You haven’t grabbed your parka from the closet in weeks, and it’s light out until well past dinnertime. Grilling season is back, guys. And whether you’re into burgers or kebabs, this is the year you’re going to up your outdoor cooking game. That means mastering the art of the marinade.

Why? Because we don’t want you to ruin a healthy dinner by flavoring your favorite beef recipes with store-bought marinades that are loaded with sugar and processed ingredients. These delicious flavor baths don’t just make your beef taste extra good, they also help keep proteins moist and tender, says Rachel Begun, M.S., R.D., nutrition advocate and certified natural chef.

Best of all, whipping up a great one doesn’t take a ton of extra work. In fact, you don’t even need a recipe. By sticking to a simple formula, you can let loose and throw together your own creative flavor combos using whatever you have on hand. Here are the five components that every delicious marinade needs, plus a few tasty ideas to help you get started.

Fat

What it is: Think oils (olive or canola) or even full-fat yogurt or coconut milk.
Why it matters: This is what will coat your beef to lock in moisture. Fat also acts as a carrier for the other flavoring agents in your marinade, helping them infuse your food, Begun says.
How much: Use 2 parts fat per 1 part acid.

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Acid

What it is: Any type of vinegar—red wine, apple cider, rice wine, or balsamic—or freshly squeezed citrus juice.
Why it matters: The acid in your marinade will help break down proteins, making them more tender, Begun says. Acidity will also help to cut through the fat, so your finished dish feels light.
How much: Use 1 part acid per 2 parts fat.

Herbs and Spices

What they are: Garlic, ginger, shallots, fresh or dried herbs, spices, and hot peppers (like chipotles) all work here.
Why they matter: They give your marinade plenty of flavor, without the need for tons of sugar or salt. Use at least one, but for the sake of simplicity, you don't need more than four.
How much: In general, the flavors in your marinade should be pretty strong—that’s how they’ll infuse the food. But there’s no right or wrong amount. It’s really to taste, Begun says.

Sweeteners

What they are: Sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, or even fruit juice are great in marinades.
Why they matter: Sweeteners can help balance out the salt and acid in your marinade, giving it a more well-rounded flavor, Begun says.
How much: Again, there’s no right or wrong amount, but you usually don’t need much. For a marinade using 1/2 cup fat and 1/4 cup acid, a tablespoon or two is plenty, depending on the flavor profile you’re after. (BBQ or Asian-style marinades tend to be slightly sweeter.)

Salt

What it is: This is pretty self-explanatory, but note that low-sodium soy sauce works here too.
Why it matters: A pinch or two is the finishing touch that will help bring out the flavors of your other marinade ingredients—and your protein or veggies.
How much: For a marinade using 1/2 cup oil and 1/4 cup acid, you’ll want around 1/2 teaspoon salt or a tablespoon of low-sodium soy sauce.

Now you pretty much know everything you need to know about making an awesome beef marinade. (Told you it was easy.) But if you’re looking for some flavor inspiration, let these combos be your guide. Each one makes enough to marinate 1 1/2 pounds of beef.

1. Shallot Herb

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • 2 minced shallots
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

2. Creamy Greek

  • 1/2 cup full-fat plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

3. Chipotle Lime

  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chipotle peppers in adobo
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

4. Smoky BBQ

  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

5. Ginger Scallion

  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh scallions
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce

6. Honey Mustard

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

7. Spicy Thai Coconut

  • 1/2 cup full-fat coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons red Thai chili paste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons chopped jalapeño peppers
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

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