Should You Always Marinate Steak? [Inc. 11 Awesome Steak Marinade Ideas]

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Learning how to properly marinate and cook a steak unlocks infinite potential for awesome weeknight meals and special-occasion dinners. In order to impress your friends and family with a tender, perfectly seasoned steak, you'll first need to know how to whip up a marinade. We did the research and came up with a comprehensive list of marinating basics as well as 11 delicious steak marinade ideas that are sure to please.

Marinating your steak is not a mandatory step in the cooking process, although it greatly improves flavor and texture. If you don't have time to marinate, simply let your steak rest on the counter until it comes to room temperature and generously season it with salt and pepper. 

Not everybody has chef-quality cooking abilities. Luckily, throwing together a marinade is a surefire way to amp up your steak without any special skills required. Keep reading for our tips, tricks, and recipe ideas.

Raw organic marbled beef steaks with spices on a wooden cutting board on a black slate, stone or concrete background, Should You Always Marinate Steak? [Inc. 11 Awesome Steak Marinade Ideas]

The Secret To A Good Marinade

All great steak marinades have the same basic outline: they start with oil and acid. Whether that's olive oil and lemon juice or sesame oil and rice vinegar depends on your desired flavor profile, but you'll notice that all the recipes we list below start with a base of fat and acid. From there, the heavy lifting is done by herbs, spices, and other flavor components to really make the marinade special.

Now that you know this basic combo, you'll be concocting your own steak marinade recipe in no time. But until then, keep reading for some of our favorites.

1. Sweet Onion Marinade

A top view of a layer of yellow onions.

This delicious Sweet Onion Marinated Skirt Steak recipe from Bon Appetit is for all the french onion soup lovers out there. The combination of finely grated onion and brown sugar creates a sweet, caramelized exterior, while the vinegar provides a much-needed bite. Seriously, try this recipe. You won't regret it!

2. Garlic And Herb Marinade

Grilled steak being sliced on a cutting board.

In this recipe for Garlic and Herb Steak Marinade from Spice World, parsley, thyme, and Italian seasoning come together to impart a delicious freshness that perfectly balances out a nice fatty cut of steak. Don't be afraid to sub out the herbs for whatever you can find fresh in your area. Dill, basil, sage, and oregano would all work just as well in this recipe.

3. Balsamic And Soy Marinade

Grilled sliced beef steak on cutting board over stone table

The folks over at Creme De La Crumb call this recipe their Best Quick Steak Marinade for a reason. Balsamic vinegar and soy sauce create a base that is bright, savory, and interesting. The additions of dry mustard, garlic powder, and Italian herbs take it to that next level.

4. Kitchen Pantry Marinade

kitchen case with a set of seasonings

Although Allrecipes calls this the Best Steak Marinade in Existence, we've dubbed it the kitchen pantry marinade because you're likely to already have every ingredient in your fridge or kitchen cabinets – perfect for a quick weeknight dinner! Classic ingredients like olive oil, lemon juice, garlic powder, and Worcestershire sauce are just as comforting as they are delicious.

5. Dry Rub Marinade

Man seasons tenderloin steaks lying on the wooden board with ground pepper

The word marinade usually implies a wet mixture, but this recipe from Smitten Kitchen shows that a dry rub can be just as effective. The simple combination of salt, pepper, brown sugar, paprika, and cayenne come together to form a marinade that is sweet, smoky, and everything in between.

6. Hot 'n' Spicy Marinade

Red Chilli flakes in wooden spoon

All the spice lovers out there need to try this Hot 'n' Spicy Flank Steak from Taste of Home. While they choose red wine vinegar, soy sauce, and canola oil as the base of their marinade, the same result can be achieved by adding 1-2 teaspoons of red pepper to any marinade you choose.

7. Asian-Style Marinade

Asian styled grilled steak with bok choy and mushrooms in black bean sauce

Check out this Asian Grilled Flank Steak Recipe from Fox and Briar for a crash course in classic Asian flavors. Sesame oil and rice vinegar can be the base of so many delicious sauces and marinades, but this one in particular kicks it up a notch with some freshly grated garlic and ginger.

