Sunday, June 23, 2024

For the Juiciest Grilled Meat, Marinate It in Soda

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The best marinades for grilled meats have certain things in common. A good amount of sweetness. Lip-smacking acidity. Complex flavor. But what if there’s something that already has those things going for it and all you need to do is crack it open and pour? You probably have it stashed in your fridge: soda.

These fizzy drinks bring a lot to the table. For one, they’re acidic, with a pH level about as high as lemon juice, which helps break down tough muscle fibers and tenderize meat. And soda’s high sugar content speeds up caramelization on the grill, resulting in picture-perfect crosshatches and reliably crusty exteriors.

Soda being poured into a glass

Photograph by Scott Semler, Prop Styling by Emma Ringness

This isn’t a new idea—many cultures utilize the sweet stuff for their meaty marinades. Filipino grill masters add lemon-lime flavored Sprite to balance out the punchy blend of aromatics in tangy chicken inasal, while Korean cooks frequently use a splash of Coca-Cola to give bulgogi and kalbi marinades an extra pop. My own Midwestern mother is known for letting her steak bathe in a little oil, garlic, and a generous pour of cola, a trick she picked up from our next-door neighbor. I still love her technique, not just because it’s nostalgic or a little kitschy, but because it makes the steak taste really darn good.

These recipes are guaranteed to upgrade your grilling game. Sprite lends a citrusy pep (without having to juice a lemon) to a fiery marinade for chicken skewers. Pork chops come out boldly spiced and perfectly glazed thanks to a combination of ginger beer, mustard, and honey. And Coca-Cola introduces a dark, molasses-like base note that stands up to the richness of skirt steak, a nod to my mother’s signature recipe. Beer-can chicken could never.

Carbonation doesn’t make a difference in these recipes, so this is the perfect opportunity to use up any flat soda you might have in the back of the fridge.

When mixing the marinade, you might end up with some unincorporated pieces of miso, but don’t fret: They will dissolve and blend in as the skirt steak marinates. Although any cola will work in this recipe, avoid diet. You want the sugar in regular soda as it will caramelize when you grill the meat.

Thin-cut boneless pork chops are ideal for their ability to take on this flavorful marinade quickly and because they cook fast. Just keep an eye on them as they grill to avoid overcooking.

Lime and fish sauce are a winning combination, and, in this marinade, Sprite delivers the citrus flavor without any of the squeezing. The chile sauce doubles down on the sugary sweetness, transforming into smoky grill marks on the chicken as it cooks.

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