Home-made marinade: Real, good, and gluten-free

friday food marinades

If you’ve been following along on my food journey, you might remember that at the last stop I realized the need to learn some cooking fundamentals. An improvised quinoa dish got me realizing that the ability to improvise is the thing that will keep us well-fed.

I decided to start my education with something simple:  marinade.

Why marinade?

For starters, grilling is great for a non-cook like me. It’s easy and it’s easy to make things that taste good.

grilled tenderloin

Marinade makes meat more flavorful and more tender–which means we can buy cheaper cuts, something that matters when you’re feeding two teens (plus one kid) and two gas tanks.

More importantly (for me), getting sick after eating some bottled steak sauce (that may or may not be gluten-free–I can’t really find out for sure) has pretty much turned me off to any kind of sauce, marinade, or dressing that isn’t explicitly labeled “gluten-free.”

san-j soy sauce

I now only buy sauces that say "gluten-free" on the label.

Now that we’ve got a kick-ass grill located on the deck off our kitchen, I’m even more excited about marinades.

weber grill hood

So what’s in marinade?

After doing a little research (Googling “marinade ratio”), I discovered that marinade is basically this:

  • 3 parts oil to 1 part acid (often vinegar)
  • flavorings:  salt, herbs/aromatics, sugars

That’s it.

marinade ingredients

There are lots of marinade recipes online, some pretty complicated. I don’t want complicated. I want something I can throw together with ingredients I’m likely to have. Now that I know the fundamentals of marinade, I can do just that.

Recently, I wanted to grill some chicken breasts, which are always more fun with a little extra flavor.


I almost always have some cilantro in the fridge.

So, I pulled out some basic olive oil and red wine vinegar (oil and acid). I added some fresh lime juice (also an acid), some cilantro (herb/aromatic), some salt, some onion, and some agave nectar (sweetener).

I chopped up the stuff that could be chopped and mixed everything else with the chopped stuff in a shallow glass dish.

marinade ingredients in bowl

I’d love to give you a recipe, but I don’t have one. Other than the 3:1 ratio, I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to amounts. I put in stuff until it seems/looks right. I really like cilantro, so I put in quite a bit of that. I had one lime, so I squeezed as much juice out of it as I could.

I put chicken breasts in the dish, covered it, and let it sit overnight in the fridge. (I usually let things marinade overnight, but I’ve read that you can let them marinade on the counter for as little as 30 minutes with good results. Haven’t tried that yet myself.) It was yummy (but I didn’t get any pictures).

This week we decided to grill some pork tenderloin, and we created a teryiaki-ish marinade for it.  We used 3 parts vegetable oil with 1 part pineapple juice. Added some gluten-free soy sauce, pineapple chunks, and garlic, and called it good.

pork grilling

Good it was.

pork tenderloin dinner

The more I read labels, the more interested I am in eating real, whole foods. When I want/need the kind of thing I used to buy in a box or bottle, more and more I’m making my own.

Marinade is a small thing, but I’m finding it’s an easy way to keep myself moving on this food journey I’ve begun. It takes only a few minutes, it’s less expensive than store-bought marinades, and (most importantly for me) it’s easy.

Some grilled meat, with some fruit and vegetables, makes a great simple meal. I’m realizing that I don’t need to have a bunch of recipes to feed us well.

cane at dinner

Do you think he's wishing I'd just put the camera down already and eat?

If you want more inspiration for eating a whole-foods diet, check out this post from An Oregon Cottage, about the role whole foods has played in finding a natural approach to attaining a healthy weight.

dinner on table

And if you’ve got any great tips for marinade or grilling, please share! We love hearing from you in the comments. 

(If you’re wanting more information about how we re-habbed our old-but-new-to-us grill, we’ll have that coming up next week. We’d love it if you’d subscribe or follow us, to make sure you don’t miss it.)