At their most basic, marinades combine a handful of ingredients: oil, an acid and seasonings. Yet what a difference they can make in boosting the taste of meats, poultry, seafood and vegetables.

Here you'll find tips on preparing and using marinades that will help your food emerge from the grill as flavorful and tender as possible. For some delicious recipes, click on the links at right.

Oils add a rich mouth feel and an attractive sheen to grilled foods. They help protect the surface of the food and carry the flavor of spices, herbs and other aromatic ingredients. In addition to olive oil and grapeseed oil, experiment with infused oils to boost the marinade's flavor. Try rosemary oil for grilled lamb or roasted garlic oil for portobello mushrooms. For the minimalist cook, a sprinkling of salt and pepper followed by a thin coat of oil may be all that a superb cut of meat requires.

Acids, such as wine, balsamic vinegar, yogurt or citrus juices, tenderize meat while adding bright, fresh flavors. Choose an acid that will complement your food: a robust red wine for a hearty leg of lamb or lemon juice for delicate fish brochettes. Acids help break down protein fibers, but using too much acid or soaking the food too long can result in mushy meat or tough seafood. If you plan to marinate small cuts of meat or fish for an hour or more, add a minimal amount of acidic ingredients.

Seasonings, such as garlic, onion, ginger, lemongrass, rosemary or cumin seed, provide endless flavor variations in otherwise simple marinades. They can also lend appealing color and texture to grilled foods. Some ingredients, such as chopped garlic and parsley leaves, may scorch over high heat and taste bitter. Although they add flavor to the marinade, it's important to brush them off the food before grilling.

Use nonreactive containers, such as glass, stainless steel or plastic, for marinating. Sealable plastic bags allow you to coat food with smaller amounts of marinade. Fold the bag down and press out as much air as possible before sealing. Some foods, like vegetables and small cuts of meat, only require a light coating, while larger cuts may be completely immersed in a liquid marinade.

Marinating times will vary from 30 minutes for small pieces of fish to 3 days for a large roast. Since many foods benefit from marinating overnight, it's easy to prepare a day ahead. But even a few minutes will help boost the flavor of most foods before grilling. If you plan to marinate meat, poultry or fish for longer than 30 minutes, cover and refrigerate it. For the best results on the grill, allow the food to return to room temperature before cooking.

Dry food by shaking off as much marinade as possible before grilling to promote a good sear. If the meat is too wet, it will steam and drip liquid onto the coals, inhibiting the development of that distinctive crisp, browned exterior.

To make a sauce from the marinade, set aside half before adding the meat. Prepare a double recipe, if needed, to be sure you will have plenty for basting or passing at the table. Or, after removing the food from the marinade, boil the marinade for 5 minutes to cook the raw juices. Never serve the meat or poultry's marinade without cooking it first.