Everyone knows the old cliché that you can’t get that authentic smoky flavor if you cook the food on a gas grill or barbecue. The makers of gas BBQs have been trying for ages to dispel that belief (or “myth” they would call it), but with only limited success.
The truth of the matter is that with flame tamers and lava rocks (see below) one can get some semblance of a smoky flavor. But even the makers of outdoor gas grills and barbecues don’t truly buy it. That’s why they try to square the circle, offering extras such as steel boxes in which one can place wood chips (reviewed in this site: Flavor from the Fire I - wood chips and wood chunks) that are supposed to heat up and create the smoke.
But there is an old Indian trick for infusing gas-grilled food with that smoky flavor. I say Indian, because I first learned it from an Indian I got talking to when we discovered that we had a common interest in barbecues. I subsequently did some internet research and found several variations of the same idea. And the one common theme was that they were all sites concerned with Indian cooking. So, the idea did indeed originate in Indian cuisine.
Now, let’s start with this method and then look at some of the others.
For this method, you need the following “ingredients”:
● 1 onion
● 1 small piece (max 2 inches each dimension) of lump wood charcoal
● 1 teaspoon of butter, clarified butter or ghee
● Spices (optional)
Before starting, please note that the charcoal should be natural and not easy-lighting. The easy-lighting charcoals have chemicals on them and you do not want to infuse your food with chemicals - only smoke.
1. Light the barbecue and set the gas on maximum, ideally closing the lid to make it heat up more quickly.
2. Meanwhile, hollow out the onion, so that it forms a "cup" big enough to accommodate the charcoal.
3. When the barbecue is hot, place the piece of charcoal in the center of the food grate, directly over the flames, turning it around with tongs to make sure that all sides heat up.
4. When the charcoal is glowing hot, put the food onto the food grate.
5. Then place the hollowed-out onion on the food grate, next to the charcoal
6. Immediately, transfer the hot charcoal into the hollowed-out onion, using charcoal tongs or some other safe method that does not involve burning your hands.
7. Add a teaspoon full of butter, clarified butter or ghee (optionally mixed with spices) to the hot coal inside the hollowed-out onion.
8. The coal will start emitting a dense white smoke.
9. Close the lid.
10. At the same time as the gas is cooking the food, the trapped smoke from the vaporizing butter and charcoal will infuse the meat with that wonderful smoky flavor that they told you could only be obtained from a charcoal barbecue!
And that’s it. The longer you leave the food there, the smokier the flavor. So, if you like it smoky, it’s better to turn the gas down and let it cook for longer - but obviously it depends on what you’re cooking.
Don’t forget to remove the onion and coal when it cools down, after you finish cooking. And don’t be tempted to eat the onion. Like the onion you use to clean the food grate (see TIPS AND TRICKS: How to clean your food grate) throw it away when finished.
Try this method and let us know how it works out for you.
If your gas BBQ has a flame tamer, the juices from the food ooze out in the heat and fall onto the flame tamer. When they hit the hot flame tamer, they vaporize into smoke and rise up into the food.
Lava rocks (also reviewed on this site: Flavor from the Fire II - smoker boxes, lava rocks and charcoal) work in a similar way, but have certain advantages. Because lava rock is porous, it captures more of the dripping fat and juices. This in turn produces more smoke, adding to the smoky flavor of the food.
Also, lava rock can be spread over the entire surface, unlike flame tamers which leave some parts uncovered. Lava rocks are also better at containing any flare-ups to a local region. With flame tamers, flare-ups tend to spread, when they occur.
Lava rocks are generic and you can buy them in many places. Flame tamers are specific to the appliance. If you need a replacement, you might have to order it separately from the manufacturer.
The most widely advised way of getting a smoky flavor from a gas grill or BBQ is to use wood chips. The idea is to get them hot and smoldering.
