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.

As to the marinade ingredients that work best, it's hard to say which to choose. It all depends on your personal tastes. Some prefer lemon based marinades, while others like vinegar. Some marinate their steaks in an alcoholic marinade. Pineapple and papaya containing steak marinades will contain enzymes that tenderize the meat, breaking down the proteins. However, you should use them with care. 

They add a great taste and create a less chewy steak, but they'll also reduce a good steak to mush if overused. These fruits are surprisingly powerful, and should be utilized with caution when creating your steak marinades.

You should also remember that a great marinade can't save a lackluster steak. It's an unfortunate fact, but a true one. To cook a good steak, you need to start with a good steak. While steak marinades can certainly improve a piece of meat that's a little below the grade, it's best to choose the best steaks available to you. 

Combine it with your favorite marinade, use a little care in cooking it, and make sure you rest the meat before cutting, and the result will be a delicious steak that will impress your family and friends. Try a few steak marinades today, and think about the results. That's the best way to get a family favorite.

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