Complete Guide to Marinating Meat

Asabasa Spice Co.

Complete Guide to Marinating Meat

So you want to know how to make a marinade that brings out the fullest flavor of your meat?


Ask and you shall receive, as we are happy to respond to popular demand and provide this guide on how to marinate meat, from concept to method and finally some ingredients to try for yourself.


What is a Marinade?

Before we get into the nitty gritty chemistry of how a marinade can enhance the flavor of your meat, it is important to understand what a marinade is, what it is supposed to do, and the basic components necessary to make it work. 


A marinade, put simply, is a mixture of ingredients for the purpose of enhancing the texture and the flavor of meat. An effective marinade should not completely change or overpower a piece of meat’s natural taste, but will add complementary flavors. 


An added benefit comes from a marinade’s softening, or tenderizing, function. This is because the enzymes and acids in marinades work to break down the fat and protein in meat in a process called denaturing, making for a softer and more tender piece of meat. 


However, be careful not to let meat sit in an enzymatic marinade for too long, as you might wind up with just a mushy mess.


A marinade is composed of four basic components: 

  1. Oils
  2. Acids
  3. Water
  4. Seasonings

1. Oils

Oils are essential to help seal juices in meat and keep it from drying out while cooking. They also contribute to the flavor of the dish and help offset the water in the marinade. 


Be careful with the quantity of oil, as applying too much can cause flare-ups and possible burning. A good rule of thumb is to make oil less than 25% of your marinade recipe, as too much oil can also create a coating around the meat and not allow the other ingredients of the marinade to penetrate the surface.


Two of the best oils to consider using in marinades are canola and olive oil, or even a blend of each. Olive oils are a great choice health-wise, as they are high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.


Do note, however, that since oil and water do not mix, emulsifying agents such as soy or Worcestershire sauce are necessary to see to it that the marinade mixes evenly. 


Such sauces not only bring water and oil together, but also add quite a good deal of flavor themselves. Just be sure to use them in moderation so as not to overpower the natural flavor of the meat.


2. Acids

As mentioned previously, acids work to break down the tissues in meat and help make the meat juicier.


Popular acids to include in marinades include vinegars, citrus juices and wine. 


Flavor is the most important factor to consider when choosing an acid, as certain acids naturally pair better with certain kinds of meat. For example, bourbon traditionally pairs well with citrus juices or vinegars. 


3. Water

Water is essential in a marinade for multiple reasons, as it not only acts as a carrier for flavorful spices, but also assists in the diffusion process, by which additives in a marinade seep into the meat.


One tip is to keep the proportion of water roughly in line with the amount of oil in the recipe, given that they offset each other in the marinade.


4. Seasonings

Last but certainly not least, seasonings are where you can get really creative with your marinade recipe.


Staples of the pantry include rosemary, thyme, pepper, garlic, and basil. We are big fans of Merquén spice ourselves and recommend you give it a try if you are looking for a rich and smoky blend of such spices as oregano, cumin and coriander.


Experiment with impunity to find exciting new combinations of flavors to get the most out of your marinade.


How to Marinade Like a Professional 

So now that the basics are out of the way, it’s time to talk strategy.


A simple and effective way to marinade meat is to place your marinade and the meat together in a carefully sealed zip lock bag. Make sure to squeeze out most of the air in the bag first, as this will help preserve the freshness of the ingredients and let you get the most out of your marinade. 


With this method, ensure that all sides of the meat become evenly coated with marinade by repeatedly shaking and flipping over the bag. It is also a good idea to place the bag in a bowl or container even if sealed carefully, just in case of any small holes.


Another strategy is to skip the bag and marinate directly in a container. If you choose this option, make sure the lid of the container is air-tight, as in addition to preserving the freshness of your marinade, it is also important for preventing the stray odors and flavors of other foods in the refrigerator from entering your mix.


If marinating outside of a plastic bag, a natural way to apply marinade is to spread it on one side of the meat, flip the meat over with a pair of tongs, and then spread it on the other side. 


Feel free to be generous with the marinade and take care to make sure all pieces of meat are coated evenly. Avoid using a fork when handling the meat, as the holes you create will allow juice to run out.


