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BEST MARINADES HAVE DISTINCTIVE FLAVORS

Adding flavor to meats is easier than ever these days, thanks to the growing selection of marinades lining grocery shelves.

Taster's Choice tried eight brands of garlic and herb marinade designed for chicken or other meats. Most of the bottles gave directions to marinate the meats for at least 30 minutes, although Mrs. Dash carried a 10-minute recipe. All recommended the marinades be used longer for more intense flavor. We marinated chicken strips in the refrigerator overnight before putting them on the grill.

Judges were pleased with the results.

KC Masterpiece ($3.99 for 16 ounces at Albertsons) produced the most delicious chicken. Judges gave the marinade 73 of 100 possible points. All four panelists said they would pick up a bottle on their next shopping trip.

The chicken grilled to a caramel color and had a distinctive smoky flavor.

"This is a bit like a sweet barbecue sauce," said one judge. "It seems like it would be a crowd pleaser. Kids would really like it."

A garlic and herb marinade from A1 ($2.99 for 16 ounces at Albertsons) was close behind KC's, receiving 72 points. Three of the four judges said they liked the brand enough to buy it.

The A1 marinade had a slight tomato flavor and was a darker brown.

"This one is soy-intensive with a teeny bit of a spice edge, maybe citrus," said a judge who loved the deep color it produced. "This would be good sliced over an Asian-inflected salad," she said.

Two brands tied for third choice, each receiving 63 points. Judges liked Mrs. Dash Zesty Garlic & Herb and Lawry's Herb & Garlic (each was $2.99 for 12 ounces at Albertsons). In each case, three of the four judges would buy the brands.

Even though the word "zesty" appeared on the Mrs. Dash bottle, judges described Lawry's as the zestier mix.

They especially liked the subtle hint of vinegar in that brand.

The Mrs. Dash marinade's taste was described as "very herby," and its texture resembled bread crumbs. One judge described it as "the flavor you would find in holiday stuffing."

Another detected orange in the basting.

"It's clean, bright and nice for a summer brunch," he said.

Another sensed a burst of sweet fennel in her bite.

Other marinades sampled were: Ken's Herb & Garlic ($2 for 16 ounces at Sweetbay); Hannaford Roasted Garlic ($2.99 for 12 ounces at Sweetbay); Mediterranean Style Roasted Garlic from World Harbors Amalfi Coast ($2.49 for 18 ounces at Sweetbay); and Jack Daniel's Slow Roasted Garlic & Herb ($1.99 for 12 ounces at Sweetbay).

Panelists were: Nan Jensen, registered dietitian with Pinellas County Cooperative Extension; Bob Devin Jones, artistic director of Studio@620; Times food critic Laura Reiley; and Jim Yockey, aesthetician at Indulgence Medical Day Spa. All foods were tasted blind. Send suggestions for product tasting to Taste section, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731 or e-mail jkeeler@sptimes.com. Please put TEST SUGGESTION in the subject line. To read past Taster's Choice columns, go to www.sptimes.com/food.

Garlic and herb marinade rankings

1. KC Masterpiece

2. A1

3. Mrs. Dash and Lawry's (tie)

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