Step 1: Pick something acidic.
The first part of making your marinade involves picking the right acidic component. This provides both flavor and allows the meat to tenderize. Choose from any sort of citrus juices, vinegars, wine, beer, or rum. Other options can also include yogurt, buttermilk, honey, or pureed garlic and onions. Take your pick based on what flavors you want to come through the marinade.
Step 2: Choose your fat.
The next major component of a marinade is the oil. Oils, of many varieties, enhance the flavor of the meat while also preventing the meat to stick once its ready to hit the grill. If you're looking to amp up the flavor, pick olive oil, sesame oil, or another infused option such as avocado oil. If just looking to add to the marinade, go with a more neutral option such as canola oil.
3. Get your spices.
Here's the fun part: Adding spices and seasonings gives you the ability to be creative with your meats. Starting points include fresh or dried herbs, garlic, onions, ginger, citrus zest, and chiles. And though salt is often used as a seasoning once meat is cooked, it shouldn't be used to marinate, as it will dry out the food.
Step 4: Let it sit.
Perhaps the most important ingredient in marinating is time. Though all meats should be treated differently (which we'll discuss next..), a few things hold true for all marinating: It should be kept for the allotted time in a closed container (not aluminum) or sealed plastic bag; it should be refrigerated rather than kept at room tempertaure; it should be "patted down" for excess marinade before hitting the grill.
Step 5: Consider the protein.
Not all meats are created equal. The minimum, regardless of variety, should be one hour, but the maximum marinating time can go up to 24 hours or more. Thin cuts of steak only need a few hours, whereas a thick cut could take 10-12 hours to soften. In general, chicken and pork needs a few less hours than beef.