Amp Up Your Grilling Flavor

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
16 PHOTOS
Amp Up Your Grilling Flavor
See Gallery
Amp Up Your Grilling Flavor

Mastered the basic grilling techniques? Take your cooking to the next level with these flavor enhancers.

Image Credit: Greg Schneider

Flavor Accessories at a Glance

The best way to divide these four flavoring elements is by when they're used: Marinades and rubs go on before cooking, mop sauces during cooking, and barbecue sauces toward the end of cooking or after the food comes off the grill. Read on to find out more info on the differences.

Image Credit: jupiterimages

Marinade

What It Is
A marinade is a liquid mixture of fat, such as oil (for flavor and moisture), and acid, such as vinegar (for penetration and some tenderizing) that flavors food during a precooking soak. Yogurt and buttermilk, common ingredients in marinades, contain both the fat and the acid as one ingredient. Marinades generally only penetrate the outer quarter inch of the ingredient you'll be grilling, but since you get some of the surface with each bite, this is enough.

Marinades are popular in many cuisines around the globe: Indian tandoori chicken is marinated in yogurt, while Mediterranean cooks like to marinate beef and lamb in red wine and olive oil. Marinades are great on leaner or blander foods that could use some extra moisture and/or flavor, and also tougher cuts of meat, such as flank steak, that need tenderizing.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Marinade

How to Use It
Thirty minutes to two hours before cooking (any earlier and food could get mushy), soak food in a nonreactive (i.e. glass, plastic, or stainless-steel, not aluminum) container in the refrigerator. Resealable plastic bags also work well. Drain before cooking.

How Long Does It Keep?
The fresher the better, says Karmel—flavors will be brighter if you use a marinade immediately. However, in a pinch most marinades can be refrigerated up to two days.

Image Credit: Flickr/AloneAlbatross

Marinade

Karmel's Tip
Don't put used marinade on cooked food, warns Karmel—it could be contaminated with microbes from the raw meat. If you want to reuse a marinade, you must boil it for three minutes.

Another Option
A variation on a marinade is a brine. Rather than combining fat and acid, this is simply a salty liquid. Food soaked in a brine absorbs the liquid and the salt, adding moisture and flavor.

Get the recipe: The only marinade you'll ever need

Image Credit: Flickr/Dave77459

Rub

What It Is
A rub is a powder or paste of herbs, spices, or other ingredients that's patted onto food before cooking. The ingredients slightly penetrate the meat and also form a crust that flavors each bite.

Rubs are great on fattier meats that can benefit from a crisp, toasty crust, such as pork ribs, pork loin, lamb chops, salmon, and skin-on chicken. They're popular in classic American barbecue, where they're used on slow-cooked items like barbecued ribs, often in conjunction with a mop or barbecue sauce.

Image Credit: jupiterimages

Rub

How to Use It
The word "rub" is actually a misnomer: About 15 to 20 minutes before cooking, sprinkle then gently pat the rub onto the surface of the food. If you want the flavor to sink in deeper, you can season foods the night before.

How Long Does It Keep?
Rubs are a great make-ahead option: Most keep for several months in an airtight container at room temperature.

Image Credit: jupiterimages

Rub

Karmel's Tip
If you put your rub on the night before, says Karmel, don't include salt: The salt would draw out the juices and leave the meat dry. Instead, sprinkle the meat with salt just before cooking.

Get the recipe: The Original Three-Ingredient Rub

Image Credit: Flickr/Another Pint Please...

Mop Sauce

What It Is
A mop sauce is a thin liquid, often based on tomato juice, vinegar, apple cider, beer, or a combination of these ingredients, that's brushed or "mopped" onto food numerous times during cooking. Mops are typically used with tougher cuts of meat that need long cooking over low heat—the basting keeps the meat from drying out and also enhances the flavor. Mops are typical of many types of regional American barbecue, in which food is slowly cooked over smoky wood chips. Often a barbecue recipe will include several flavoring components: a rub used before cooking, a mop applied during cooking, and a barbecue sauce added at the end.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Mop Sauce

How to Use It
Moisten the food approximately every 20 minutes or so while it's over the coals. (The best tool for picking up the liquid and keeping your hands away from the heat is a silicone-bristled brush with a long, angled handle. You can also use a squirt bottle or baster.) Be sure to close the grill's lid again immediately after mopping. If you're using wood chips for smoke, allow the food to absorb the smoke with the lid closed for about 45 minutes before starting to mop.

Image Credit: jupiterimages

Mop Sauce

How Long Does It Keep?
Mop sauces are best made the day of cooking. Luckily, they often have few ingredients and are easy to mix up quickly.

Get the recipe: Mop 101: Simple Apple Cider Mop

Image Credit: Flickr/Cy-V

Barbecue Sauce

What It Is
Strictly speaking, a barbecue sauce is anything that's put on food toward the end of cooking or after the food comes off the grill. In American barbecue, sauces vary widely by region, from the thin, tangy, tomato-based sauce used on Texas brisket to the sweet, sticky sauce on Kansas City–style ribs. It's this last type that's most well-known to non–barbecue experts, as it's the style of most bottled barbecue sauces. Many cooks make the mistake of using sweet barbecue sauce as a marinade or during cooking. However, because of its high sugar content, it's best added during the last few minutes over the coals to prevent the sugar from burning. This will give the sugar just enough time to caramelize into a thick coating.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Barbecue Sauce

How to Use It
During the last 5 to 15 minutes of cooking, brush the sauce on using a long-handled silicone brush.

How Long Does It Keep?
Barbecue sauce is best made ahead: Often the flavors will improve after they have a day or two to meld. Homemade sauce will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Barbecue Sauce

Another Option
A variation on a barbecue sauce is a sweet glaze. Often based on jelly or jam, a glaze is typically thinner than a sauce and adds sheen and depth of flavor rather than a thick coating. Like barbecue sauces, glazes should be brushed on during the final minutes of cooking to avoid burning.

Image Credit: Pinterest/SliceofChic

more flavoring ideas:

Karmel reminds us that the options listed above are just the most common ways of adding flavor before and during cooking. There are also numerous options to use after the food comes off the grill—for instance:

  • An herb butter is great on top of steak or fish.
  • Pork and chicken are delicious with a fresh salsa or relish.
  • Pestos, chimichurris, and tapanades are a fantastic garnish for almost any grilled ingredient.
  • Dipping sauces are served at the table for diners to customize their own flavors.

Image Credit: jupiterimages

of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

By Sarah Kagan

OK, you've got your grilling basics down. You're familiar with the various types of barbecue fuel, when to use direct versus indirect heat, how to arrange the grill for each method, and when to take the food off. (For a complete guide to these techniques and more, see our grilling primer.)

According to Elizabeth Karmel, author of Soaked, Slathered, and Seasoned: A Complete Guide to Flavoring Food for the Grill, the answer lies in what she calls "flavor accessories." You see, she explains, great grilling is only half about how you actually cook the ingredients. Once you've got that part down, the key to making it your own is learning how to add flavor in different ways. There are various options to accomplish this: The most common are marinades, rubs, mop sauces, and barbecue sauces. Once you understand how to use these building blocks, you can mix and match them to take the same type of grilled meat in dozens of different directions.

Karmel walked us through each of these four methods, and shared her recipes for each. Check out the slideshow above for her side-by-side comparison, and click on the links for recipes and more in-depth explanations.

5 Common Recipe Mistakes
Best Burger Recipes
Make a Better Roast Chicken
Easy Family Dinners

Read Full Story

Sign up for Best Bites by AOL and receive delicious recipes delivered to your inbox daily!

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners

Search Recipes