Grilling a steak is a great way to add tons of smokiness and flavor to the meat. One of the challenges to grilling steaks, however, can be affordability; tender, juicy cuts of beef can be expensive, and more affordable cuts like sirloin or flank steak can get tough or rubbery when they’re cooked. Marinades can help; less expensive cuts of beef can still be flavorful and juicy, they just need to be marinated in the right ingredients.
Marinades are made from a variety of ingredients, some of which can help break down the connective tissues in the meat — this means the finished steak will be easier to cut and chew. One of the main ways marinades can tenderize meat is to take advantage of enzymatic reactions. Basically, enzymes help break down the collagen in a steak without compromising the structure of the meat’s fibers. Many warm-climate fruits contain enzymes that can help tenderize cheaper cuts of meat. Kiwifruit, figs, and papaya are all great sources of proteolytic enzymes (enzymes that break down proteins); they add flavor to your steak's marinade while encouraging a more tender grilled steak.
Acidic ingredients have a similar effect on the texture of meat — they can help weaken muscle fibers and tenderize cheap cuts of meat by allowing them to retain more moisture. Adding components like wine, buttermilk, or vinegar to you marinade not only balances other components you've added but it further encourages reactions that will tenderize the meat. Just be sure your marinade is balanced; adding too much acid can have the opposite effect and toughen the steak.
If you're thinking about grilling but want to stick to a budget, you don't have to skip the steaks — just skip the filet mignon. Cuts like sirloin and flank steak can be just as good with a little help from the right marinade.
Tea is the new coffee, and that goes for marinades, too. Take advantage of tea’s tenderizing tannins by adding some strongly brewed tea to your marinade for both tenderness and an earthy flavor.
Pineapple juice isn’t just for marinating pork; try it on steaks, too. The juice will lend an incredible sweetness to the meat and the naturally-occurring bromelain will help break down the steak’s collagen.
Kristie Collado is The Daily Meal's Cook Editor. Follow her on Twitter @KColladoCook.