Lots of people believe that a tough piece of meat will be made tender by a good marinade, so they buy cheaper grades than they should. Unfortunately, that is not really the case. Good meat has to start out as good meat, and while many marinades taste great, they do not tenderize all that much. Let us look at three major categories of marinade and see how they work.
The Many Different Types of Steak Marinades
The major types of marinade are acid, enzyme, and dairy. Overly acidic marinades can actually toughen meat, while overly strong enzymatic marinades can overdo the tenderizing and result in mush. Dairy has been put forth as a tenderizer, but it does not work for every kind of cooking.
One family of marinades relies on vinegar, wine, citrus and similar acids to denature proteins. This will unwind the proteins in the steak you are cooking. Once they run into other unwound proteins, they will bind back together. This happens when we heat proteins, as well. Water molecules start out trapped in this new mesh of proteins, creating a really tender steak. However, if the marinade is highly acidic, the bonds will tighten and the liquid will be squeezed out, actually toughening the tissues. That is bad news.
Because of this, a marinade that is mildly acidic is usually a better choice than one that is extremely sour. A good marinade should be there mostly for flavor, and will tenderize best if relatively week. Stronger marinades are good for tightly grained meats, but those meats are not usually put on the grill.
Enzymatic marinades can actually break down the collagen and muscle fibers. They come from sources like honeydew, papaya, raw pineapple, fig, ginger, and even kiwi. However, if you use too much, they will turn the muscle to mush without tenderizing. The length of time the meat marinates will affect this as well. The texture gets softer over time. This is the kind of activity you will find from most commercial meat tenderizers, which use papaya enzymes.
What Other Marinade Types are There?
The last category of ingredients you can use in a steak tips marinade is dairy products. Usually mildly acidic and including yogurt and buttermilk, this is the kind of marinade you will find in a lot of Indian foods, as well as in southern fried chicken recipes.
Steaks can be interesting in this kind of marinade, but you may need to look at how you are cooking them, since this is not the most common type of marinade used for them. Try curry flavors along with your marinade for a good result.
Your marinade does not have to be all that complex, so long as you know what you can expect from the ingredients you use. You will get a great meal every time if you only take the time to check out all the kinds of marinades available. One of them is going to be right for your steak.