There is an ongoing debate among BBQ aficionados about whether or not to soak wood chips in water (or beer) before putting them in a steel box with holes (or wrapping them in aluminum foil with holes) and putting them in the closed gas barbecue in an effort to get some smoke out of them. Soaking them means that initially you will get steam rather than smoke. And if you soak them in beer (or whisky), you will certainly get an interesting flavor
But the question is whether soaking actually does any good. Some say it merely cools the barbecue down and slows the cooking process. Others say it stops the woodchips all burning up at once. They dry out at an uneven rate - or so the theory goes - and thus the soaking helps maintain an even consistent smoke over time, without having to add more chips. Others say that the water only penetrates a couple of millimeters (similar to the debate on marinades - See TIPS AND TRICKS: The BEST Marinade in the World). This means that once the water evaporates, it is as if the chips have never been soaked in the first place.
Rather than enter the fray of this debate, we are going to throw this open to you - our wonderful community of BBQ enthusiasts. Tell us your experiences and let us know what you think at the subject.
plus some ingredients for your own…
Some of the products reviewed here are country specific and may not be available in the Amazon US store
Once you’ve got your BBQ, grill, smoker or combo and your tools, the next thing you’re going to be looking for is some food to cook on it. We won’t tell you about the meat - after all, you presumably know your local butcher or supermarket better than we do. But what about marinades, spices and sauces? You probably have some good sources for sauces and if any of you out there don’t know where to find the spices, maybe your spouses do! (ROTFL)
But we’re here to exchange ideas, right?
So in this review and comparison, We’ll be taking a look at some products for spicing up your barbecue that can be purchased online. Specifically, the 10 best sauces, 10 best spices, 7 best ready-made marinades (sorry, there weren’t all that many) and 10 best ingredients for home-made marinades. To be perfectly honest, we can’t say that these are the absolute best, because matters of taste are always subjective. And of course, we can’t claim to have tried everything. There’s a big world out there, and even a bunch of gluttons like us here are mybbq.life can only eat a finite amount!
But what we can say is that these recommendations are good, tasty and well-worth trying. After the 10 best spices, sauces and marinades, I’ll be recommending some ingredients that can be used in making your own marinades - including the ones we suggested in one of our TIPS AND TRICKS recently.
These are all sauces that can be added to the meat, bun or pocket bread. But they can also be used as marinades or added to marinades, if you want the meat to really soak up the flavor.
Coming in a squeezable bottle, this gluten-free, American, kosher sauce combines a smoky, spicy taste with sweetness. The smoky component makes it suitable for indoor cooking if the weather is bad. You can get the outdoor taste in the comfort of the indoors.
However, the smoky taste that it already contains is weak compared to the sweet taste, because it is presumed that you will be cooking either over charcoal or a direct gas flame. To ensure that you get a true smoky flavor it is best to use this sauce on meat that has been cooked over charcoal. Also, the spicy taste is quite mild, so you might like to add some additional hot spices to counterbalance the sweet component. This sauce can also be used as a marinade or added to the meat at the tail end of the cooking process.
Okay, we’re in Mark Twain territory here. we can almost hear the riverboat swish past and see Huckleberry Finn, smoking his pipe in defiance of grown-up rules.
Anyway, this is another squeezable bottle and another American product that can be used either as a marinade or as a dip. It can also be brushed onto the meat just before grilling. But also, because of its low salt content, it can be used as an overnight marinade - even for 24 hours or more - without “denaturing” the meat. In fact, that is probably the best way to get the maximum out of this sauce.
Give this one a try. You won’t be disappointed. And don’t worry about ordering a batch of three. Once you and your family and friends have used one, you’re sure to want to use the other two. Just don’t tell your friends you’ve already got two more. Otherwise, they might ask you for one of them!
If you like your sauces on the milder side, then this is the sauce for you. It is not a spicy sauce, but it is not too sweet either. It is the kind of sauce that doesn’t register when it first touches your tongue, but you notice it when it hits the back of your throat.
