How to marinate beef

How to marinate beef

Everything you need to know about marinating beef

Do you use marinade as a sauce or as a way to tenderise the meat? And yes, there is actually a difference. We know you can’t always buy the juicy rib-eye cap cut, or the delicate fillet cut, so what do you do when you want to turn another, tougher piece of steak into a melt-in-your mouth steak? Read our article on how to marinate beef below, thus can change your braai game to the next level.

Estimated reading time: 13 minutes

What does marinating do to meat?

Marinade is a sauce or liquid in which you soak food, especially meat, before cooking. The purpose of marinades is mostly to tenderise meat. So how does this work? Well, glad you asked. It is believed that certain ingredients that contain enzymatic elements can be used on the meat to break down the tissues in the meat. This then allows for a softer, juicier steak.

Let’s look at two cuts of beef as an example. The fillet cut comprises the least hard working muscle with very little fat and is therefore a nice juicy and soft cut of meat. On the other hand, Silverside is located at the hindquarter and due to it being worked so hard, it is a coarse and tough piece of meat. So if you’d like to get your silverside to a soft texture, marinating it would be one of the ways to do it.

Methods to tenderise beef


First things first, there are some pieces of equipment available to assist you in tenderising meat. One of these is called a hand held meat mallet. It almost looks like a judge’s gavel, except each side is different. The one side is coarse and has what looks like tiny spikes and the other side is smooth and flat.

Start by placing the meat on a cutting board and covering it with some plastic cling wrap. You can then go ahead and pound on the meat with the spike side. Don’t be afraid of hitting too hard, that’s the whole point. Also, be sure to do it on both sides.

Secondly, you could use something called a professional meat tenderiser. This pushes downwards and has many tiny sharp blades that penetrate into the meat. When using this for steak, you would be surprised to see the result. The guys from Guga Foods made a video to show the effect of using one of these on a piece of steak, the video can be found below.

Enzyme marinades: Fruits

Surprisingly, fruit is one of the best ingredients to make a marinade from. Fruit contains enzymes, which is helpful in the process of breaking down protein. Fruits such as papaya, kiwi, pineapple and figs contain proteases, which is essential for breaking down proteins. Therefore, these types of fruit and others, like apples, make for a great marinade.

Are you curious as to which one is the best fruit to use for marinade? Ever thought of using blueberry as a marinating agent? Check out this awesome video below by Guga Foods and see if you were as surprised as we were!

Interestingly, the most enzymes are found not only in the flesh of the fruit, but also in the skin where the highest concentration is. How do you get that into your marinade? Well it’s simple. You take the entire fruit, skin and all, and place it into a blender until you get a nice slush. And there you go, your fruity marinade is done. When marinating meat in a marinade sauce, be sure to cover the meat completely in the liquid / marinade ingredient. A simple way to achieve this, is to place the meat in a Ziploc bag or to place it in a bowl completely covered in marinade.

Acidic marinades: E.g. Vinegar, lemon etc.

Certain ingredients such as vinegar, lemon and even baking soda have an acidic property which, like the enzymes, aid in breaking down protein fibres in meat. Soy sauce and Worchester sauce are also firm favourites in this category. Be careful with these though, you don’t want your steak to turn to mush or to taste more like vinegar than meat. The above video gives great tips on using acidic marinades.

Dairy marinades: E.g. Yoghurt

You might think that it’s really strange to use something that comes from a cow, to soften the cow meat with. Weird, right? So what in a dairy product makes it tenderise meat? The answer is again in the acid. Fermented dairy products contain lactic acid, which reacts with the proteins in meat. The acidic marinade increases the water content in the meat and thus tenderises it.

Do you think you can marinade a steak with sour cream? The answer and how to is all in the above video by Guga Foods.

Does marinade tenderise beef?

When using the correct elements to tenderise beef with, then the answer is yes. As mentioned, marinades are meant to break down the proteins in meat, making it softer and more tender. Unlike with trying to marinate chicken, where the fibres are really closely knit and contain a lot of water, beef on the other hand is easier to tenderise due to its looser texture.

Should you rinse off marinade before cooking the beef?

Who would have thought you have to rinse off marinade? Let’s be honest, not a lot of us. So here is where the difference comes in, if you use marinade as a sauce then it wouldn’t make sense to rinse it off. However, if you use the marinade to tenderise the meat, which is what most of us actually want it to do, then you should rinse the marinade off before cooking or frying it!

You might ask: Why, won’t it defeat the purpose if I rinse it off? No, not at all. The idea of marinade to tenderise meat, is just that, to make it softer. So by the time you rinse it off, the tenderiser has already done its job to soften the meat. You would especially want to rinse marinade off if you choose to use an unusual ingredient like sour cream. This will prevent it from tasting more like your tenderising agent, than meat.

Another reason why you should rinse off marinade before cooking, is to prevent flare-ups on the grill. It will also prevent certain areas on the meat or steak from being charred, while other areas are still uncooked. When using a marinade as a sauce and not rinsing it off, bear in mind that marinades that contain sugary elements, like honey, caramelises when placed over intense heat and can stick to your grill. So be sure to attend the fire while your marinated steak is on there.

Does marinating beef add flavour to the meat?

There is a two-fold approach to answering this question. Firstly, if you use the marinade as a sauce or basting, then the answer would be an obvious yes. But what about when you rinse the marinade off?

When looking at the results from the steak tenderising video above, it was clear that some elements used to marinate steak can allow flavour to punch into the meat, even if you rinse it off. After leaving the equally thick cut steak in the fridge to marinade for an equal amount of 1 hour and then rinsing it off, there were still some steaks that held some of the flavour of the item they were marinated with.

