My summer grilling exploits go one of two ways. Either I plan the menu weeks in advance, scribbling grocery lists in the margins of my work notebook and scheduling prep by the hour, or I wake up some Saturday with the immediate, fervid desire to light my charcoal Smokey Joe. Both versions are great because either way the day ends with the smell of smoke in my hair and something with grill marks on the table. But my approach to marinating differs depending on the circumstances.
While many ingredients benefit from a bath in a flavorful brew, some need just a speedy dunk, whereas others get better with an overnight soak. I let the clock be my guide and opt for proteins that I know will take on maximum flavor in whatever time I have. That’s where these five recipes come in, ranging in marinade time from shorter than a sitcom episode to as long as a 24-hour getaway. No matter what your countdown looks like, they’re here to help you get your grill on—with options for carnivores, seafood lovers, and vegetarians alike.
If you have 15 minutes
Seafood is the poster child for speedy marinating—a quick bath is all it needs to take on flavor, and it cooks in minutes. In fact, any longer than a 15-minute soak and the acidic component of your marinade will “cook” delicate seafood—a technique used to make ceviche.
If you have 30 minutes
While it takes a while for marinades to work their way into meat, pressed tofu acts like a sponge, soaking up a ton of flavor in no time at all.
If you have at least 1 hour
Make use of this dish’s chill time for these chicken wings by quick-pickling a crunchy vegetable accompaniment while you wait.
If you have at least 2 hours
Skirt steak takes well to marinades because of its loose muscle structure, and pricking it all over with a knife helps even more flavor to penetrate. Two hours gives the tough cut enough time to tenderize and take on the savory brightness of balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce.
If you have at least 4 hours
Hearty pork shoulder is made for long marinating. Four hours will yield great results, but setting it up a day ahead of grilling will imbue the meat with even more garlicky, citrusy flavor.