It is gluten-free and low in carbs, so probably quite healthy. We can recommend this sauce. But if you like to spice things up a bit, you would best be advised to use it as the basis for a marinade and add other, sharper ingredients.
This sauce combines a small quantity of Jack Daniel’s whiskey with smaller quantities of Jalapino peppers and red chilies. However, it is important to remember that the main ingredients in this are still water and brown sugar. It’s a good sauce, but not an outstanding one. However, as with the Stubb’s, one can add some extra spices and use it as a marinade.
Okay, here’s one that stands out in the some-like-it hot department. No pussy-footing around with plenty-sweet-plus-a-bashful-hint-of-heat. Known in the USA as “Carolina Gold”, this one is unashamedly sharp. It’s hot with no apology. Yes, there’s a subtle undertone of smokiness to complement the piquancy. But at least they keep the (brown) sugar low.
It also has soy sauce and mustard, but no added water. Apart from that it has white wine vinegar, garlic, spices and a touch of unsalted butter “for richness.” Most important it has no additives, thickeners or stabilizers. Suitable for dipping or as a marinade, it’s the one we like most out of these ten. But then again, we at MyBBQ.life do like it hot - reasonably hot at any rate.
Now that we’re into “Hotsville” territory, let’s go the whole hog (excuse the pun) and take a look at some others.
This set of three gives you red pepper sauce, green pepper sauce and red habanero. But beware. If the pepper sauces are hot, the habanero is a raging inferno. You won’t find it hotter this side of Hades (Hell to the Yanks!). Like the Carolina Gold above, these sauces are handmade (if anyone could be brave enough to put their hand anywhere near them) and made with natural ingredients. The makers claim that “Additives such as flavor enhancers, artificial flavors, preservatives or colourings are avoided completely.”
Aside from the chipotles or habaneros, the ingredients are water, vinegar, sugar, salt, spices and guar gum as a natural thickener. The vinegar has a subtle, contributory effect but isn’t noticeable on its own.
The red habanero sauce - which is the strongest of the three - has an afterburn that lasts nearly ten minutes. Despite the heat and sharpness, it has a kind of fruity scent and aftertaste. The pepper sauces in contrast have half the afterburn time, but a smokier taste. The sauces can be used as dressings, flavorings or in marinades. (This was my preferred option - as we are all marinade freaks here are mybbq.life.) They can also be brushed onto the food while cooking. But be warned, if you’re using the red habanero sauce go easy on it.
We guess North Carolina has milder tastes than their South Carolina brothers, if this sauce is anything to judge by. Yes, it has a bit of a mild tang to it. But the main thing you notice about this sauce is its sweetness. At first, we thought it was also smoky. But that was an illusion (can one say that about taste?) caused by the fact that the food was cooked over a charcoal grill. When we tried it as a dip with some oven-cooked food, there was not a trace of smokiness.
That however leads to another point about this sauce: it is thick and sticky and thus makes an excellent dip. It can also be brushed onto the food while cooking. It might char a little over the flames, but that comes with the territory. But then of course it actually does get smoky.
It can also be used as part of a marinade. You could dilute it with olive oil and soy sauce, the latter of which would also add some extra, non-sweet, flavor. Or maybe add some mustard to counterbalance the sweetness.
But the main purpose of this sauce is exactly what the name says: sucking bones. Whether it’s chicken wings or a rack of ribs this is the sauce that can really bring out their flavor.
This one wasn’t as interesting or powerful as we expected, until we read the label more carefully. First of all, it is “Japanese” not Chinese or Indian or Caribbean. So, it is not meant to be strong or piquant. It is meant to be subtle. Secondly it is intended especially for fish, so it shouldn’t be too piquant - otherwise it would overpower the fish instead of bringing out the food’s own flavor.
Billed as a marinade, glaze, dip or pour-on, it is based around soy sauce and ginger, the latter intentionally just a hint, again to avoid becoming overpowering. When used with fish - especially outdoor grilled fish, this sauce is perfect. But for chicken, let alone red meat, we would use something stronger.