8. Gochujang Marinade

Gochujang in white bowl with spoon, with garlic and chilis on dark background

Korean hot pepper paste takes a front seat in this punchy Gochujang-Marinated Skirt Steak recipe from Bon Appetit. While we're speaking of Asian-inspired flavors, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention this recipe that implements all the best flavors of Korean cuisine. Savory, spicy, sweet, tangy – this stuff has it all.

9. Carne Asada Marinade

Mexican steak with avocado, tortillas and green sauce

If you want a steak marinade filled with true Mexican flavors, look no further than this Authentic Carne Asada recipe from The Stay At Home Chef. Three different types of acid and a heaping cup of chopped cilantro give this steak recipe a flavorful zing like no other. It's seriously amazing.

10. Italian Marinade

Beef Rib Eye Steaks, Raw Meat & Rosemary Marinade & Barbeque Cooking

If you love Italian food, then you'll be happy to learn that classic Italian ingredients can make an awesome steak marinade. This Italian Marinated Steak recipe by Beef It's What's For Dinner goes back to basics for a simple marinade that still packs a punch. Add the accompanying side of grilled Ratatouille, and you're in for a treat!

11. Red Curry Marinade

Asian Food: Thai Red Curry Still Life

For a steak recipe that truly thinks outside the box, try this Red Curry Flank Steak from Allrecipes. This marinade includes red curry powder, red curry paste, fish sauce, grated ginger, and basil for a Thai-inspired umami bomb. Warning: this recipe may not be suited for lovers of mild spice.

How Long Are You Supposed To Marinate A Steak?

In order to let a marinade fully penetrate your steak, it's best to let it sit overnight in the fridge. If you can't wait that long, 20 minutes to an hour on the counter will do just fine. Any less than 20 minutes, though, and the steak won't be able to properly absorb flavor.

Check out this PrepSealer Marinating Vacuum Container on Amazon. 

Does Marinating Steak Overnight Make A Difference?

So, why is it best to let the steak marinate overnight? There's actually more at play here than just flavor. The acid in a marinade, whether that be citrus or vinegar, actually breaks down the proteins in your cut of meat over time. Since steaks are naturally pretty tough, an overnight marinate will actually help tenderize the beef. But too long of a marinade will cause the steak to become mushy.

Check out this article: 'Can You Cook A Steak In A Nonstick Pan?'

Is It Bad To Marinate A Steak For 2 Days?

We find the sweet spot for marinating a steak to be around 8 hours. If you go over that amount of time, your steak is likely to lose some of its structural integrity. Don't leave your steak to marinate for two days – one night will do the trick.

Should You Pierce Meat Before Marinating?

Raw organic marbled beef steaks with spices on a wooden cutting board on a black slate, stone or concrete background, Should You Always Marinate Steak? [Inc. 11 Awesome Steak Marinade Ideas]

No, never pierce your meat before marinating! Steak, in particular, relies on that outer layer to keep its juices in while cooking. If you pierce your steak beforehand, you will just create holes for all of those wonderful juices to leak out of.

Check out this article: 'Which Oil Is Best For Searing Steak?'

Do You Rinse Off Marinade Before Cooking?

Too much residual liquid from marinade can prevent a steak from achieving a proper sear, especially in a cast iron pan. But no, that doesn't mean you should rinse off your steak before cooking. Simply pat your steak dry with paper towels before throwing it on the grill or in a pan. Marinade is flavor – you want to keep as much of it on the surface of your steak as possible.

Check out this Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Grill Pan on Amazon.

Get Cooking!

Now that you know how to put together a basic marinade, you have no excuse not to cook a delicious steak dinner tonight. If you're at a loss for ideas, check out one of the 11 recipes we linked to above. Just remember: as long as you have oil, acid, and spices, you have the makings of a stellar steak marinade on your hands.

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