When finished applying the marinade of choice to your meat, be sure to always place it in the refrigerator. Thicker pieces of meat naturally require a longer marinating time, with thirty minutes per ounce a reasonable guideline.


With that said, a good rule of thumb is to never marinate for more than four hours, as the marinade breaks down the texture of meat over time and an over-extended marination period might leave the meat mushy. 


It is sometimes okay to marinate for longer in the case of very dense meat, but most of the benefits will come in the first few hours anyway and it is better to be safe than sorry.


Do note, however, that fish should be marinated for no more than 30 minutes if using an acidic recipe. Otherwise, it is still a good idea to top out the marinating time for fish at a maximum of 1-2 hours, as it has a very different protein structure from meats such as beef or chicken.


Since most marinades won’t be able to penetrate much of the meat anyway, you’re more likely to get benefits from a marinade when using a leaner cut. We recommend bison meat, as it is lean, high in heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids, and filled with vitamins and minerals.


Do’s and Don’ts of Marinating Meat


DO: Keep meat cold at all times until ready to begin the marinade. In the case of freezer storage, it is also important to defrost the meat first in the refrigerator, unless it is your intention to thaw the meat while marinating.


DON’T: Mix too many salts in the marinade, or rely too much on salt in general. While we have our reasons for recommending less salt, the simple fact is that salts tend to dry food out, and there’s no going back when meat sits too long in a salty marinade and ends up dried out as a result.


DO: Always marinate meat in the refrigerator. Keep it cold at all times and don’t marinate out on the dining room table or kitchen counter.


DON’T: Ever re-use marinade. It’s fine to make a large batch and store it in the refrigerator for later, but once you thaw some out and mix with meat, that’s it. Try using ice cube trays to store marinade until you are ready to thaw it out under some warm water and apply to your meat of choice.


Do: Use fresh ingredients to give your homemade marinade more flavor. Your health will also benefit, as you can avoid the sodium-filled and preservative-laced store-bought marinades.


Don’t: Waste money on expensive cooking wine. Many store-bought cooking wines are very salty and will contain the leftovers from other wines. After all, the wine changes when cooked anyway, making cheaper wines matched carefully with your meat a better option.


Next Steps

Now that you know the ins and outs of marinating meat, it’s time to put what you’ve learned into practice and start your journey towards becoming a maestro of the marinade.


When experimenting with herbs and spices to liven up your marinades, check out our array of unique blends and see if one strikes your fancy.


Alternatively, you can always browse YouTube for some creative do-it-yourself marinade recipes.


Happy marinating, and do let us know in the comments below any delicious recipes that you come up with.

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Smoked Port Butt Tutorial (Smoked Pork Shoulders)

Asabasa Spice Co.

If you’re reading this, my hope is that your starting to get interested in learning how to smoke…meat that is! By no means would I consider myself an expert, but I’m someone who is willing to try over and over again to smoke the best tasting meat possible.  This tutorial will hopefully help you to create some amazing Smoked Pork Butt!

In this article I want to give you a beginners guide to smoking pork butts. (You may hear these referred to as “pork shoulders” or “Boston Butts”) For beginners I really don’t think it’s important to get into the specifics of the cut of meat, where it comes from on the animal, or any other details that don’t really apply to someone just looking to smoke some pork for themselves or nice backyard BBQ for friends. What I aim to help you with today is a simple step by step process that will help you have a great meal and hopefully get you hooked on smoking meat!

I’m going to assume while writing this that you already own and know how to operate your smoker. Personally, I use the Classic Kamado Joe and absolutely love it. But I’m not going to get into grill specifics or anything like that. Please keep in mind that there are so many different ways to do this, and if you’re a pro at this and disagree with my technique, I’m happy to learn something from you too!


Step 1: Plan Out Your Smoke

This is not a quick process! Smoking a pork butt takes time, and patience. Think everything through making sure you have everything you need for your entire smoke before you get started. Besides the obvious (the meat) you’re going to need wood chunks, spices for your rub, a binding agent (we’ll cover that later), tin foil, and plenty of beer! There’s nothing worse than getting ready to start this process and realizing you are out of a certain spice or down to the last little bit of tin foil. Plan it out, and make sure you avoid these rookie mistakes.