This is one of those sauces that you use to simulate the smoky flavor of a charcoal or wood barbecue if you aren’t actually going to be using one. It is in fact a very good product - and at an excellent price. But what you might not know is that it can also be used to enhance the smoky flavor of meat and poultry cooked on a gas barbecue. It is genuinely smoky - unlike others that merely brag. And at such a low price, it’s worth trying - even if you’re not sure that it will appeal to your taste.
Well we could hardly take a look at BBQ sauces without trying at least one by the inimitable Levi Roots - the charismatic Anglo-Caribbean entrepreneur who wowed Peter Jones and Richard Farleigh in Dragon’s Den and kickstarted his business with a £50,000 investment from the dragons.
This one is tangy and sharp, combining scotch bonnet chilies with allspice and herbs. It can be used as a marinade, a side dip or can be poured over chicken or burgers. Offering a Caribbean alternative to the American sauces, it goes well with pretty much everything, including vegetables.
And at a bargain price.
Some people say that marinades rarely permeate below the first couple of millimeters below the surface of the meat. So, they ask rhetorically, why use them? While it is true that marinades usually don’t penetrate deep into the meat, we think that’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater (excuse the pun again). Also, even if marinades don’t penetrate too deep, at least some of the flavor gets cooked into the food, instead of smeared on afterwards in the form of a sauce.
But aside from sauces, that merely smear the surface after the food is cooked and marinades, that penetrate maybe a couple of millimeters, there is a third way. That third way is spices that you rub on the surface. Of course, spices and herbs can also be used as ingredients in your own home-made marinades. (See our TIPS AND TRICKS: The BEST Marinade in the World.)
But whether it’s something to rub on a beef steak or to mix with soya and olive oil, spices and their more delicate cousins, herbs, are worth taking a look at. Here are our choices for the ten best.
This gift set of five rubs is well turned out and presented. The spices are:
● 1 x Memphis Belle - Tennessee Barbecue, 1 x Kansas City Rib Rub - Makes perfect ribs
● 1 x Much Adobo about Nothing - Mexican Seasoning, 1 x Savannah Gold - Georgia favors mustard base bbq
● 1 x Sweet Home Alabama - Smokey heat and fragrant herbs
We recommend pounding the beef with a mallet before rubbing on whichever you choose. And don’t be afraid to experiment. Even if it doesn’t go entirely right, with beef you can never go completely wrong.
We found the Memphis Belle and Kansas City Rib Rub joint best for beef. But they are all good, in varying degrees. Some, according to Life of Spice, are even organic. But not all. Caveat Emptor!
Looking beyond the barbecue, Sweet Home Alabama can be mixed with flour if you’re into the old fried escalopes/schnitzel thing (flour first, then egg, then breadcrumbs).
The spices are nicely packaged in opaque, airtight containers, to protect them from the ultraviolet in natural light which degrades the spices. Be warned however, the quantities are not all that great and you are paying a premium price for presentation. Great taste. But it’s a matter of opinion whether it’s good value for money.
For just £6.31, you get half a kilo of the stuff. And it’s highly flexible. You can rub it on the meat and cook immediately or else let the meat sit there are absorb the flavor. The flavor is both sweet and piquant. It works equally well with pork, beef or chicken. (We didn’t try it with lamb, but we have no reason to doubt it would be equally good with that too.)
One way to apply it, is to pound the meat with a mallet (both sides), rub the spice onto the meat thoroughly and then wrap the meat up vacuum style in cling film. If you want the meat to well-and-truly absorb the flavor that this spice has to offer, then let the whole thing sit overnight, turning it at least once. However, if you are impatient, you can take it out after two hours,
Good taste and great value.
"Makes Every Meat Marvelous" - Large Pack
This cleverly-named product combines pink salt, muscovado sugar, chilies, garlic, mustard and several others to produce quite a strong hit. The makers/sellers suggest that it can be paired with a hot sauce for a barbecue, but we don’t feel that’s necessary. It’s hot enough, if you use the right quantity. Indeed, unless you really are a hot spice freak, be careful not to overdo it.
