PWWB All-Purpose Grilling Marinade

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Equal parts zesty, sweet & spicy, this All-Purpose Marinade recipe hits on all of the right notes! Pantry spices like chili powder & smoked paprika add just the right amount of kick to this homemade marinade, while brown sugar lends the perfect amount of sweetness, creating an absolutely crave-worthy caramelized crust on whatever you're grilling. Totally flavorful, versatile, & crowd-pleasing, this easy grill marinade is perfect for grilling chicken, steak, pork, seafood, veggies, & more. You'll turn to it again & again this summer!

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Grilled all-purpose marinated chicken thighs shown on a white speckled plate atop a light blue surface. The chicken is garnished with diced chives.

One Simple Homemade Marinade. Endless Grilling Season Possibilities!

This All-Purpose Marinade is the PWWB house marinade. We use this marinade on anything & everything, especially during the summer months of grilling season. Since sharing it here for the first time in 2019, it’s been a go-to grilling recipe for thousands of PWWB readers, too! If this is a new-to-you recipe, you’re in for such a treat! (& if it’s already a house favorite for you, welcome back!)

2 Must-Haves for an All-Purpose Marinade I developed this recipe with 2 criteria in mind. First, an AP marinade should be the kind of thing that’s easy to whip up on a complete whim, using pantry staples that you always have on hand. Second, an AP marinade should pair with pretty much anything – hence the name! That’s exactly what we have in this homemade marinade recipe, & it’s probably why we’re all so completely obsessed with it!

This all-purpose marinade leans on less than 10 simple pantry ingredients to create perfectly spiced, sweet, & rich flavor. ACV, soy sauce & Worcestershire provide rich zippiness, seasoning protein from the inside out. An aromatic combination of spices helps amp up the smoky flavor of the grill. The best part, though, is the sweetness of brown sugar, which is the secret to creating caramelized, charred bits of goodness that make grilled food so darn crave-worthy.

Better yet, the flavors in this all-purpose grill marinade work beautifully with just about anything you’d ever want to throw on the grill. Use it to grill up the best chicken, seafood, pork, beef, & even veggies. It’s zesty, smoky, & sweet, & it makes everything it touches completely delicious.

All-Purpose Grilling Marinade Recipe Highlights

This All-Purpose Marinade is (click for shortcuts within this post!)

  • SWEET, SPICY, & CARAMELLY. Everything you want in a one-size-fits-all marinade! It’s flavor-filled & has perfectly balanced spice, sweetness, & rich umami notes.
  • QUICK & SIMPLE. This recipe calls for just 9 pantry ingredients, most of which you probably always keep on hand. Plus, it can be mixed up in 5 minutes or less. Easy!
  • VERSATILE. The best part? You can use it on just about everything. Grilled chicken, steaks, pork chops, kebabs, all of the grilled veggies you can dream up!

A total PWWB summertime superstar. ♡ Read on to learn more about this all-purpose marinade, or jump straight to the recipe & get grilling!

All-Purpose Grill Marinade Ingredients

An all-purpose marinade should be the kind of thing that’s easy to whip up on a complete whim, without an extra trip to the grocery store. That’s exactly what we have here. This homemade marinade is made with less than 10 simple pantry ingredients, & they’re probably always in your kitchen already!

All-purpose marinade ingredients arranged on a light blue surface: olive oil, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, low-sodium soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, chili powder, ground cumin, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, & optional cayenne pepper.
Note: Full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Staple spices – Namely, chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, & a pinch of cayenne for heat.
  • Garlic – Of course! Fresh is best, but if you don’t have any on hand you can substitute with 1 teaspoon granulated garlic.
  • Brown sugar – For sweetness that balances out the spices & caramelizes best on the grill. For rich, caramelly flavor use dark brown sugar. If you prefer a more natural sweetener, coconut sugar, honey, pure maple syrup, & agave all work as well.
  • Umami bombs – Namely Worcestershire sauce & soy sauce, two must-have grilling season condiments! For a vegan grill marinade, use your favorite vegan Worcestershire (I like Annie’s!) & for a gluten-free grill marinade, swap the soy sauce for tamari or coconut aminos.
  • Apple cider vinegar – A generous splash to offset the sweetness & rich umami notes in this homemade marinade.
  • Olive oil – A little bit to hold the marinade together! Since this grill marinade has so many other big flavors, you don’t need to use an expensive oil. If you prefer grilling with high smoke point oils, that’s cool! You can use avocado oil, grapeseed oil, or whatever neutral oil you love most as an alternative.

