi! These look marvelous. Would someone please tell me, or where I can find in this article for the (NUMBER OF PIECES OF MEAT OR) THE # OF POUNDS TO BE USED FOR THESE LOVELY MARINADES?