Although described as a mix, the chili is the strongest ingredient and it creates a zing that lingers. The good thing about this spice is that it isn’t just for rubbing. You can use it within a marinade. And you can also braise meat in it or use it in a stew or a slow-cooked potjie. You could even use it in an overnight pot roast. And it goes with pretty much any sort of meat as well as fish, fries and even in soup. Well it is magic after all!
From a family-run business these eight small containers offer a nice variety of spices for the connoisseur. Again, do not expect a huge quantity. Each jar contains between 10 and 15 grams. That isn’t very much, and don’t expect it to last you long. But in any case, this is intended to be a gift set, so presentation is as important as quantity. A nice-looking gift. But again, it doesn’t score high on the value for money side.
Okay, so it’s got a funny name, but don’t let that fool you. This is a very popular product and once you’ve tried it you’ll know why. Firstly, it is a highly promiscuous spice. That is, like the Magic Dust above, it goes with everything. Not just the usual beef, pork and lamb, or chicken and turkey. Not just fish and grilled vegetables. It even goes with venison and game.
It is not as hot as traditional Cajun spices and not as salty as commercial seasonings. But this was a conscious decision by Byron Chisolm - the eponymous “Bad Byron” who makes the spice. If you are looking for hot, you’ll have to use more, quantity-wise. But for my personal taste it seemed that they got the level just right. Excellent value for money, you can also try it first in a smaller quantity (128g) for £3.95.
Again, as with so many of the other sets and collections, this is a case of excellent presentation, great taste, nice variety in the range, but not too much in the quantity department. Having said that, the boxes of hot paprika, sweet paprika and smoked sweet paprika were 80 grams each, which is a fair size if not astronomical. But the rosemary leaves were half that, the lemon-thyme 50g and the oregano and saffron even less.
Now admittedly, these are herbs, which weigh less than spices. But... well maybe it’s just that the products come from the La Mancha region of Spain. So now I’m becoming like Don Quixote, getting up on my high horse and tilting at windmills!
Now, where’s my faithful squire, Sancho Panza?
Another from the family-run Steenberg stable. If you are ready to overlook the small size of the individual pots, pointed out above, then you might prefer to get this set of 16 for £22.75 instead of the set of 8 for £18.32.
The spices in this collection are: Black pepper, cinnamon, chili, cloves, cumin, curry powder, ginger, mace, mixed herbs, nutmeg, oregano, paprika, tarragon, thyme, yellow mustard powder, sea salt.
However, do not be misled by the box, or make the mistake of thinking it is some kind of storage container. It is simply a cardboard box with compartments. Better to take the mini-jars out and store them in a cupboard. Again, let me stress - a nice mix of spices, but each one is a very small quantity.
As they used to say on that well-known British comedy… and now for something completely different.
I’m not sure why we decided to review this set of Moroccan spices, other than the fact that we love middle eastern food. Unlike some of the other sets, these spices come in reasonably sized containers, so you don’t feel like you are spending the earth for a tiny quantity. The spices are not specifically designed for barbecuing and can be used in stews and oven dishes.
But we find them an excellent choice for the barbecue if you want something different. My preferred method is to rub them into the beef, lamb or chicken and wrap it in cling film for a few hours at least, if not overnight. You can also leave it overnight if you are going to smoke the meat instead of cooking it with direct heat. And of course, you can also mix these spices with extra virgin olive oil and soya and use it as a liquid or pasty marinade or brush on.
In the case of the meatball spice, you could mix it into ground beef to make the most flavor-packed burgers you’ve ever tasted. But make no mistake, these are spicy, tangy and piquant. They are already mixtures of several spices, so you do not need to mix them with anything else - other than liquid, if you want to make a marinade. Also, you should keep the containers and get refills.
