When Marinating Steak, The Cut Of Meat Matters

Marinating can be one of the best ways to infuse food with delicious flavor, and the ability to toss in a steak and let it sit is appealing for busy cooks. But there are finer points to using marinades that many aren't aware of, particularly when it comes to the differences between various cuts of beef.

Marinating sessions can also do wonders to improve tougher or less desirable cuts like flank, skirt, and hangar steaks. Credit goes to the salt and acid in marinades using the best way to marinate meat. Acids like citrus juice, vinegar, and even yogurt break down collagen in the beef, making it more tender, while salt helps brine and season the steak, improving its ability to retain water and stay juicy. This can take as little as one to three hours, while larger cuts like porterhouses or whole tenderloins can require up to eight or even 12 hours. 

However, those running short on time should note that experts like those at Bon Appétit say you should notice a difference after just 15-20 minutes. Cooks can put a firm upper limit on any marinating at around two days, after which it becomes increasingly likely that meat fibers break down into mush.

Why some steak lovers skip the marinade

On the other hand, some argue that marinating steak shouldn't be done at all. This is especially the case when eating high-quality, premium cuts, where purists say the flavor of the meat should be front and center. Think filet mignon, wagyu or Kobe beef, or exotic steaks like tomahawks.

In addition, marinades leave more moisture behind, preventing the formation of the delicious brown crust many seek out on their steaks. Counterintuitively, food scientists have even found marinades take longer to penetrate the interior of the cut and only provide their best benefits to the meat's surface. Alternative flavoring methods like dry rubs or wet brines can be more effective.

If you do choose to marinade, don't limit yourself to just steak. Check out our list of the perfect marinades for every type of meat for juicy, flavorful meals for all tastes and styles.