Recent figures from the USDA showed that, in 2016, the average American ate 55.6 pounds of beef, after nearly a decade of falling meat consumption.
As steaks rise in popularity, that old question raises its head again, should you marinate steak? And if so, what makes for the best marinade?
Let’s take a look at both sides of the argument, when you should and shouldn’t marinate steak. We will also feature some of the best steak marinade recipes for your grill this summer. That’s assuming we should be marinating steak of course.
What Is a Marinade?
A marinade is a wet mixture which consists of an acidic liquid, like lemon juice or vinegar, and a blend of herbs and spices.
You would normally put your steak into the marinade from a few hours to a couple of days before grilling. The more time you allow it, the more it will tenderize and season the steak.
The Case Against Marinades
That’s fine you may be thinking, but I don’t want to pour cheap vinegar all over my premium ribeye. Many would argue that a truly great steak needs only the slightest sprinkling of salt and freshly ground pepper before putting on the grill.
Yet a great steak should be juicy and tender, regardless of what seasoning you put on the meat. The non-marinade brigade will also argue marinades stop the steak from browning too well.
The moisture barrier created by the marinade will prevent your steak from getting that caramelized crust you love so much. A good steak should be patted down as dry meat always forms the best crust.
Marinades are designed to work slowly and rarely penetrate the surface, often leaving the exterior with a mushy consistency. It can also leave the inside of the steak tough. Many would argue that a rub, or a dry/wet brine, is more effective at tenderizing your steak and takes less time.
The Case for Marinades
The flavor and aroma are the two biggest arguments for using a marinade on your steak. Food scientists may suggest a marinade doesn’t always penetrate the surface enough to flavor the inside of a steak.
However, grill enthusiasts like myself would argue the right marinade can add flavor and a sear quality similar to a finishing sauce.
Aroma can also play a large part in the grilling process. As the steak hits that hot grill, the smell of the marinade sizzling will be incredible and should never be discounted. Adding a simple marinade like soy and lime can give your BBQ that Asian flavor and aroma too.
Often when we BBQ, we want pieces of meat which grill quicker, including cuts like skirt, flank and hanger steaks.
These steaks are all cut from large muscles which can be naturally tougher and need a marinade. The acidic base of a marinade will tenderize the meat in addition to giving it a distinctive flavor.
How to Marinade Your Steak
Making a good steak marinade has been likened to making a salad dressing. Growing up, there was always some chicken in a ziplock bag at the bottom of the fridge in Italian dressing.
Steak marinades work the same but need extra strong flavors, enough to infuse the meat for a longer-lasting flavor.
Steak marinades all need four key elements in their recipe—an acidic base, oil, flavourings and salt. Oil will help to emulsify the marinade for a thicker sauce to coat the steak.
Acid helps tenderize the steak, with salt acting as an essential tenderizer and moisture retainer too. And finally, flavorings do as they say on the label, add flavor to the surface of the steak.
The easiest way to marinate your steak is to put it in a ziplock bag and massage the marinade around the meat. Thinner cuts of meat shouldn’t be marinated for more than 10 to 12 hours. Not so much an overnight thing, but more a marinate in the morning, grill at night thing.
Grilling Your Marinated Steak
Remember to take your steak from the fridge at least one hour before you grill it. Allowing it to come to room temperature will avoid the muscles clenching up and becoming tough.
Imagine yourself coming from the cold and being thrown on to a fire, the effect is pretty much the same.
When the grill is at the optimum cooking temperature, about 600 to 700 degrees, remove the steak from the marinade.
Pat it down with paper towels to remove any excess liquid, its job is done now. Try to ensure none of the bulky ingredients like sliced jalapenos remain, they will just burn when grilled.
Depending on the heat of your grill and the cut of beef you are using, cooking times will vary. As a general rule, thinner cuts of steak cook better over a high heat and won’t take too long at all.
Have your tongs ready to flip the meat and a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. Take it off the grill at 120-125 degrees for medium rare, or 130 to 135 degrees for medium. (We don’t do “burnt” or well done in my house!)
If you don’t own a meat thermometer, you can simply slice the steak and have a peek at the color. When it’s done to your liking, remove the steak from the grill and allow it to rest for five minutes or so. Slice against the grain while still hot and serve.
Making the Best Steak Marinades for Your BBQ
Although there are now many commercial steak marinades available, making your own is so easy and can be fun.
The old saying goes “we men, we come light fire, we cook meat” not “we men, we marinate meat, we cook meat”. Try to get the wife involved and maybe even the kids, this is one part of grilling which is ultra-safe.
The process for each marinade is the same, you can either mix it in a food processor, blender or whisk in a bowl. Making a marinade can be broken down into four steps:
Start with the oil
To avoid the taste of oil, I recommend using a neutral oil like canola or grapeseed oil. If you do want that stronger flavor you could always use olive oil, sesame oil or maybe an infused oil.
Add the acid
This could be a citrus juice like lemon, orange or pineapple juice or a vinegar like balsamic or apple cider.
Other forms of acid you can use include wine, beer, yoghurt, buttermilk or even some pureed onions with garlic. Try for equal parts or less acid than oil, you can always add more later but can’t remove any excess.
Mix in the flavorings
Here’s where the fun starts. Try experimenting with Worcestershire sauce, a variety of mustards, or some fresh chopped herbs. You could even use some sauces like ketchup or siracha, but remember these will add to the acidity.
Just like salad dressings, you will need something to balance out your flavors. Saltiness doesn’t necessarily need to come from salt but can be a salty liquid like soy or fish sauce.
You could also add some sweetness to balance like whisking in some brown sugar, a little honey or maple syrup. Just don’t go overboard; sugars will burn when thrown on a grill.
Always taste your marinade, adding more salt, sugar, flavorings, acid or oil if needed. If you have made more marinade than you actually need, you can set it aside for another cookout.
You could also use it to make a dipping, basting or pouring sauce, and even a salad dressing sometimes.
The Best Steak Marinades
Finally, we have included a few of our favorite steak marinades for your grill. This includes the world famous, at least in our neighborhood, William Steak-Sear marinade.
Just follow the steps detailed above for each set of ingredients and soon you’ll be grilling steaks with flavor explosions.
The William Steak-Sear Marinade
A backyard favorite for that perfectly seared steak.
A Tasty Traditional Steak Marinade
An Asian Flank Steak Marinade
Bring a taste of the Orient to your backyard grill.
Texas BBQ Steak Marinade
If anybody knows how to do grilled steak, it’s those Texan cowboys.
With backyard grill season having finally arrived, there’s nothing better than a big ole juicy steak on a midsummer evening. As Americans, we certainly don’t have a beef with beef anymore. And with a world of flavors to choose from, the possibilities are endless.