Quick note from Jess Here’s the deal – the variety of ingredients in this homemade marinade may catch you slightly off-guard. But trust me, they come together with to create perfectly balanced flavor – sweet, spiced, zippy, rich, & so, so good. We use this marinade all the time, as do thousands of PWWB readers, & its flavor profile is well-loved!

How to make this All-Purpose Marinade Recipe

Aside from being a seriously versatile summer grilling superstar, the best thing about this homemade marinade recipe is how quickly it comes together! It’s a really simple one bowl, 5-minute operation!

Chicken thighs in a large glass mixing bowl, marinating in All-Purpose marinade. The bowl sits atop a light blue surface.
Note: Full Recipe Directions are provided in the Recipe Card, below.

Here’s how you do it: Simply add all of the ingredients to a medium bowl, whisking to combine. That’s it! With your all-purpose marinade mixed & ready to go, you can use it immediately or transfer to a small jar & place it in the fridge for later use. (In fact, if you’re prepping for later use, you can skip the bowl & combine all of the ingredients in a small jar & shake to combine – less dishes, for the win!)

Suggested Marinating Time:

Marinating time will vary based on the type of protein you use. Having tested this all-purpose grill marinade with a variety of different proteins & a variety of different marinating times, here’s what I suggest:

  • Mild proteins like chicken & pork should soak in this all-purpose marinade for at least 6 hours & up to 3 days.
  • Rich or gamey proteins like beef & lamb should soak in this all-purpose marinade for at least 12 hours & up to 3 days.
  • Veggies last even longer – you can marinate them for at least 20 minutes or up to 5 days.
  • Delicate proteins (i.e. seafood – salmon, shrimp, flaky white fish) have a shorter marinade time – aim for at least 20 minutes & no more than 1 hour.
Side angle of chicken thighs in a large glass mixing bowl, marinating in All-Purpose marinade. The bowl sits atop a light blue surface.

Make-Ahead & Meal Prep:

Great news for meal preppers: despite the suggested marinating times for this all-purpose marinade recipe, you can still get ahead on your dinner by prepping the marinade in advance. (A little bonus? The flavors of the marinade meld together even more the longer it sits!)

Here’s what you’ll do:

  • Prep the marinade & store it in a jar or an airtight container in the refrigerator. The marinade will keep for up to 5 days.
  • When you’re ready to start marinating (refer to the suggested marinating times above), simply give the marinade a shake & pour it over whatever meat or veggies you’re using it on – easy!
Chicken thighs in a Ziploc bag, marinating in All-Purpose marinade. The bag sits atop a light blue surface. “All-Purpose Marinade" is penned in the bag's memo area.

How to use this All-Purpose Grill Marinade Recipe

The beauty of this all-purpose grilling marinade is that it pairs well with pretty much anything & everything – hence the name! Consider it your go-to for adding sweet, spiced, & zesty flavor to grilled chicken, grilled pork, grilled steaks, grilled veggies, & so much more!

A few favorite pairings to try include:

  • Chicken. Time to kiss bland, flavorless grilled chicken goodbye! The spicy-sweet notes in this homemade marinade add so much flavor to boneless, skinless chicken breasts & thighs. You can also use it on bone-in skin on parts, like legs & drumsticks, or even to grill a whole chicken.
  • Seafood. The spicy sweet notes also work well with grilled salmon & grilled shrimp!
  • Pork. Grilled pork chops or pork tenderloin practically beg for brown sugar & spices!
  • Beef. Another great option, since the flavor of the marinade is big enough to stand up to rich beef. Use on your favorite steaks, like grilled ribeye or flank steak, or to make epic beef kabobs!
  • Veggies. Perhaps my favorite of them all, this marinade isn’t just for meat! Try adding it to your favorite hearty veggies, like onions, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, or even cauliflower! So good!

No grill? No problem! If you do not have access to a grill, this all-purpose marinade also works great with any other preparation – stovetop, skillet meals, sheet pan meals, etc. Tip! ⇢ You can create a similar caramelized, grilled effect by using a grill pan on the stove or baking in the oven & finishing under the broiler. 

My ideal plate? ⇢ Grilled Spiced Chicken Thighs & Sweet Potatoes! Marinate boneless, skinless chicken thighs & sweet potatoes (separately to avoid cross-contamination). Grill over medium-high heat until crusty & charred. Serve the grilled chicken & sweet potatoes alongside a simple green salad (try this All-Purpose Vinaigrette!) or a satisfying quinoa salad. Be sure to sprinkle everything with some freshly snipped chives from your summer herb garden – yum!