For example, the most potent flavour palettes that came through, even after rinsing, was the vinegar, lemon, blueberry and honey. When using these ingredients to tenderise meat, just remember they might leave you with a good or bad flavour memory. So pick wisely.

How long to marinate beef?

You can safely marinate steak in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, however, we do not recommend this. Longer does not always mean better. A general rule of thumb is that marinated beef should only be left in the fridge for about 1 to 2 hours. For tougher cuts, it could be marinated longer if needed, but no more than 24 hours.

Here is a quick guide on how long to marinate certain cuts of beef: Very large or whole pieces such as roasts, can marinate up to 24 hours. Large cuts of beef such as tenderloin can be left for 6 to 12 hours. Really large steaks or porterhouse steaks can be marinated for 4 to 8 hours, while normal cut steaks should only be marinated for 1 to 3 hours.

Can you marinate beef too long? Absolutely! Especially if the marinade contains an enzyme, like pineapple for example. If you leave the meat in a pineapple marinade for longer than 6 hours, it could disintegrate the meat completely.

how long to marinate beef visual summary

What happens when you over tenderise meat?

It is possible to over tenderise beef meat. If you use a really strong tenderising agent, the surface of the meat can become mushy and the texture like minced beef. Make sure you don’t leave the meat to tenderise too long, or you’ll have weirdly flavoured mince instead!

What do you marinate beef in?

Make sure your meat is in an enclosed air-tight glass, ceramic or plastic container. Refrain from marinating meat in an aluminium or cast iron container, as this might react with the acid and cause strange flavours in your meat. Always place the marinated meat in the fridge. If you leave it out on your kitchen counter etc. the heat might encourage the growth of bacteria and make you very sick if you consume it. In other words, keep it cool to keep your cool.

If you have access to it, the best way is to vacuum seal the meat with the marinade and then place it in the fridge. Don’t have access to a vacuum sealer? No problem! You can also just use a good old Ziploc bag. Place your beef into the bag with your choice of marinade and try to remove most of the air to seal it properly. Place it in the fridge and you are good to go.

Tips and tricks to marinate beef

Should I poke holes in the meat?

We would suggest you preferably don’t poke holes in your meat. You would think this is a great way to get your marinade to seep into the meat, but it’s really not. Think of it like a water balloon. What happens when you poke holes into it? The water runs out, exactly!

So when you poke holes in your meat, what it actually does is allows holes for the natural juices to run out. It also creates more open space for warm air and heat to penetrate the beef, which could lead to overcooking and overall dryness.

Can you reuse marinade?

Never reuse marinade. Once the marinade sauce has come into contact with the raw meat, it could be a health risk to consume it. Rather get rid of that batch and whip up a fresh marinade if you’d like to use it again or as a sauce.

How to marinate beef (Full image)

Time needed to marinate beef 1 hour and 20 minutes.

How to marinate beef

  1. Get an awesome steak

    Preferably 2-3cm in thicknessGrab a steak - 2-3cm in thickness

  2. Grab a papaya

    De-seed it
    Cut into chunks
    blend it up into a slushReady a papaya to use as the marinade for beef

  3. Marinate it

    In a ziploc bag, cover the steak with the slush
    Refrigerate for an hour
    Rinse all the marinade off the steakZiploc the steak with the marinade

  4. Season it to your liking

    Garlic powderSpice your beef to your liking

  5. Grilling time

    Place it on a hot grill
    Best with melted butted on either side
    Cook to your preferred readinessGrill your beef after its marinaded

  6. Rest and enjoy

    Remove from the grill
    Allow to rest up to 5 mins
    Cut against the grain and enjoyEnjoy your marinated beef

Marinating steak or beef meat is really an interesting topic. Some of our findings stunned us and surely you too! If you are ready to marinate your steak into a perfect mouthwatering meal, take a look at your local butcher shop and pick your cut.

FAQs summary

How long can you marinate beef?

how long should you marinate beef

Here is a quick guide on how long to marinate certain cuts of beef: Very large or whole pieces such as roasts, can marinate up to 24 hours. Large cuts of beef such as tenderloin can be left for 6 to 12 hours. Really large steaks or porterhouse steaks can be marinated for 4 to 8 hours, while normal cut steaks should only be marinated for 1 to 3 hours.

How do you marinate beef?

how to marinate beef by online butcher

1. Get an awesome, about 2-3cm thick
2. Take an entire papaya and place it in a blender. Skin and all (remove seeds)
3. Place the steak in a Ziploc bag and add the papaya slush into the bag, make sure the entire steak is covered
4. Place it in the refrigerator for 1 hour
5. Rinse all the marinade off of the steak
6. Season generously with salt, pepper and garlic powder to your liking
7. Place it on a hot grill
8. Bast with melted butter on either side of the steak, flipping as required
9. Once grilled to preferred readiness (medium rare is probably best for a juicy steak) remove from the heat
10. Allow to stand for a few minutes
11. Cut against the steak against the grain and enjoy.

How do you make beef soft and tender?

Whether machine, fruits, vinegar or with yoghurt. Click here to see a full list of options available to make your meat soft and juicy.

Can you marinate beef too long?

Absolutely! Especially if the marinade contains an enzyme, like pineapple for example. If you leave the meat in a pineapple marinade for longer than 6 hours, it could disintegrate the meat completely.

Do you marinate meat in the fridge?

You should always marinate meat in the fridge. Keeping the meat outside at room temperature or near the braai will allow for the meat to go off, bacteria grows faster on raw meat in heat.

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