No more relegating steak to special occasion status! Even inexpensive cuts of beef will satisfy when you use my Steak Marinade. Fire up your grill, STAT!

The Best Steak Marinade

 Whenever I experience some life event that calls for an extravagant culinary celebration, maybe a graduation, anniversary, or even a cheat meal after two hours of successful dieting, I usually opt for a big steak dinner.  That’s the time to pull out all the stops with an expensive cut of beef – maybe a prime ribeye, with a little butter melting on top, surrounded by a monster baked potato and some after-thought of a green vegetable (if only to alleviate the guilt from having such a decadent meal.) There’s usually a nice bottle of red wine thrown into the mix too. Mmmm. Heaven.

I can honestly say I’ve never met a steak I didn’t like, but I have met some that could do with a few hours in a well-constructed marinade. The beauty of the whole marinating process is that you can turn even an inexpensive cut of beef into something worthy of a special occasion, and I’m all for having a little extra “special” in our lives!

Marinating is one of those processes that makes you realize just how much science magic happens in the kitchen. The right marinade can make an impenetrable cut of meat sponge-up loads of flavor and yield its tense tissue for a tender result. All that happens because of the chemistry going on between your steak and the marinade. While there are undoubtedly as many steak marinade recipes as there are diners who won’t touch that green vegetable I mentioned earlier, the good recipes have the same four fundamental ingredients to help move flavor into the meat and create that moist, tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture we all want in a good steak. This recipe is my favorite Steak Marinade for grilling your favorite cut of beef – it comes together in a flash and works its “science” overnight.

So what are the necessary ingredients for making the best steak marinade? You’ll just need to remember this simple acronym: S-O-F-A. The “S” stands for salt, which is probably the most important ingredient in a marinade for steak, or any other meats, for that matter. Marinades in general have a hard time penetrating more than a few millimeters past the surface, but salt helps increase that depth a bit (through a boring but important process similar to osmosis). Salt also helps break down some of the proteins in the meat, ones that typically shrink during the cooking process and leave you wondering how much water you’ll have to drink to digest that dry piece of sawdust on your plate. Breaking down those proteins means more moisture is retained during the cooking process. Plus it’s, well, salt, which enhances even the most naturally flavorful foods. My marinade uses soy sauce to provide the salt as well as an extra savory, umami component.

The “O” stands for oil which serves two purposes: it works as a conduit for any flavorings that are only soluble in oil (garlic, one of my favorite “flavorizers,” being one) and helps with consistent browning once the steak hits the grill. Mild, high-smoke-point oils are the preferred choice here for a bbq steak marinade, so I use a regular or light olive oil in the recipe (rather than extra-virgin, for example). “F” is for flavor, and the sky’s the limit here, but you want to use strong flavors that will stand up to the natural flavor of the beef. I always use garlic and aromatics that have a little bit of gusto. In this Steak Marinade recipe, I’ve added Italian seasoning and pepper (freshly ground, of course), plus some Worcestershire sauce and Dijon mustard to do a little double-duty. They both add tons of flavor (seriously, Worcestershire sauce has like 50 ingredients!), but they also supplement that last mandatory marinade ingredient. “A” is for acid.

Whether you use citrus juice, vinegar, or even beer or wine, acid is essential for any marinade. Acid more than any other ingredient works to break down the connective tissue in steak, so it’s your tough cut’s best friend. I use red wine vinegar because I like the flavor, and Worcestershire sauce and mustard bring a little extra vinegar to play as well. It’s important to understand that too much of a good thing can quickly become a bad thing, though, so keep the ratio of oil to vinegar at about 1 to ½ and choose the marinating time carefully. Otherwise, your tough cut will go from tender to mealy, and you might just ruin a steak you’ve spent a small fortune on.

Just a note about the cut of beef. I like to use Boneless Beef Loin New York Steak, which can hold its texture just fine in an overnight steak marinade. Beef, though, is like a lot of things: you get what you pay for. To determine how long to marinate steak, you just need to look at the price tag. Expensive prime cuts mean higher quality beef that’s more tender and flavorful and doesn’t need much fussing over. For those, you’ll either need a quick steak marinade, with minimal exposure time to the acid you’ve chosen, or a low-acid version for longer, flavor-concentrating. The steak marinade Jamie Oliver makes for his beef filet, for example, suggests marinating for a few hours or overnight, but you’ll notice his recipe is missing any additional acid beyond the little bit Worcestershire sauce and mustard provide.

I dare say my recipe is the best ribeye steak marinade you’re going to try this grilling season . . . or the best New York Strip marinade . . . or the best whatever-is-on-sale-this-week marinade. It’s definitely going to make your next bbq something special!

The Best Steak Marinade

RECIPE NOTES:

Watch your fire:  Now that you’ve carefully marinated your steak, you don’t want to overcook it!

There’s definitely an art to grilling the perfect steak. The same type of steak can vary in thickness plus the temperature will continue to rise another 5 or 10 degrees once you’ve removed it from the heat. The first thing to remember is to get your steak as close to room temperature as you can before grilling.

Remove it from the fridge at least 30 minutes before you plan to start the sizzling. It can be difficult to remember all those ranges for cooking times and temperatures for different degrees of doneness, especially if you’re grilling for a crowd, so here’s a handy graphic to help take the guesswork out of when to pull your steak off the fire:

Gonna Want Seconds Steak Doness Chart

Beer Me: For some aficionados’ steak marinade beer needs to come first! Nothing makes better fajitas, right?

Feel free to use it in my recipe as a red wine vinegar replacement, and use a little chili powder and cumin instead of the Italian seasoning. I’d suggest a light lager-style, rather than a dark beer, to do its tenderizing duty without competing with the beef flavor.

You can also swap out the red wine vinegar and make a balsamic steak marinade to add additional sweetness to the dish.