Step 2: Buying the Meat 

For a beginner, don’t spend too much time trying to find the perfect pork butt. If this is your first or one of your first times, you’re really not going to know what you’re looking for and I don’t recommend spending a fortune on premium meat for your first few smokes. Your local Costco, Sams, or any of the other bulk food stores should sell pork butts in a package of 2. You can typically get it for somewhere between $30 - $40, and you’ll get a ton of great meat. Don’t overthink it. But as with anything else, ask the butcher to help you pick a package out if you just can’t decide on your own.


Step 3: Preparing the Meat

One thing I wish I would have invested in earlier on was a good knife. In this step you’re going to be trimming fat off the butt and you’re going to want a good knife to do it with. I use a 10” curved boning knife and it works wonderfully. I got it off Amazon for like $40 and it is worth every penny. Again, if this is your first smoke, don’t try and do too much. If you have a significant other and they are anything like mine, they will tell you to cut off all the fat. DO NOT LISTEN. Give them a sip of your beer, a kiss on the cheek and tell them respectively to go away. The flavor you get from your meat will largely come from the rub you use, and the fat that will be rendered down during the cook. In fact, I rarely have anyone use BBQ when they eat my pork butt because it just simply doesn’t need it. I trim the fat cap down a little because most of that is going to melt off into the grill and won’t be absorbed into the meat anyways. But I will not spend a lot of time trying to cut out every little piece of fat I see because it just provides so much moisture and flavor.

Once you have your butt trimmed to your liking, you have a choice to make. To use, or not to use a binding agent. I use them, I always have and have never had issues. Some say this cuts down on the “bark” you get from your smoke but I’ve never seemed to have that issue. If you choose to use a binding agent, pick between olive oil or yellow mustard. You will not taste either of these when the smoking is complete. The purpose is strictly to help your rub stick to the meat. (A tip here is to have one hand clean and use it to squeeze the mustard or pour the oil onto the pork butt, and use your other hand to rub it in. Same goes for the actual rub. Some people use food service gloves while doing this which works well too.) Apply the mustard or oil but don’t overdo it. Using too much will only make this process more messy and you really only need enough to get the rub to stick.

Once you’ve applied your binding agent, it’s time to get your butt rubbed down. I am extremely generous when it comes to the rub. I love to have a nice thick layer of it and without sounding too creepy, I get it into every nook and cranny possible. You will get so much flavor from your rub, and I’ll even shake some into my pulled pork sometimes just to give it that extra hit of flavor!

Now that the rub is applied, you’re ready to get smoking! I like to cover my butts loosely in foil and leave them refrigerated for a few hours but it’s totally up to you. I just think it helps the meat absorb some of that rub, but that’s not a scientific fact by any means!



Again, I’m assuming you know how to use your smoker so I’m not going to get into that, but before we get into the smoking process, I do want to let you know that my wood preference is a mix of hickory and apple. I’ve tried a bunch of different mixes and individual woods, but I love the flavor the mix of hickory and apple gives me.

The key with pork butts is LOW and SLOW. Don’t rush it and don’t put yourself in a position where people are waiting on you and expecting your food to be done at a certain time. I’ve had some butts get to temp in as little as 12hrs, and others took 20hrs. This will all depend on your smoker and your meat, and potentially the weather. So don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself by trying to fit this into a small time window. You might even consider starting the smoke before going to bed if you can do that.

