The world of marinades and rubs can be pretty confusing to the novice cook. Some say that steak marinades are a must, while others recommend just salting your steak and tossing it on the grill. You'll hear that marinades tenderize meat and that they toughen it, that some are better than others, and that certain ingredients work magic on a cheap steak. Is there truth in any of it? Let's take a look at some of the basics behind marinating to help you find the best steak marinades for your situation.

First, just what is a marinade? In most cases, it's a flavorful liquid with a mildly to strongly acidic base that's used to get flavor into the meat. The liquid permeates your steak, infusing it with the taste of the marinade. 

Generally, you'll want to allow the steak to rest in the marinade for a couple of hours only. It can be tempting to assume that if two hours makes a steak more tender, then longer times would make it even better, but that's not the case. A similar line of thinking leads to overly acid marinades, which have a similar effect to long marinating - tough steak.

You see, initially, the acid in a marinade can help unravel the proteins, resulting in a less chewy steak. However, if you leave the steak in too long, especially in a very acidic steak marinade, you'll find that the opposite effect occurs. Those unraveled proteins bond back up and form a tough, rubbery meat. 

So, don't be tempted to overdo it with your marinade. A little is good, but a lot is not necessarily better. Start out by following the instructions on any marinade recipe very carefully. That will help you get the best results. After you know what you're doing, you can take the time to do a little bit of experimentation.