And as for those complicated flavor combinations, subtlety tends to go out the window when it’s asked to compete with the primal flavors of meat and char.
Surprisingly, simply generously seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper will work wonders for flavor. This is particularly true if you do this 30 to 45 minutes in advance.
I use Lindberghs Steak seasoning on virtually everything. My girlfriend marinates flank steak in a soy sauce based marinade all day & it tastes great. I'd only marinate a tougher cut of beef. Never a good steak.
Try this sometime: Cook three steaks, one that has been salted and peppered in advance, one that has been seasoned just before grilling and a third that is seasoned only afterward. The difference is astonishing. Steak seasoned at the end tastes like meat with salt. Steak seasoned just before grilling is a bit better. But steak seasoned early has a deep, complex flavor and a much richer brown crust.
If you do want to get more complex with marinades, remember that it's going to take some big flavors to stand up to the taste of seared meat -- use garlic, shallots and other members of the onion family and dried peppers and other spices.
Acidity should be considered more a flavoring than a tenderizer -- and it’s an important one. Because most of the meats we grill are fairly fatty (that’s what makes them good for the grill), adding vinegar or citrus juice is a good balance.
The notable exception to the rule that marinades only work skin-deep is brining. That’s because salty water can more easily penetrate the meat than an oil-based marinade.
And brining does more than just give flavor. It actually makes the meat seem juicier by increasing protein’s ability to retain moisture.
Dry-brining -- liberally salting the meat and letting it stand for several hours or even days -- does much the same thing. What happens in this case is that the salt pulls moisture from the surface, dissolves in that liquid and then is absorbed deep into the meat.
This can take as little as a couple of hours for a thin fish fillet, a half-day for thin steaks or three or four days for a whole turkey.
Simply salting meat and letting it stand may not have the romance of more complicated marinades, but it works.
By RUSS PARSONS