Equal parts zesty, sweet & spicy, this all-purpose grilling marinade hits on all of the the right notes. Brown sugar lends the perfect amount of sweetness to help create an addictively caramelized crust on whatever you’re grilling, & pantry spices like chili powder & smoked paprika add just the right amount of kick. #playswellwithbutter #marinaderecipe #easymarinade #grillingrecipes #steakmarinade #chickenmarinade #porkmarinade #vegetablemarinade

I can’t wait for you to try this All-Purpose Grilling Marinade recipe. It pairs with anything & everything. I know you’ll turn to it again & again this summer! If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations!

Want more marinades for grilling season? Got you covered! Check out PWWB’s 15 Go-To Grilling Marinades. Happy grilling! ♡

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Grilled all-purpose marinated chicken thighs shown on a white speckled plate atop a light blue surface. The chicken is garnished with diced chives.

PWWB All-Purpose Grilling Marinade

  • Author: Jess Larson
  • Prep Time: 5 Minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 Minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 1 Cup 1x
  • Category: Sauces & Condiments, Marinade
  • Method: No-Cook, Grill
  • Cuisine: American

Description

Equal parts zesty, sweet & spicy, this All-Purpose Marinade recipe hits all of the right notes! Pantry spices like chili powder & smoked paprika add just the right amount of kick to this homemade marinade, while brown sugar lends the perfect amount of sweetness, creating an absolutely crave-worthy caramelized crust on whatever you’re grilling. This easy grill marinade is an all-purpose solution for grilling more flavorful chicken, steak, pork, seafood, veggies, & more!


Ingredients

Scale
  • 2 pounds meat or veggies of choice
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup brown sugar, loosely packed
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce (or tamari for gluten-free)
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (see Recipe Notes, below)
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • optional: pinch cayenne pepper
  • kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season

All-purpose marinade ingredients arranged on a light blue surface: olive oil, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, low-sodium soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, chili powder, ground cumin, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, & optional cayenne pepper.


Instructions

  1. Mix the all-purpose grill marinade: Add the olive oil, brown sugar, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, apple cider vinegar, chili powder, paprika, & a pinch of cayenne pepper, if using, to a bowl or jar. Season with 2 teaspoons kosher salt & ground black pepper as desired. Whisk or shake to combine.All-purpose marinade shown in a small ball jar, sitting atop a light blue surface with two cloves of garlic resting on the surface in the foreground.
  2. Marinate: Pour the all-purpose marinade over your meat or veggies of choice. Marinate for at least 6 hours or up to overnight.
    Chicken thighs in a large glass mixing bowl, marinating in All-Purpose marinade. The bowl sits atop a light blue surface.
  3. Grill as desired. Enjoy!
    Grilled all-purpose marinated chicken thighs shown on a white speckled plate atop a light blue surface. The chicken is garnished with diced chives.

Notes

  • Make it vegan: Use your favorite vegan-friendly Worcestershire sauce (this is my go-to), or double up on soy sauce & omit Worcestershire sauce altogether.
  • Suggested marinade time: Marinating time will vary based on the type of protein you’d like to use. Having tested this All-Purpose Marinade recipe with a variety of different proteins & a variety of different marinating times, here’s what I suggest:
    • Seafood – At least 20 minutes & no more than 1 hour.
    • Chicken & pork – At least 6 hours & up to 3 days.
    • Beef & lamb – At least 12 hours & up to 3 days.
    • Veggies – At least 20 minutes or up to 5 days.
  • 10-Minute Meal Prep: If you’d like to marinate something beyond the suggested marinade times above but would like to do some meal prep, I suggest prepping the marinade in advance. Store it in a jar or an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days – the flavors meld together even more as the marinade sits. When you’re ready to start marinating (refer to the suggested marinating times above), simply give it the marinade a shake & pour it over whatever meat or veggies you’re using it on – easy!

Keywords: all-purpose grill marinade, all-purpose marinade, grilled chicken marinade, grilled pork chop marinade, steak marinade, summer, pantry ingredients, easy, weeknight dinner

Recipe by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Eat Love Eat

Grilled all-purpose marinated chicken thighs shown on a white speckled plate atop a light blue surface. The chicken is garnished with diced chives.

Follow along with Plays Well With Butter on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, & Pinterest for more easy, modern recipes & fun!

Ready to Hit the Grill?

