Barbecue, an American Tradition

Barbecue is as American as apple pie. It's aroma evokes memories of baseball games, swimming and family vacations. Mouths water when the grill is fired up. Preparing meat for the barbecue is just as important as the cooking itself. Marinating infuses flavor into the meat, ensuring a delicious family meal that will not be easily forgotten.

Marinating is the process of steeping meat in a mixture of an acid (i.e. vinegar, lemon juice, or wine) and spices (i.e. salt, pepper, and herbs.) The acid tenderizes the meat causing it to hold more liquid, making it juicier and more flavorful. Care must be taken when making the marinade, as too much acid will toughen the meat. When marinating poultry, poke holes in the meat with a fork, or use a needle injector. Removing the skin allows the marinade to fully penetrate the meat. (Leaving the skin on compromises the flavor.) Poultry can be refrigerated in a covered container for up to 2 days in a marinade. (Meat should always be covered in the refrigerator.) The time for marinating depends on the size of the pieces as well as the kind of meat. Chicken breast takes longer than steak because it is firmer. To reduce the amount of time needed for marinating cut the meat into smaller pieces. You can also pound chicken flat to cut time.

There are a variety of containers appropriate for marinating. Metal, plastic, and glass bowls all work. My favorite containers, however, are plastic bags. When a bag is used a smaller amount of marinade is needed because the air can be squeezed out. The meat is covered completely which allows for the flavors to be infused more quickly and evenly. Plus, the bag can be tossed when the job is done, making clean-up fast and easy.

There are a few safety tips to remember when marinating poultry, meat and seafood. Raw meat and fish contain juices which may harbor harmful bacteria. To avoid contamination never reuse a marinade. Do not reuse containers without carefully washing them with dish soap. Don't marinate meat past the grocer's "use-by" date. And finally, always marinate in the refrigerator--never at room temperature.

Italian Chicken Marinade - Place 2 lbs. sliced chicken in a plastic bag. Add 8 oz. Italian dressing, the juice of 1 fresh lemon, a few turns of fresh pepper, and a little salt. Marinate a few hours in the refrigerator. Remove from the bag and place on a heated grill. During the last few minutes of grill time, lay thin slices of lemon over the chicken. Serve the grilled chicken with a small amount of the unused Italian dressing.

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