Heidi Harkopf

Marinating with Yogurt: A How-To Guide

Grilling season is in full swing! Impress your friends and family with the most flavorful and tender meat by marinating in yogurt! Yogurt has been used as a marinade for centuries in many cuisines including Middle eastern and Indian dishes as well as South Asian.

How it works

Many chefs agree that for true tenderizing, yogurt may just be the best marinade there is! They believe that this is due to two components:

  1. Calcium
  2. Lactic Acid

It seems that calcium activates enzymes in the protein to breakdown the collagen. The lactic acid works similarly to other acids added to marinades, it tenderizes the meat by breaking down proteins. Examples of acids typically added to marinades include vinegar, lemon juice, and wine. However, the lactic acid in yogurt has a more gentle influence than these other acids. When left too long on meat, these other acids can either create a mushy outer layer or may toughen certain proteins.

The Perfect Make-Ahead Marinade

Since yogurt is gentle, meat such as chicken and beef can sit in this type of marinade for long period of time without risking an unpleasant texture. This means you can marinade a day or two ahead of your gathering, freeing up precious time for other last-minute food preparations. A lengthier soak means that any herbs and spices added to the marinade become better infused in the meat for a more robust flavor. However, if you are marinating fish, prepare the marinade a day in advance but only apply to your fish for under an hour due to its delicate texture.

What type of yogurt use

Your local supermarket likely stocks a wide array of yogurts including regular, Greek, and SkyrStart with a ½ cup of yogurt for each pound of meat. If you use Greek or Skyr for a marinade, you will need to dilute it with a little liquid such as lemon juice, water or milk.  If you have regular plain yogurt, just add your marinade seasoning to it as is. Whichever you choose, it’s best to start with plain flavored yogurt so that you can season it with herbs and spices.

Adding flavors

Visit different corners of the world with your seasoning mix. For a Middle Eastern flare add cumin, sumac, and garlic. To give your meal a Greek touch add in oregano and garlic. Looking for a classic ranch flavoring? Just add dill, onion powder, garlic powder and parsley. Add salt and pepper to each spice mix according to taste. But two of our personal favorites are this halal-cart-style chicken and rice and Persian-Style marinated fish!  We love that both dishes have a complementary yogurt sauce to go with it.

Try Kebabs!

What’s a summer grill without kebabs? Also try these yogurt marinated Greek chicken kebabs.

Left Image: Halal-cart-style chicken and rice from A Family Feast. Middle Image: Persian-Style marinated fish with cacik from Caroline’s Cooking. Right Image: Greek chicken kebabs from AllRecipes.com


Let the grilling begin! We’d love to see your creations.

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Heidi Harkopf

Heidi is a registered dietitian and the Director of Nutrition Programs for New England Dairy & Food Council.   During her free time Heidi can be found in the kitchen or driving her 2 teenage children to activities all over her home state of Connecticut!  A firm believer that healthy food doesn’t need to be complicated or time consuming, Heidi loves how dairy helps her pull meals together in a jiffy. Sound like someone you want to get to know? Contact Heidi at hharkopf@newenglanddairy.com.