I like to cook my butts at 225 degrees (I won’t freak out if it goes up into the 230 – 240 range but I don’t like it to get much hotter than that.), and I’m looking for an internal meat temperature of 205 before I’ll pull it off. I’d highly recommend a leave in thermometer for monitoring the temperature. There are all kinds of them including units that can sync with your phone so you can monitor your temperature from anywhere. You’ll see that your temps will rise fairly quickly once the butts are on the smoker at 225 degrees. It’s not uncommon to see a 50 degree increase in internal temperature in as little as 90 min. But don’t get too excited because that will slow down drastically, when you start approaching the 160 degree mark! This is referred to as “The Stall”. It’s easily the most frustrating part of smoking pork butts. Without getting into the science of it, your pork butt is going to sit at an internal temp around 160 degree for what seems like an eternity. Typically my “stall” lasts around 3 hrs and then the pork butts will start increasing temps quicker. You can choose to deal with this issue one of 2 ways. You can just leave it alone (my preference) or you can do what we call the “Texas Crutch” which is where you take the pork butts and wrap them tightly in aluminum foil and put them back on the smoker. Admittedly the “Texas Crutch” works. You will get through the stall much quicker and reach your intended internal temp in a few less hours. But the trade off is the bark formation on the pork butts. Some will tell you, you can still get great bark with wrapping it, but I’ve never had good luck with it. The meat will absolutely taste the same but you’re running a risk of not getting that great bark formation. During your cook, I would recommend spritzing your pork shoulders with a mixture of apple juice, water, and a little bit more rub, every 2 hrs. This seems to help impart a little more flavor and moisture into the meat. Make sure you do it quickly however because you don’t want to open your grill for too long and mess up your temperature. Remember, if you’re looking, you’re not cooking! Keep that smoker closed unless your spraying or wrapping. Looking at the meat will not make it cook faster, in fact it has the opposite effect. So take your instagram pictures before and after and don’t spend time opening the grill.

Once the pork butts reach an internal temperature of 205 they are good to pull off the grill. If you’re smoking bone in butts, you’ll know you’ve hit the jackpot if the shoulder blade pulls out easy. If you’re not going to eat right away, I’d recommend double wrapping your butts in aluminum foil, then wrapping those in towels and placing in a cooler until you’re ready to eat. This will hold temp for quite a few hours as long as you have a decent cooler.

To pull the pork I’d recommend getting a pair of bear claws and some heat resistant silicon gloves. This will make life a lot easier and less painful! I’d strongly recommend, once it’s pulled to shake a little more rub onto the meat and mix it up. If you’re a BBQ sauce kind of person, that’s fine but at least give it a try without sauce first. I think you’ll find the combination between your rub, smoke, and moisture of the meat to be all you need!

That’s all there is too it! Have fun with this and take down notes as you cook so you’ll remember details about what you did. This helps you learn your smoker too so you can really hone in on the time it will take you to cook. Enjoy your pork on sandwiches, tacos, salads, etc. It’s such versatile meat and easily my favorite to cook. I hope I’ve been some help, and if you have questions please feel free to ask!



Photo of Casey Matthews

About the Author

Casey Matthews resides in Fargo, North Dakota with his wife and daughter where he is the Director of Men's Basketball Operations at North Dakota State University.  He loves to smoke meat on his Classic Kamado Joe smoker and is a proud user of Asabasa Spice Co. spice blends!

You can follow Casey on Twitter @cmatt33 or Instagram @c_matt33.

Email him your questions or feedback at!

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Don't be Salty! Why Spice Blends are Better than Salt

Asabasa Spice Co.


At the center of every table and at the front of most spice cabinets is the salt shaker.  Typically, when looking to add flavor to a dish, salt is the first thing that the average cook reaches for.  However, we are here to let you know that if you truly want a delicious, satisfying, out-of-this-world dish, you will abandon the salt for the new kid in town; the spice blend.

While it is true that salt will bring out the natural flavors of meats, vegetables, and fruits, most people do not know how to use it correctly.  A dish can easily become ruined by the addition of too much salt, or the scarcity of not enough.  Additionally, there are so many flavors that the average cook leaves untouched because they are afraid of ruining their food.  With a spice blend, you don’t have to be afraid.

Thoughtfully Crafted

Spice blends, like the Everything But Salt Grinder, are created by thinking through the flavor profile of each contributing spice and how that profile will play off of the others within the blend.  This thoughtful process of crafting spice blends allows for the fullest flavor potential to be brought out in every food that it is added to.


Do you want something that you can pull out of the cupboard and throw on meats, veggies, and more without having to think it through? Yes? Then a spice blend is made for you! The perfectly balanced concoction of herbs and spices allows the blend to be used in virtually any dish you are creating. If you are busy, you can literally put the same spice blend on your meat dish and your side dish without creating a blunder.  Because spice blends are so thoughtfully created, they bring out the best flavors of each individual dish, making them taste different even though they were seasoned the same.


