Grilling a steak is a great way to add tons of smokiness and flavor to the meat. One of the challenges to grilling steaks, however, can be affordability; tender, juicy cuts of beef can be expensive, and more affordable cuts like sirloin or flank steak can get tough or rubbery when they’re cooked. Marinades can help; less expensive cuts of beef can still be flavorful and juicy, they just need to be marinated in the right ingredients.
Marinades are made from a variety of ingredients, some of which can help break down the connective tissues in the meat — this means the finished steak will be easier to cut and chew. One of the main ways marinades can tenderize meat is to take advantage of enzymatic reactions. Basically, enzymes help break down the collagen in a steak without compromising the structure of the meat’s fibers. Many warm-climate fruits contain enzymes that can help tenderize cheaper cuts of meat. Kiwifruit, figs, and papaya are all great sources of proteolytic enzymes (enzymes that break down proteins); they add flavor to your steak’s marinade while encouraging a more tender grilled steak.
Acidic ingredients have a similar effect on the texture of meat — they can help weaken muscle fibers and tenderize cheap cuts of meat by allowing them to retain more moisture. Adding components like wine, buttermilk, or vinegar to you marinade not only balances other components you’ve added but it further encourages reactions that will tenderize the meat. Just be sure your marinade is balanced; adding too much acid can have the opposite effect and toughen the steak.
If you’re thinking about grilling but want to stick to a budget, you don’t have to skip the steaks — just skip the filet mignon. Cuts like sirloin and flank steak can be just as good with a little help from the right marinade.
Tea is the new coffee, and that goes for marinades, too. Take advantage of tea’s tenderizing tannins by adding some strongly brewed tea to your marinade for both tenderness and an earthy flavor.
Pineapple juice isn’t just for marinating pork; try it on steaks, too. The juice will lend an incredible sweetness to the meat and the naturally-occurring bromelain will help break down the steak’s collagen.
Wine has natural tannins which help tenderize steak and because wine is also acidic it can help the steak retain more moisture. All this adds up to delicious, tender, juicy steak.
Orange juice is highly acidic, making it a great meat tenderizer. Just be sure you don’t add too much or your marinade could actually toughen the meat.
We all know about beer can chicken, but how about beer-marinated steak? Try marinating your steak in beer for an hour or more before grilling.
Another secret source of proteolytic enzymes, ginger is a great way to add amazing flavor to steak while also tenderizing it.
Whether you’re a Coke or Pepsi fan, you should try giving your steak a dunk in cola. The acid in the soda will help tenderize the meat and the sugar will add a natural sweetness to your marinade.
Lemon or Lime Juice
Two great sources of meat-tenderizing acid, freshly-squeezed lemon or lime juice are marinating must-haves.
Coffee is another way to inject tons of flavor into your steak while marinating to maximize tenderness. Just be sure to chill the coffee completely before you add it to the marinade.