Whether you're throwing a flank steak on the grill at a summer cookout or pan-searing a juicy sirloin, there's one way to make sure that your steak ends up loaded with flavor and moisture: go the extra mile by whipping up a quick steak marinade and transforming your weeknight grill sesh.
Read on to find out when and why you should marinate a steak and, most importantly, what you should use in your marinade to turn your run-of-the-mill cuts of steak into a meal worthy of your local steakhouse.
WHAT KIND OF STEAK SHOULD YOU MARINATE?
First of all, not all steaks need to be marinated. If you just picked up a prime dry-aged New York strip from your butcher and you want to enjoy all of its beefy goodness, a sprinkle of salt and pepper will do that cut just fine! When you're dealing with cuts from higher-up on the cow, like ribeye, tenderloin and Porterhouse, these steaks have less muscle content, more tenderness and more natural flavor with little need for extra seasoning.
But some less-expensive, lower fat cuts like London broil, hanger steak, flank steak and sirloin will benefit from taking a bath in a zesty marinade before cooking. When your steak marinades, it absorbs *both* moisture and flavor, allowing tougher pieces of meat to really shine.
WHAT DO YOU USE TO MARINATE A STEAK?
Most marinades are made with oil, vinegar and various herbs and spices. They're super adaptable!
A classic, steakhouse-style marinade might include:
- Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
- Red wine vinegar
- Salt and pepper
You can vary your marinade depending on what you're serving with your steak: Our hanger steak with a "margarita" marinade (yes, with *tequila*!) goes perfectly with rice and refried beans, while an Asian-inspired marinade loaded with fresh ginger is a great partner for bok choy or other tender greens.
HOW DO I MARINATE A STEAK?
After making your marinade, it's time for your meat to take a dip!
A plastic bag is the best (and least-messy) way to marinate, but you can also use a shallow baking dish. If you use a dish, you'll need more marinating liquid in order to submerge the meat.
Transfer your steak and marinade to the bag and seal, turning to coat. Place in the refrigerator—marinating on the counter can introduce microbes and bacteria to the meat, according to the USDA.
HOW LONG SHOULD I MARINATE A STEAK?
Anywhere from 15-20 minutes is usually enough for your marinade to infuse your steak with plenty of flavor, but the USDA says that beef can marinate for up to five days if covered and refrigerated.
And if you use vacuum bags, you can use 90% less marinade, according to "Top Chef" Richard Blais. (He also says you should marinate meat for a minimum of one hour.)
Beware that marinades with a lot of acidic ingredients (think citrus!) can make meat tough if they're left on for too long.
CAN I USE MY MARINADE AS A SAUCE?
While it can be tempting to reuse your marinade as a base for a sauce, germs can be left behind from the raw meat. If you want to turn your marinade into a serving sauce, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service says you should boil it for at least a minute to kill potentially harmful bacteria.