The secret to tender and juicy meat on the grill

Plus, try this recipe for delicious Indian Wings

Published January 12, 2022 11:59AM (EST)

Tandoori chicken wings served with pilau rice, soft garlic cheese naan with different chutney dipping sauces (Getty Images/SStajic)
Tandoori chicken wings served with pilau rice, soft garlic cheese naan with different chutney dipping sauces (Getty Images/SStajic)

This story comes from the Institute of Culinary Education, which has campuses in New York City and Los Angeles, as well as online programs.

Institute of Culinary Education

All too often, grilled meats suffer a similar fate: dry, overcooked and rubbery textures. When I'm invited to barbecues or tailgates and get grill duty, I can't help but predict the outcome for meat that hasn't been marinated correctly. There is a way to ensure juicy meat off the grill every single time using a common ingredient that's probably available in your fridge right now.

So what's the secret ingredient? Plain yogurt. It's inexpensive, readily available and incredibly versatile.

Yogurt seems like an uncommon ingredient for cooking and grilling because most Americans eat it for breakfast or as a snack. I'm a huge fan of cooking with yogurt and using it in my marinades — it's plain and accommodates any additional flavoring. In the summer, I add seasonal herbs and spices to yogurt for instant flavor and freshness. I also love making the marinade a day in advance to help me meal prep before a big party or busy week.

So why does yogurt work? By nature, it's very acidic and has lots of lactic acid, which helps massage the muscles of the meat and tenderize it. Many people are familiar with a popular Indian dish called tandoori chicken, which is marinated in yogurt and cooked inside a tandoor clay oven that heats up to 800˚F. Marinating by way of yogurt keeps grilled proteins juicy, especially chicken. Use a thicker, plain, Greek-style yogurt, though regular works too.

Another trick is to use half a beer to jumpstart the tenderizing process and then load up a yogurt marinade brimming with ground spices like turmeric, cayenne, cumin and coriander to increase the punch. But don't stop with chicken — turkey, lamb and pork will also benefit from yogurt. Keep in mind that yogurt needs time to do its work: a minimum of six hours, preferably overnight.

Indians have been using yogurt marinades for hundreds of years as it's effective for tenderizing meat and the secret to keeping the meat extra juicy. Since I was five years old, I can remember my mother making fresh yogurt; like many other Indians, my mom has been using the same starter culture for more than three decades. To me, yogurt and chicken go hand in hand. Here's one of my recipes to test it out.


Recipe: Indian Wings

Yields 4 servings


  • 3 pounds chicken wings
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon ginger
  • 1/4 cup beer
  • 3/4 cup plain whole-milk, full-fat yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander 
  • 1 teaspoon ground powder
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground cayenne 
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, to taste
  • Lemon wedges (for serving)


  • In a large bowl, add all ingredients except wings and lemon, and mix together.
  • Add wings and marinate for 12 hours or overnight.
  • Heat grill to medium heat. Remove wings from marinade, shake off any excess and grill, covered and turning occasionally, until golden brown and crisp, 15–20 minutes.
  • Serve with lemon wedges.

By Chef Palak Patel, Institute of Culinary Education

By Palak Patel

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