Bust out the grill—it’s that time of year when the warm weather and longer days inspire us to cook outdoors. Rubs and marinades are an easy and healthy way to ensure flavorful, juicy results without adding a lot of fat or calories. Sure, you can turn to store-bought versions (which we sometimes do when we’re pressed for time), but for more reliably tasty results, we like to make our own.
Though they are both used to enhance flavor, rubs and marinades, technically speaking, are quite different. Marinades are liquid mixtures that normally include some sort of acid, like wine or vinegar, plus oil and herbs or spices. Besides making food more flavorful, the acid breaks down the muscle tissue, which makes it more tender and moist. (Marinating time varies depending on how delicate or tough the food is—scallops might marinate for 5 minutes, while chicken thighs can go overnight.) Rubs are combinations of herbs and spices that you rub (thus the name) all over meat, fish, vegetables or whatever you choose. They’re known as “dry rubs” when they contain only dry ingredients like spices, or “wet rubs” when they include wet ingredients like oil, mustard or fresh garlic. According to Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, rubs also create a protective layer around food that slightly insulates it from the direct heat of the grill and therefore helps keep it moist.
Here’s a collection of our six favorite rub and marinade recipes; many of these have been classics in our recipe developers’ home kitchens for years. We also have a handy chart with marinating and grilling times for our favorite types of poultry, meat, seafood and tofu. We chose cuts that cook quickly—so pay attention not to overcook them, to keep them juicy and tender. (For all the helpful grilling tips you’ll need, check out our Best Grilling Tips Ever.) If you’re not sure where to start, each rub and marinade recipe offers recommendations on the best pairings. With these recipes and our grilling tips in hand, you have enough combinations for an entire season’s worth of delectable, healthy dinners. Now, get out there and fire ’em up.