Salt can be a concern for many people battling health issues or for those who are conscious about their health.  The extreme use of salt can lead to health concerns such as high blood pressure, dehydration and liver disease.  In some serious cases, too much salt can also translate into an increased risk of cancer or kidney failure. 

With that being said, because they do not include salt, spice blends actually have health benefits. For example, garlic is good for the heart, and onions can help to regulate blood sugar. Each herb and spice within a blend has its own individual benefit that it brings to the table (literally), making for a healthy and delicious additive.


Asabasa Spice Co. Salt Free Blends

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Spice Up Your Life With Merquen

Asabasa Spice Co.

If you want to use a spice that has as an exciting of a background as it does a flavor, then look no further. We would like to introduce you to Merquén. Deep in the mountainous regions of southern Chile lie the villages of the Mapuche people.  This indigenous culture is considered to be the direct descendants of the pre-hispanic culture in South America. This strong culture of war-minded people avoided being overthrown by the Spanish explorers for decades. In modern day, the Mapuche people live in urban areas of Chile and have attributed to an increasing popularity of Mapuche cultural dishes and the traditional Mapuche signature spice, Merquén.

What does Merquén taste like?

The first thing that you need to know about Merquén is it is delicious.  As far as the flavor palate, it is rich, smoky, and carries a kick.  Merquén is made from ground, smoked chiles combined with sea salt and other spices such as oregano, cumin, and coriander. You can probably imagine the warmth and comfort of this Chilean spice by just reading about it.  It's the perfect blend of spicy and flavorful, making it a wonderful addition to many dishes.

What kind of dishes can Merquén be used in?

The Mapuche people traditionally used Merquén as a rub for things such as cheeses and meaty nuts like almonds and walnuts.  However, the modern-day Mapuche people and the U.S. food industry have expanded the possibilities for this delicious spice.  To really live up to its full potential, Merquén can be used as a rub on different meats as well as the main spice in meat-based soups and stews. If you aren't into meats, no sweat you can still experience the deliciousness that is Merquén.  Try it out in your next lentil dish, sauce, or in a rich, smoky vegetable side dish of onions, potatoes, or squash. 


So, the next time you want to spice up your life, be sure to add Merquén to your menu. If you want to try a blend at home, the Merquén blend by Asabasa Spice Co. is a blend of spicy and sweet chiles with sea salt and a mix of spices, perfect for your first try at a Mapuche dish.

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3 Reasons the Original “Red Meat” is Best for You!

Asabasa Spice Co.

Although you may be hearing a lot about bison meat lately, the delicious, nutritious meat is nothing new.  Humans have been consuming bison meat for as long as bison have been roaming the plains, which is a very long time.  If you are looking for a tasty way to add diversity to your weekly menu, but are conscious about only putting the best into your body, look no further. Bison is your new best friend, here’s why.


Just how lean are we talking? The answer is really lean.  When compared to chicken, bison meat has approximately the same amount of protein, but nearly 5g less fat.  However, since it is a red meat, we should probably compare it to tried and true beef as well.  When up against beef, bison meat has 1g more protein AND 16g less fat. That is some lean meat.

If you aren’t familiar with the health benefits of lean meat, you should be. Lean meat, because it is packed with protein and low in fat, helps you to build muscles, strengthen your organs and quickly repair damage to the cells in your body. 


When looking for a meat option that is high in Omega 3 Fatty Acids, most people typically turn to salmon.  Those people must not know about bison.  Bison meat has the same amount of Omega 3’s per serving as salmon, which ranges between 1-2g.  However, bison meat is much more versatile.  Bison can be used ground, or in steaks, chops or roasts.  These cut options lead to many more options for meals than the traditional salmon filet. If you choose to eat bison for Omega 3 benefits, you won’t ever be bored!


Not only is bison lean, but it is packed with nutrients. One of the most prominent vitamins in bison meat is the B vitamin.  In one serving of bison meat, you can get a hefty dose of vitamins B-6 and B-12, which are responsible for healthy skin, hair, and eyes.  Additionally, a serving of bison meat also provides high daily values of iron, zinc, and phosphorus.  These vitamins will help you to build strong bones and increase the oxygen levels in your blood, leading to a healthier body and healthier you!

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