The appearance, packaging and description led us to believe that it was going to be stronger and hotter than it was. We don’t mean that it wasn’t hot or lacked flavor. It’s just that we made the mistake of building up our expectations of this product and it fell short. Maybe we should, have used more. Or maybe just lowered our expectations. Either way, we can say that it has flavor and you can get a good curry out of it.
It does at least live up to its name. The taste is distinctly West Indian, rather than Indian. So, putting aside our own preconceptions and self-manufactured disappointment, we can recommend this product for its authentic Caribbean flavor.
Finally, a set that is truly good value for money. This set of eight tins (64mm x 40mm x 40) contains 100g of organic sea salt, 50g each of Spanish paprika, ground black pepper, ground cumin and ground chili powder, plus 40g of ground coriander and 20g each of thyme and oregano.
The coriander is seed rather than leaf, which is not our favorite. The others are great. These spices provide a nice range for the different sorts of meat you might be cooking, and the quantities are such that you should get quite a few uses out of them before you have to replenish.
We found that on beef, a combination of the organic sea salt, black pepper and either chili powder or Spanish paprika (not both) went well. On lamb, a marinade made with a mixture of cumin, coriander, pepper, sea salt, soya sauce and extra virgin olive oil had a marvelous effect. And at this price and these quantities, we are quite happy to recommend it.
Nando’s is a well-known brand, famous for their diverse chicken marinades and sauces. But you don’t have to eat at their restaurants to get the flavor. Their pre-cooking marinades and post-cooking sauces are available for purchase at supermarkets and online. This great set of three, offers you and your guests a perfect choice. My personal favorite is the medium. It goes equally well with boneless chicken thigh and beef. The lemon and herb goes well with chicken breast. And the hot goes best with pork and lamb.
At £10.66 for three bottles of 260g each, this is reasonable. You may be able to get it cheaper. But if you do, check out the sell-by dates. You might be surprised.
This marinade imparts a barbecue flavor to the meat even before it goes anywhere near the barbecue. This is very important if you’re planning on grilling on gas. You can enhance the smoky barbecue flavor with this marinade. The main spices are paprika, black pepper and garlic. But there is also a smoky flavor produced from hickory.
What we found particularly good about this marinade is that it infuses well and really gets into the meat very quickly. This is important too, because people have a gas barbecue or grill, they often make the decision to cook on it at short notice. So, we call this product a Just-in-time marinade.
And for those who like their food natural, this one is free from artificial colors/artificial flavors, preservatives/artificial sweeteners.
From the same family-business as the above - and only a little more expensive - this one gives your food a distinctly Cajun and Creole flavor. It is also another quick-acting marinade, that can be applied at short notice with excellent results. It is a fair amount hotter than the barbecue marinade above. For those who like the heat - as we do (within limits) - this is an excellent 10-minute marinade.
Teriyaki is a sauce or marinade, that is based around soya sauce, with a few other ingredients. Now we have to say, straight off the bat, that a certain “Barry” (the brother-in-law of our chief writer) makes the best teriyaki marinade in the world. He’s from America - South Dakota to be precise - and so he’s knows his barbecue from his smoker, if you get our meaning. Anyway, we can’t offer you Barry’s teriyaki, because he doesn’t sell it commercially. He only makes it for family and friends. (We might be able to persuade him to tell us his recipe and give us permission to publish it - in which case we will post it here under TIPS AND TRICKS.)
But in the meantime, we can recommend this Kikkoman Teriyaki marinade as the best commercially produced teriyaki on the market. It’s… almost as good as Barry’s. And if you’re one of the lucky few who has tasted Barry’s teriyaki, you’ll know that’s a real compliment!
Unlike the Walkerswood curry paste above, this marinade was, how to put it… hot. Maybe not as hot as the strongest Indian spices, but notably stronger than most western sauces or marinades. It imparted a rich and complex flavor to the food, with a strong initial “bite” when it first landed on the tongue and a secondary aftertaste when it hit the back of the throat. It was this double-whammy that made it so special, in my humble estimation.
