Steak Science: Making a Marinade

A few weeks ago I had the chance to be featured on Nebraska 4-H Living Room Learning. This program focuses on sharing activities with students that can be done at home to teach lessons in science, math, engineering, and more. The lesson I taught was focused on meat science, and discussed how to make a marinade.

Using marinades when cooking is a great way to add flavor and improve tenderness of various meat products. There are a few key ingredients that should be used when mixing marinades in order to have the best results.

Oil: This is used to bind ingredients and can help seal in moisture during cooking. I prefer to use olive oil, but any cooking oil will work.

Acid: The acid helps improve tenderness by breaking down protein. Common acids that can be used in marinades are lemon and lime juice or white wine.

Flavor: This is where you are going to add in your key ingredients to create a specific flavor profile. Are you hoping to cook a product that is savory? Spicy? Has some sweetness? Using various herbs, spices and other seasonings allows you to create a specific flavor profile. Some common ingredients include garlic, chili powder, brown sugar, mustard, pepper and onion powder.

Salt: This is a key ingredient for flavor, but also helps the marinade penetrate into the cut you are working with. It is important to be careful with the amount of salt you add to the mixture as it can quickly produce an off putting flavor and can draw out moisture in the meat, leaving you with a final product that is dry.

When mixing your marinade, plan for a 1/4 to a 1/2 cup of marinade per pound of meat. Place the meat in a resealable bag or container with a lid and pour the marinade over the meat. To keep the product at a safe temperature, make sure to marinate it in the fridge. The length of time that you will marinate depends on what cut you are using and your goal for the marinade. If you are using a tougher cut with the goal of improving tenderness (round steak, sirloin steak, etc.) marinades can be used for 6-24 hours. If you are simply trying to add flavor (chicken, strip steaks, etc), marinate for 20 minutes-2 hours. Do not mix or store your marinade in a metal container. The acid can react with the metal, producing off flavors and can damage the container.

Marinades are a great way to improve tenderness and change the flavor profile of your favorite cuts. There are a lot of great recipes out there, but it is also a fun way to experiment in the kitchen and develop your own favorite flavor profile. This is your opportunity to perform your own steak science experiment. The best part? You get to eat your research!

Garlic Herb Marinade:

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp white wine or lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 4 cloves minced garlic (1 Tbsp minced garlic)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 1 lb of meat

Mix all ingredients and pour over cut of your choice. This recipe will make enough marinade for 1 lb of meat. I used round steak when I did this talk. After letting it soak in the marinade for approximately 16 hours, I grilled the steak to medium, sliced it thin and served it over greens for a steak salad.

Check out the “Steak Science” episode on NE 4-H Living Room Learning!


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