If this all still feels new to you, I encourage you to head over to Grilling 101, a compilation of tips & tricks for all of the grilling basics – everything from how to light your grill to how to clean your grill.

All this talk about grilling have you feelin’ ready to hit the grill? Me too! Be sure to check out this post for my 15 go-to marinades you need this grilling season. At our house, a good marinade is at the heart of grilling season. I’m positive these marinades will be on repeat at your house this summer! For even more grilled goodness, be sure to check out all of our Grilling & Smoking recipes.

& lastly! Be sure to give @playswellwithbutter a follow on Instagram – I’ll be teaching you how to grill up some goodness all summer long, & we have so much fun on Instagram!

Want more grilling tips & recipes?

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Hi there, I'm Jess!

If there’s 1 thing to know about me, it’s this: I am head-over-heels in love with food. I’m on a mission to make weeknight cooking flavorful, fast, & fun for other foodies, & PWWB is where I share foolproof recipes that deliver major flavor with minimal effort. Other true loves: pretty shoes, puppies, Grey’s Anatomy, & my cozy kitchen in Minneapolis, MN.

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Comments

  1. 8.19.23
    Strikkie said:

    Really really great marinade, I used 1 tbsp of vegan Worcestershire to veganize this recipe and used it for dehydrated soy (soy curls or tvp) on skewers. Delish!

    • 8.21.23
      Emma @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      That sounds great, Strikkie! Love this vegan adaptation!! 🙂

  2. 7.27.23
    Michelle G said:

    I made this with chicken and it was excellent. I added some dried thyme, but otherwise followed the recipe.

    • 7.27.23
      Emma @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Michelle, thanks so much for the review! We’re so glad to hear you enjoyed it!

  3. 8.12.22
    cynrok said:

    i’m sure this is delicious but with the cumin and chili powder it doesn’t sound like it’s ‘all purpose’, more like tex-mex, no? like i wouldn’t want to use this for grilled chicken to go with an italian alfredo dish…wouldn’t taste terrible but would turn it into a tex-mex alfredo.

    • 8.12.22

      Hi there – Our use of the term “All-Purpose” is moreso a nod to the fact that this marinade works well with anything you’d typically throw on the grill – chicken, pork, steak, seafood, veggies – not that it will pair well with every dish. While the cumin & chili powder add nice spice, it’s definitely not Tex-Mex in style or flavor profile. That said, if you’re looking for a recipe to pair with alfredo, try our Simple Lemon Herb Marinade or our Tuscan-Style Marinade. Both would be delicious pairings. Hope this helps.

  4. 8.10.21
    Marissa said:

    I LOVE this marinade! If you haven’t tried it add it to your weekly menu ASAP! It easy, delcicious and both kids and parents like it. I’ve also finally learned how to cook Chicken Breast perfecty on the grill thanks to Jess and her indirect heat method and a grilling thermometer.

    • 12.29.21
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Thanks Marissa! The two-zone grilling method is a total game changer & we are so glad to hear that everyone has loved this marinade!!

  5. 5.31.21
    Lauren Hobson said:

    just mixed this up and tossed sweet potatoes and mushrooms for the grill. I love how easy and tasty this is on veggies! Highly recommend

  6. 5.27.21
    Brenda Haines said:

    I made this marinade last night and used it on a chuck steak. It is so good! I can’t wait to try it on other meats. Next week I’m trying it on chicken.

    • 5.28.21
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Brenda! So glad to hear it, it truly goes well with pretty much everything!! Let us know how the chicken is & look out for more PWWB Marinade recipes coming next week!

  7. 5.26.21
    Aimee L said:

    We love this marinade and have used it countless times the past couple of years! It’s so easy to make, we usually have everything on hand and it’s tastes good on everything!

  8. 5.20.21
    Ellen Mann said:

    I’ve made this marinade a few times and it’s always delicious and so flavorful. Definitely marinade overnight to increase the flavor.

    • 5.21.21

      Awesome, I’m SO glad you loved this one, Ellen!! xx

  9. 12.31.20
    Debra (& Ken) Ortmann said:

    We totally love this recipe!! My hubby found and used it on skirt steak to grill for fajitas last summer during the 2020 pandemic. Very sweet and savory at the same time. It caramelizes wonderfully. I plan to use it today for a pork tenderloin and will roast it in the oven. I have used it for grilling several times now and totally recommend it!

    • 2.8.21
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Debra & Ken! It truly is an All-Purpose Marinade – so glad to hear that you’ve had success & enjoyed with so many different meals!! Thank you for sharing!