This sauce/marinade - from one of the bigger names in food - promises a “rich and smoky dip and marinade source.” we don’t know about rich, but it was certainly thick. we found it better as a dip than a marinade. As a marinade, it was pretty average. But as a dip for imparting that last-minute flavor between the fork and the mouth, it pretty much did the trick.
With their great sense of irony, Heinz tell not only that it is free of artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and “added milk or egg,” but also that it is “suitable for vegetarians.” (But what are vegetarians going to put it on? ROTFL!)
Despite being only average and not great, we can recommend it because it only costs £1.50 for 480g. And of course, since Heinz has now departed from its former wait-for-it attitude, to embrace the squeezy bottle philosophy, it is easy to get this marinade onto your food.
Another teriyaki marinade from a well-known brand. Again, not as good as brother-in-law Barry’s, but almost on a par with the Kikkomen and at a very reasonable price. While this marinade will stand on its own, you can sharpen it with black pepper or hot paprika, add some tang with garlic granules or an aromatic flavor with chopped coriander leaf.
Now of course, if you’re really adventurous - and not lazy - you probably want to have a try at making your own marinades instead of buying them ready-made. Of course, many rub-on spices or liquid sauces can be used as ingredients for marinades. But you would be surprised at how diverse the items that go into a good marinade can actually be. Here are some ideas of ours.
Date syrup is a great alternative to honey. In fact, there are some scholars who believe that when “honey” is referred to in the Old Testament, they were actually referring to date syrup.
For those who like honey and mustard marinades (combining the sweet and sour tastes) , date syrup offers an excellent alternative to honey. And if it is free of added sugar - as this one is - then the natural sugar in the product is more complex than simple refined sugar or honey. As such it is healthier. (Beware, not all brands of date honey are free from added sugar.)
This date syrup, therefore, represents a good buy and can be used in a marinade together with mustard, soya and powdered spices. It can also be brushed or drizzled onto the food while it is cooking with excellent results.
This pack of 6 (250 ml each) represents good value.
This pack of three is also value for money. The unit cost is higher than the Meridian, but this is organic. The downside is that a small number of customers have reported problems with the bottles leaking or breaking, some even in transit before it reached them. Others said the bottle’s were fragile and broke in the normal course of handling. We didn’t notice this ourselves, but it is worth noting what others have said.
As to the taste, it is sweet and exactly what date syrup should taste like. It can be added to a marinade - ideally offset by a hot spice like mustard, hot chili or even turmeric - together with something like soya sauce and possibly an olive oil base. That’s how we did it, and the results were excellent. See our TIPS AND TRICKS on marinades.
Let’s get real. If you like soya sauce, you’re going to use it a lot. So why waste money on a small bottle (or several) when you can buy this 1.9 liter container for £11.50? Okay, so once it’s opened, the clock is ticking and you can hear the countdown. That’s why refrigeration was invented!
This soya sauce is free from artificial additives. However, it is not gluten free. But that is only a problem if you or one of your guests suffers from coeliac or a gluten allergy. Otherwise, if you are going to be making your own marinades and you use soya sauce in them, then we strongly recommend that you buy this product.
Amoy is also a good name for soy sauce. In this case, instead of one big container, you get six 150ml bottles. In terms of price per volume unit it’s nearly four times the price of the Kikkoman above. On the other hand, unopened bottles can be stored at ambient temperature. Also, you might prefer the quality of the Amoy.
If you’re looking for something more authentically Japanese, this is the one to consider. Cheaper than the Amoy, but pricier than the Kikkoman, this one is organic. It is also the strongest of the three, or perhaps we should say, more full-bodied. Maybe that was just a psychosomatic effect because the bottle that it comes in looks like a wine bottle. But it did seem to have a slightly fruity body. In the end it’s all subjective, but of the three, we thought this soya sauce had the best taste.
