Your condiment shelf is the secret to flavorful, juicy chicken and so much more.
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Hand holding a ketchup bottle next to bottles of ranch dressing and relish
Credit: Sabrina Tan/Dotdash Meredith

No summer barbecue is complete without an array of condiments at the ready. But did you know that those same condiments you top your hot dogs and hamburgers with can also make excellent marinades? From ketchup and mustard to relish and ranch dressing, many of your favorite summer condiments make prime marinades for your favorite cuts of meat.

Why can you make this shortcut in the marinating process? To start, most condiments already contain the essential ingredients of any good marinade. They're high in acidity, which tenderizes meat, and flavor, which amps up the taste of mild proteins. In other words, the building blocks of a marinade are built right in. Why add time and effort to an easy summer cookout by making a separate marinade with a long list of ingredients? 

And the process couldn't be easier: Just rub your favorite protein in enough of the condiment to completely cover its surface — about half a cup per pound of protein. While many condiments can be used as marinades, here are six great ones to start with.

Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

Buttermilk-marinated chicken is delicious, but buttermilk-ranch-marinated chicken is even better. Buttermilk has long been a marinade of choice for chicken thanks to its high lactic acid content. Add to buttermilk's tenderizing power the delicious spices that go into ranch dressing — onion, garlic, chives, and more — and you have yourself a truly magical marinade.

Try it: Marinate chicken breasts or thighs in buttermilk ranch dressing anywhere between four to 24 hours before cooking.

Mustard

The first ingredient in most prepared mustards is vinegar, which is the perfect base for tenderizing meat. Many mustards also contain spices such as paprika and garlic powder, making for a powerhouse of flavor that's ideal for a marinade. Look for smooth varieties of mustard such as yellow or Dijon; that texture works best. If you're worried the mustard flavor might be too intense, try adding a bit of sweetness like honey or maple syrup to tone it down (the added sugar will caramelize on the grill and help develop a flavorful char).

Try it: Marinate boneless pork chops in mustard for eight to 24 hours before cooking.

Relish

Classic relish is just a combination of pickled cucumbers, vinegar, sugar, and spices. Its sweet, acidic makeup makes it great for marinating fish and other seafood, lending a briny flavor not unlike a dill pickle. Be careful, though–neon green Chicago-style relish might dye your meats an unwanted green color.

Try it: Marinate fish filets in relish for 30 minutes to an hour before grilling for a salty-sweet flavor.

Salsa

Most jarred salsas are made with lime juice or vinegar. Both of these ingredients help tenderize meat while the onions, garlic, jalapeño, and other aromatics add flavor. Smooth, puréed salsas work best as marinades, but if all you have on hand is the chunky variety, just give it a quick blitz in a blender until smooth.

Try it: Marinate chicken in salsa for four to 24 hours, cook and then pull it for a simple taco filling.

Ketchup

Ketchup makes an excellent marinade thanks to the vinegar and spices in it. It also contains quite a bit of sugar, making it ideal for meats that get cooked on the grill. The high heat of the grill caramelizes the sugar and creates a deliciously smoky charred crust. You can add an array of spices to the ketchup like smoked paprika, chili powder, or cumin to make a quick barbecue sauce-like marinade perfect for grilling.

Try it: Marinate steaks in ketchup for anywhere between four to 24 hours before grilling.

Hot Sauce

If you're looking to infuse your meats with some serious heat, hot sauce is the perfect marinade. Most hot sauces are made with vinegar, helping tenderize meat while adding a bright, punchy flavor. Just make sure to use a hot sauce that isn't too powerful so your meat isn't too spicy. Frank's RedHot Buffalo Wings Hot Sauce is a great option that's on the mild side and can be used as-is as a marinade. If you want to try marinating with hotter sauces like sriracha, dilute them with 50% olive oil to help tame their heat.

Try it: Marinate shrimp in your favorite mild hot sauce for about one hour before cooking to give it a peppy kick.