Marinating meat before grilling helps tenderize it and adds wonderful flavor. Tenderizing agents often used in marinades include acidic ingredients such as vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice, yogurt and even wine. Fresh papaya, ginger and pineapple contain tenderizing enzymes, and they add exotic flavors as well. Marinades are wonderfully versatile flavor enhancers for the outdoor chef. The marinade recipes you can come up with are only limited by your imagination. You start by selecting your acid or tenderizing ingredients, and add additional ingredients. Popular choices include herbs (oregano, thyme), garlic, shallots, brown sugar or honey, soy sauce, cumin, black pepper, chili powder, Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste and mustard.
You can also take something you already have in the refrigerator, such as standard Italian salad dressing, and build additional flavor through adding fresh herbs like cilantro, or spicing it up with chili powder.
Timing is important to get the most out flavor out of your marinade. Marinating for too brief a time doesn’t allow the flavor of the marinade to penetrate the meat. Overlong marinating time results in softening the texture of the meat too much. Here are some guidelines:
Tender beef cuts can be marinated for as short as 15 minutes, or up to 2 hours. These include Porterhouse, top loin, tenderloin, ribeyes, top sirloin. Less tender cuts need to be marinated at least 6 hours or as long as overnight. These include flank, skirt, top round, and chuck shoulder steaks. If you marinate longer than 24 hours, the surface texture of the meat can be softened more than you want. Meat with a mushy texture when you cut into it is not what you’re striving for.
For tender cuts of beef–Porterhouse, top loin, tenderloin, rib eyes, top sirloin-the marinade will do its job in as little as 15 minutes, or you can go as long as 2 hours with the marinating process. Less tender cuts need substantially more marinating time, at least 6 hours or preferably overnight. Flank steak, skirt steak, top round and chuck shoulder steaks all benefit from longer marinating.
You should marinate the food in the refrigerator, never at room temperature. Never reuse a marinade. It should be discarded after you remove the meat from it. Some marinades do make great sauces to serve with the dish. But do not use the marinade that has been in contact with the meat. Simply reserve some of the marinade for use in the sauce, and use the rest as the marinade.
The goal of marinating is to have the liquid in contact with as much of the surface of the meat as possible. If you are using a food-safe plastic bag for marinating, make sure that it is a fairly tight fit over the meat, so the marinade will be forced over more of the food’s surface. Similarly, it you prefer to use a nonreactive container like a glass dish, make sure it is large enough so the meat can lie flat, but again is a tight enough fit so the marinade will be in contact with as much of the meat as possible. It’s a good idea to turn the plastic bag over several times or turn the meat in the dish, in order to have uniform exposure to the marinade.