How to Make a Perfect Steak Marinade

Let's talk about the power of steak marinades and how they can turn even tough cuts into tender, beefy goodness.

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When it comes to steak, not all cuts are created equal. Cuts like filet mignon, ribeye and porterhouse steaks are easy to cook up nice and juicy. Other cuts are not so lucky. Some steaks can benefit from soaking in a marinade before cooking, for tender, flavorful results. Our secret? This best steak marinade recipe you can make at home.

Why Marinade Steak?

Leaner cuts of meat from more muscular parts of the cow tend to have more fibrous tissue that will cook up tougher than other cuts of steak. A marinade helps break down the connective tissue in the muscle fibers to make them more tender. It’s food science at its finest. (Find more ways to make tough meat tender.)

Marinades also function as a flavor enhancer. Because tougher cuts of steak tend to be more muscular, they also tend to lack the fat that’s marbled throughout other, more tender cuts. Because fat equals flavor, leaner cuts benefit from soaking up marinades that are loaded with spices, herbs and liquids that add layers of flavor.

The Best Steaks to Marinate

tri-tip steak raw before marinadeLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

When choosing a steak, keep in mind that cuts that are closer to the hooves and horns tend to be tougher than those further away. We find that steaks from the leg and shoulder areas tend to be ideal for marinating because these are the muscles that work the hardest on a cow. Cuts such as flank steak, hanger steak, tri-tip, bottom round and eye of round are all great options if you’re looking for a steak to marinade.

Keep in mind that even sirloins, NY strips and tenderloins can benefit from a quick marinade. They may not need much help in the tenderness department but can still benefit from the additional flavor a marinade can provide.

Essential Steak Marinade Ingredients

While many premixed, bottled marinades are available in grocery aisles, you can also whip up and fast, flavorful homemade marinade using pantry staples. You only need a few basic ingredients to fulfill the essential components of a perfect marinade.

  • Fat: Since the steaks that benefit most from a marinade tend to be lean, adding fat back to the steak really helps add moisture (aka juiciness) to the steak. Olive oil is probably the most common “fat” you’ll see used in marinade recipes. However, other fats such as canola oil, coconut milk, full-fat yogurt and buttermilk may also be used.
  • Acid: The acid in your marinade is what will help break down the meat’s connective tissue to make it tender. You can use one or a combination of acids in your marinade to accomplish this. Red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar and balsamic vinegar are popular acids used in marinades. Citrus like lime, lemon and orange juice are also great acids for your marinade.
  • Salt: Salt is critical to a good marinade. It not only helps tenderize the meat, but salt also has the important function of drawing existing moisture out of the meat. Wait, aren’t we trying to add moisture? While it may seem counterintuitive, once the moisture is drawn out, the meat will then reabsorb any liquid it’s sitting in. In this case, it’s a delicious marinade bath. You want to make sure every inch of meat is covered for maximum flavor absorption. While a few teaspoons of sea salt or table salt will work, soy sauce or tamari is a popular “salt” option for marinades because it adds umami flavor.
  • Sugar: Something sweet really helps balance the flavors of a marinade. Additionally, the extra sugar will help the outside of your meat caramelize and get that tasty char on the outside. Brown sugar, honey, soda or fruit juice are all popular “sugar” additions to marinades.
  • Aromatics & Flavors: Finally, the last component of a great marinade are spices and herbs that add layers of extra depth and flavor. You can use garlic, ginger, chili flakes, onions, rosemary, thyme, coffee, beer, cinnamon or coriander, among other ingredients.

The Best Steak Marinade

steak marinade ingredientsLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

This chimichurri marinade is packed with flavors of cilantro, lime, chili flakes and lots of spices. While we chose to make tri-tip steak on the grill, feel free to use any steak of your liking. This marinade works great for skillet steak, too.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds tri-tip steak (flank steak or skirt steak are also good options)
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup fresh lime juice
  • 2-1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tablespoon red chili flakes
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder

Essential Tools You’ll Need

  • This 3.5-cup KitchenAid food chopper is great for small projects like combining ingredients for steak marinade. Its sharp blades whir through fresh herbs to meet the perfect consistency. Plus, its compact design doesn’t take up much room on your countertop.
  • We love the smokey flavor that comes from a charcoal grill. It’s the perfect complement to this fresh, zesty steak marinade. The Weber 22-inch deluxe charcoal grill will is a great grill to get started with as it comes with an easy gas ignite system that takes the work out of starting charcoal.
  • The easiest way to ensure your steak is cooked to perfection is to invest in a digital meat thermometer. This instant-read model from ThermaPro will give you all the accuracy you need. Learn more about food-safe cooking temperatures.

Instructions

Step 1: Mix the marinade

steak marinade ingredients in food processorLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Pulse a few times for 20-25 seconds until the garlic and herbs are finely minced, but not completely pureed.

Step 2: Cover the meat

tri-tip steak in mariandeLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Place the meat in a large, deep 9×13 pan and top with sliced onions. Pour the steak marinade over the meat, reserving about 1/4 cup for plating. Then, turn the meat over with tongs a few times to make sure the entire steak is covered and submerged in the marinade. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and then transfer the meat to the fridge.

How long should you marinate steak? Let it marinate for at least 6 hours (or 24 hours for best results). Flip the meat over once or twice while it soaks to make sure the meat marinates evenly.

Step 3: Grill

marinated tri-tip steak on the grillLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Remove the steak from the pan and discard the marinade. Grill the steak over direct heat on a charcoal or gas grill until the desired doneness is reached. For medium-rare, remove the steak when it reaches an internal temperature of 135-140°F. Remove the steak, cover loosely with foil and let it rest for at least 10 minutes.

Editor’s Tip: Always slice tri-tip, flank steak, and skirt steak. This little trick will do wonders in making the steak have a fall-apart tender texture with every bite.

How to Store Extra Marinade

If you find yourself with extra marinade, you can store any unused portion in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days. You may freeze marinade in an ice cube tray, too. Keep in mind that you should never save or reuse marinade that has been in contact with raw meat. It’s a major food safety hazard.

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Lauren Habermehl
Lauren Habermehl is a recipe developer, food photographer and creator of the blog, Frydae. She is a prolific quoter of FRIENDS, lover of weekend DIY projects and procrastinating fitness enthusiast who enjoys exploring the Milwaukee-area with her husband, daughter and ugly mutt named Tyson Doodles.