  10. 12.16.20

    I loved using this all purpose grilling marinade this summer on grilled chicken thighs! Came out so flavorful and juicy. Also has been great when I don’t feel like grilling and saute the chicken in a cast iron pan on the stove.

    • 3.17.21
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Morgan, thank you so much for sharing! This one is an all-time PWWB fave for sure – so versatile!

  11. 11.10.20
    Britt said:

    I admit I don’t marinade nearly as often as I should, and this recipe has me convinced to change my ways! So moist and flavorful, a new favorite of my husband and I!

    • 5.14.21
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Britt! So glad you enjoyed, thank you for sharing! If you enjoyed this all-purpose marinade, be on the look out for NEW marinade recipes later this month on PWWB, as part of our 3rd Annual Grilling Series that kicks off next week!

  12. 8.30.20
    courtney s said:

    I marinated chicken breasts in this overnight to make kebabs and the chicken was delicious! definitely going to use this recipe again and again

    • 3.12.21
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Yum! All-purpose marinade chicken kebabs sound amazing!! Thank you for sharing, Courtney!

  13. 8.14.20
    Holly said:

    This is by far my favorite marinade I’ve tried that is so versatile and delicious! I have tried it with both veggies and protein – and it truly compliments both equally as great. The sweet/Smokey/heat you get from it pleases any flavor craving you’re needing. It’s a go-to!

    • 3.12.21
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Holly! So glad you enjoyed – it truly does go well with everything! So grateful it has become a go-to for you!

  14. 7.28.20
    Aimee Lecointre said:

    Our favorite go to recipe for grilling chicken thighs and veggies! We even used it on wings last week. Would be great for any protein.

    • 6.9.21
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Thank you Aimee! This all-purpose marinade is a total favorite for the PWWB team too! Keep an eye out for more flavorful marinades coming soon!

  15. 7.23.20
    Donna Kullen said:

    Picked this recipe pretty much at random. I’m tired of our usual grilled chicken marinade and was looking for something different. So good – a hit with everyone in my family.

    • 3.10.21
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hey Donna! Thank you SO much, we are so glad this marinade was a hit!

  16. 6.24.20
    C said:

    The best marinade. We no longer ever cook chicken without it. It smells and tastes so deliciously smokey with a hint of sweet.

    • 2.5.21
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Charlotte, thanks so much! We are so glad you enjoy this marinade – it is great on veggies too (hint, hint!). 🙂

  17. 5.24.20
    Sonja Kennedy said:

    I would love to be on your email list for great recipes thanks, Sonja St Paul, Mn

    • 3.8.21
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Sonia! You can always sign up on our website. I’ve linked our ‘About Page’ here. Just scroll down to the form near the bottom of the page to ‘Sign Up for the PWWB Newsletter to subscribe – thanks so much for being a part of the PWWB community!

  18. 4.25.20
    Amanda said:

    My dad has a strong aversion to all chicken except fried chicken. I grilled chicken thighs with your all purpose marinade tonight, and my dad went back for seconds! He even asked for the recipe, so he could make on his own. Big win tonight! Great marinade recipe that I will be using again and again.

    • 4.26.20
      jess said:

      Ahhh, I’m SO SO glad to hear it, Amanda!!! That’s the highest compliment! Hopefully it’ll be a go-to for you & your family all summer. =) xx

  19. 11.13.19
    Sammy Jo said:

    The only marinade you’ll ever need. I use it basically every time I grill now. It’s great on everything, especially sweet potatoes!! Try it on shrimp as well!

    • 12.20.19
      jess said:

      Shrimp sounds like it would be an AMAZING combination with this marinade! So glad you love it, Sammy Jo! xx

  20. 11.12.19
    Ana said:

    I love this! It is my go to marinade for chicken that I eat with anything and everything.

    • 2.12.20
      jess said:

      SAME!!! I’m so glad you love it, Ana!!!

  21. 11.12.19
    Alice said:

    I LOVE this marinade! I use it ALL. THE. TIME. Chicken, pork, veggies- it’s so good!!

    • 11.12.19
      jess said:

      Ahhhh, I LOVE hearing this!! It goes perfectly on ALL of the things! =) So glad you love it, Alice. xx

  22. 5.17.19
    Lauren R said:

    Hi! Just FYI your instructions for step 1 say “maple syrup” instead of brown sugar. ?

    • 5.17.19
      jess said:

      ah, good catch! all fixed now! =)