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How to Make a Great Marinade with What’s in Your Fridge

Skip the bottled marinades in favor of these simple sauce ideas. The best part? You already have the ingredients in your refrigerator!

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Variety of homemade sauces and salad dressings in mason jars including vinaigrette, ranch and honey mustardElena Veselova/Shutterstock

Bottled Salad Dressing

Lazy chefs, rejoice! There’s no mixing, blending or chopping involved in this marinade. All you have to do is grab that bottle of salad dressing from the fridge (whether it’s store-bought or a homemade variety like this). We’d say Italian, balsamic vinaigrette or another herbed vinaigrette work best to marinade your meat before grilling.

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freshly squeezed lemon juice in small bowlJoshua Resnick/Shutterstock

Lemon Juice

Lemon makes an excellent marinade, especially for grilled chicken. Just whisk it together with olive oil, garlic and some herbs and spices, like in our lemon chicken skewers recipe. The result is a tender and tangy dinner!

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Homemade Spicy Mustard Sauce on a BackgroundShutterstock/Brent Hofacker


It’s not just a condiment! Besides adding a kick (if you use a Dijon mustard or another spicy brown variety), mustard also thickens up a marinade, helping it stick to your meat better. Mix with vinegar, sugar and mayo, then rub the blend into chicken or pork.

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Wine glass and BottleAlekseyMorozov/Shutterstock

Red Wine

That half-drank bottle of Merlot or Cabernet from last night can pull double-duty as a marinade. The acidity of the alcohol will actually help tenderize the meat–all you need to add is a little salt and pepper… and, of course, a big juicy steak. (Here’s a recipe for flank steak.)

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Garlic Cloves and Bulb in vintage wooden bowlMarian Weyo/Shutterstock

Fresh Garlic

If you can’t get enough garlic, this one’s for you! The strong aroma of freshly grated cloves goes well with soy sauce, lemon juice, olive oil and rosemary to drizzle over chicken thighs. For best results, let sit overnight or at least 8 hours.

Here’s how to peel garlic cloves like Julia Child.

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A bowl of greek yogurtDani Vincek/Shutterstock

Greek Yogurt

Does your grilled chicken always turn out dry no matter what you try? You may want to consider marinating it in a mixture of Greek yogurt, spices and olive oil. The calcium and lactic acid in the yogurt break down the protein, making your meat more moist and tender.

For more tips on grilling up juicy chicken, check out our guide here.

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close view on fresh herbs bunchmarcin jucha/Shutterstock

Fresh Herbs

Dry spices are convenient but nothing beats the fresh flavor of herbs straight from the garden, especially in summer. You can get creative here: Start with a base of olive oil and maybe some vinegar, then toss in whatever herbs you enjoy (rosemary, mint, thyme, basil, oregano, etc.).

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Jar with delicious basil pesto sauce on tableShutterstock/Africa Studio


A delicious summer sauce made from pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and fresh basil (here’s our how-to guide), pesto also makes a zesty marinade. It can work on any type of meat but its fresh light flavor is perfect for salmon. You’ll love this Pesto Grilled Salmon recipe.

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ice coffeeiMoa Kiatbordin Doojai/Shutterstock

Cold Brew Coffee

Coffee and steak: Don’t knock it ’til you try it!

Marinating red meat with coffee helps keep proteins tender, and the slightly bitter coffee will complement the charred flavor of any steak. Just blend 1 cup strong coffee with soy sauce, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce for a savory marinade. (But keep in mind that caffeine does not cook out.)

Amanda Tarlton
As both a freelance lifestyle writer and editor for a national teen magazine, Amanda spends most of her time creating #content. In those (rare) moments when she's not at her desk typing furiously, she's likely teaching a hot yoga class, reading the latest chick-lit or baking a batch of her famous scones.