Yes of course you can always buy a regular bottle of one of the big-name commercial brands of olive oil in the high street or at the supermarket. But if you want something of higher quality, an authentic Greek olive oil that you can’t buy on the high street (unless you’re incredibly lucky), this is it!
Cold pressed Kalamata extra virgin olive oil with Protected Designation of Origin status, this oil is the real deal. It doesn’t have as strong a taste as some of the true home-made olive oils they press in Greece in small family businesses. But that difference in taste and consistency is only relevant when it comes to putting the oil on salads. Our concern here is how good it is as an ingredient in marinades. This one has a better taste than most of the commercial brands and we heartily recommend it.
Another authentic, high quality, extra virgin olive oil - this one from Crete, boasts as originating from a new harvest and has the Great Taste Gold Award of 2012.
This isn’t your light supermarket variety of EVO. Made from Koroneiki olives - one the finest cultivar varieties - it has a deep green color and hint of bittersweet fruitiness in the aftertaste. Also, it has low acidity. This can be a double-edged sword when the oil is used in a marinade. While a good marinade should have an acid (as well as an oil), acid doesn’t have to be in the oil. Also meat can be left for longer in a low-acid marinade - thus giving it more time to absorb the other flavors. So the low acidity, as well as adding to the flexibility of the oil (e.g. salads) also makes it suitable for overnight marinades.
We found that in our trademark marinade (See TIPS AND TRICKS: The BEST Marinade in the World) the Elea Creta and Iliada were equally good. Having said that, this Elea Creta may have just had the edge in the lamb marinade, because of the way in which its fruitiness complemented the date syrup.
Also from the 2017 harvest of Koroneiki olives, this cold-pressed oil has a mild taste, but with a deep, enhanced aroma. It has a wonderful green color that is typical of these olives, especially those bearing the Kalamata PDO (Protected Designation of Origin).
This oil was excellent in our marinades, especially when combined with the Clearspring Organic Japanese Shoyu Soya Sauce (see above) and ¼ cup of Cinzano Rosso (see below), which we used as a replacement for the 2 tablespoons of honey in the beef marinade.
As with olive oil, so with honey. If you’re going to use it a lot in your marinades, buy the best - and in a great quantity. This 1⅓+ kg squeezable bottle will last you a long time, even if you use it in a lot of marinades. (Of course, if you use on/in other things as well, it obviously won’t last you as long. we thought it was (and still is) fantastic. We actually use more of it than my own recipe calls for - but then again, we also use more mustard to counterbalance it. Anyway, if you’re planning on doing a lot of barbecuing, you can also use this as a glaze, to be applied at the last minute.
we have to confess that we actually used to use sweet wine in my marinades long before we started using honey. we went over to honey about 20 years ago (showing my age) and then date syrup and for a while we completely forgot about sweet wine. But now we have rediscovered wine as a marinade sweetener, and my favorite is this one: Cinzano Rosso.
This sweet, red vermouth is ideally suited to add sweetness to the marinade, as an alternative to honey or date syrup, but it comes at a price. You have to use a slightly larger quantity to get the same sweetness. We use a quarter cup of wine in place of 2 tablespoons of honey. Because of this difference in quantity - and also, because honey has such a high viscosity than wine - it means that the marinade is somewhat thinner than normal. This in turn means that it tends not to stay on the surface of the meat so much when the cooking process starts. On the other hand, if the beef is pounded with a mallet or prodded with a fork before being put in the marinade, then more of the marinade will be absorbed into the meat before cooking.
There are swings and roundabouts, as with every choice in the BBQ world. But in my personal experience, using wine in a beef marinade - especially sweet, red wine - yields better results than honey or date syrup. And Cinzano Rosso is my favorite sweet red wine for the beef marinade.
Of course, if you want to be really adventurous, add an equal quantity of gin or vodka to the vermouth and make a martini marinade! But then just remember, it really is for grown-ups only. Tell the kids to make do with burgers and hot dogs - and ignore them if they nag!