How Long You Should Be Marinating Steak For

Sometimes, specific steak recipes include the instruction to marinate the meat for anything from mere minutes to a whole day. So why are these timings so wildly different, and should they always be followed precisely? To help demystify the process when it comes to marinating steaks, Food Republic asked an expert to share some tips for the best results. "As a general rule, thinner cuts require less marinating time," explains K.C. Gulbro, who is the owner of FoxFire Restaurant and Copper Fox event venue in Geneva, Illinois and a Chef Ambassador for Certified Angus Beef®.

If you're using a flank or skirt steak — which is also one of the best cuts of steak to grill — you can marinate it for just two to four hours for great taste and texture. Thicker porterhouse steaks take around four to eight hours. Tougher cuts, such as sirloin or sirloin tip, will benefit from around eight hours, or overnight. For extremely large pieces of meat, you can go for the full 24 hours.

Specific ingredients in a marinade will affect the timing

When marinating steak, the cut is not the only consideration. "The ingredients in the marinade can also impact the required marination time," explains chef K.C. Gulbro. "For instance, a marinade with a high salt content can potentially dry out the steak if it's exposed to the marinade for too long, resulting in a tough texture." For optimum results, don't leave meat in a salty marinade for more than eight hours.

While too much salt can ruin a marinade, especially if left for too long, acidic ingredients can cause the fibers in steak to break down and create a mushy texture. However, not all acids are equal. The lactic acid in fermented dairy products such as yogurt is less aggressive than citric acid from fruit, so meat could happily rest overnight in a dairy-based mix. The acetic acid in different types of vinegar, meanwhile, is more harsh, so adjust timings and aim for under six hours.

If you're worried about beef sitting in a marinade for too long — perhaps because dinner plans changed — then luckily you can rescue it before the mixture causes extensive damage. Simply rinse the marinade off the meat to stop it penetrating the protein further. Or if you're not able to cook the beef within the desired time, place the marinating meat in the freezer. The marination process will be halted until the steak is thawed — and it puts you back in culinary control.