Marinating VS Seasoning – How To Make Your Steak Sizzle
When it comes to making steak, I find myself always at odds with everyone else in my family. I like to season my steaks with a dry rub hours before I plan on cooking. Everyone I'm related to believes marinating steak is the only way to go. We have never agreed.
Now I'd like to begin by offering an olive branch in saying I've had some really delicious marinated steaks in my life. I just don't typically feel the need to do it in my own kitchen, here's why.
Some people are convinced that marinating steak will make it more tender. This isn't right. I've heard chefs talk endlessly about the benefits of marinating steak in acidic marinade mixes that contain vinegar, lime, lemon, and/or orange juice before. Heck, I've tried it. Do you know what happened? We accidentally made steak ceviche. That's just the nature of acidic liquids, they'll chemically cook whatever you put them on.
My parents have been soaking their steaks in Worcestershire sauce for decades, it has me convinced they don't like the taste of beef. That's because marinating does little to tenderize a tough cut of meat, but it goes a long way in adding flavor. Whatever liquid you use naturally infuses into whatever substrate you place in the package - ie, your steak.
When you season a steak with a dry rub, you similarly add flavor, but you don't lose that sense of beefiness that a properly medium-cooked steak offers. That earthy, savory, bloody juiciness that some people apparently don't like. That deliciousness only intensifies the longer you let your meat rest self-brining in that seasoning.
For instance, I like the classic Montreal steak seasoning on all sides of my steak then left to dry marinade on a rack in the fridge for six to eight hours. As the spices do their thing, the salt will draw moisture out of that steak, but as it condenses and becomes a meaty brine, it'll soak back into the meat by the time you're ready to fire up the grill... but it doesn't work with every cut of beef.
While I know dry seasoning a steak is the best way to bring out the flavor, some cuts of steak won't work for this method. You need intramuscular fat - ie, marbling. The more a steak is marbled the better the flavor is going to be because fat is flavor. If you're cooking a lean piece of meat such as a filet or a lesser grade of beef, you need the liquid marinade to impart both flavor and moisture to that meat.
The super-tough and overall bland cuts of beef get both - ie, strip steak, tri-tip, USDA Choice, or Select grade... There's a reason restaurants both marinade and heavily season them, and we can agree they usually turn out delicious.
While I don't know if your Memorial Day weekend and this country's wild current state of inflation is going to even allow you the treat of some good beef, regardless of which method you prefer, I hope you enjoy it.