HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


To marinate or not to marinate; that is the question [moved from General Topics]

If I'm eating beef, I want to taste beef; not teriyake, A-1 or any other overpowering flavor. IMO marinades do not enhance the taste but, disguises it.
Don't misunderstand. I do like the taste of say, teriyake beef, but the reality is, I'm tasting the sauce, not the meat.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Well, yes, I agree with you. Apart from the part of me that disagrees with you.

    A marinade should enhance the flavour and help to tenderise the meat. Sometimes it needs tenderising and enhancing. And sometimes it doesnt. Simples.

    9 Replies
    1. re: Harters

      I agree about the tenderizing but can you give me an example of a marinade that enhances and makes beef taste beefier?

      1. re: mucho gordo

        While I generally agree with you mucho, I think carne asada benefits from marinading.

        Whether you are using flank, skirt, or flap meat, an acidic marinade of some lime juice (or lemon), garlic, pepper and salt etc., not only tenderizes the beef but really enhances the flavor of it.

        Marinades should complement -- and enhance if possible -- the flavors of the beef, not mask it.

        1. re: mucho gordo

          No, I can't, mucho. Lots of marinades enhance the flavour of a meat but none in my experience make it taste more of itself.

          1. re: Harters

            Pleas explain "enhance" if it doesn't make it taste 'beefier'. Does it have something to do with "layers of flavor"; that's another term I don't understand.

            1. re: mucho gordo

              Enhance as in altering the taste. A marinade is generally going to make it taste less of the meat than it was before, although with flavours that complement it. So, for example, I often marinade cubes of lamb that I intend to cook as kebabs. It tenderises but, as the marinade is usually oil, lemon, garlic and thyme, it adds the flavour of those things to the finished meat.

              I also don't really understand "layers of flavour" either. It seems to be something TV cooks like.

              1. re: Harters

                "enhance to make it taste less of the meat" seems like a contradiction.
                I'm glad I'm not the only one who doesn't understand "layers of flavor"

                1. re: mucho gordo

                  It is only an apparent contradiction if you select those few words from my post. If you read it all, you will see there's no contradiction in the purpose of marinating.

            2. re: Harters

              How about a confit of beef (using beef fat) ?

        2. This house shares your,why decorate or mask something that is excellent as is.I want my beef to taste like beef.We eat beef,like the taste and texture of good beef.More than 90% of the time we eat it with salt and pepper to taste only.

          1. Agree with both of you. Years ago i went to a local high-end restaurant and ordered lamb. It arrived not even hot in the middle so I asked to have it cooked a little more, and it came bathed in a light teriyaki sauce- which completely obscured the flavor of the meat, light as it was. I'm not a big soy sauce fan in general, so I found the taste offensive, especially since I hadn't ordered the dish that actually came with a teriyaki glaze for that reason. I've had good marinated meat, good meat that shouldn't have been marinated, and meat that ended up being pickled from overmarination, which is a sin to me.

            1. When the beef is wonderful, I like it rare with salt and pepper. When the flavor promises to be less than wonderful, I like a marinade of olive oil, rosemary and garlic, Teriyaki/Hoisin or lemon peel, olive oil and lots of pepper. They bring the flavor that's missing from the meat.

              1. Gosh, in the end it guess it all depends on one's personal preference, cut of beef, and/or -- in my case -- mood.

                While I cannot abide the fetid vileness that is A1 sauce, my man loves it. He'll put it on most steaks I haven't marinated. Gah.

                Give me filet, and I'll likely want a béarnaise or other sauce on the side since tenderloin doesn't have as much flavor as other cuts, though I don't think I'd ever dream of marinating beef tenderloin (?).

                For me, a great rib-eye needs nothing more than a good salting an hour ahead of grilling time, when a fair amount of coarse ground pepper is added. Done and done.

                Flank and strip steaks (if I ever buy any strips, they're my least favorite cut) always are marinated in a mix of soy sauce, red wine vin, worcestershire, maggi -- talk about cranking up the beefy flavor! --sometimes a bit of garlic powder, and thyme. I find it complements the beef flavor of these cuts perfectly.

                1 Reply
                1. re: linguafood

                  I have to agee with you about A-1 (and similar junk such as Heinz 57) as well as your preference with rib-eyes and filets..

                2. You are of course entitled to your opinion, but don't expect a majority to agree with you. People who like marinated meats think they taste, not meatier, but BETTER, with the combination of flavors added by marinating. I know someone who dislikes, for example, ratatouille and mixed fruit compote, because she wants the pure taste of each food she consumes. I would never enjoy her split pea soup, which uses no onion, garlic, or stock/broth.

                  Carrying the argument that good should retain its innate taste to its logical conclusion, you would omit pepper and possibly salt, too, since salt enhances/intensifies flavor.

                  1. Salting/brining enhances the inherent flavor of meats but at least it does this without adding a radically different taste to overpower the beefiness. (Or chickeny-ness, etc.) Soaking in saltwater solution can improve juiciness and IMO tenderness also, to a certain degree. That being said, I don't soak my steaks overnight the way I do with chicken. I sometimes salt them before cooking though.

                    Soya is really a brining element, but while the flavor works well with meats, as you say it's far from subtle. Same with Worcestershire or my personal fave, Maggi. I'm with linguafood on that one- it's umami heaven! and concentrated enough that an almost imperceptible amount can work wonders. But it's still adding something flavorwise that wasn't originally there.

                    You could try a salty beef broth, where any taste you're adding is at least related to the meat. I've brushed chicken kebabs with broth in the hopes that it'd help the pure chicken flavor stand up to onions and peppers, but it didn't seem to be worth the extra effort. Oil works better to keep kebabs moist.

                    Once you add acid or enzymes in the form of fruit juices, etc, you're getting into actual marinade territory where chemistry is actually breaking down the muscle fibers, but again, this generally will add flavors that weren't originally present. Perhaps papain, an extract of papaya which works by enzyme action but doesn't retain much of the original papaya taste, would be worth trying? This is what's sold as Adolph's Meat Tenderizer and similar products. Working with enzymes you need to watch the time though- they can destroy the texture of your meat if left to work for too long.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: eclecticsynergy

                      PS: Just so I'm not misunderstood, speaking for myself I don't mind that marinades mostly complement the meat by adding flavor elements. When I marinate, I like a wide range of them, even the pretty strong ones. I was just brainstorming (or was it blathering?) in line with the OP's search for a neutral one that would be least likely to mask the basic taste of the meat.

                    2. I like a little lemon juice squeezed on a steak while the steak is coming to room temperature. It's not a long marinade so I'm not sure of how much it actually tenderizes. My husband says he can't taste the lemon - I think I can taste it slightly but it certainly isn't overpowering and I do think it enhances the steak. As for wine marinades, I want to like them but I often wish I hadn't done it when it comes to the finished dish.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: eepi

                        I stopped using wine marinades a long time ago. They remind me of when I was a kid and my father would marinate the steak in red wine and Adolph's meat tenderizer and then we slathered it with A1 sauce at the table. For some reason, that memory makes me think of economizing. For me, I'd rather have a small amount of a great steak then a lot of an ordinary one.

                      2. The only kind of beef that I like plain (though well salted and with some black pepper) is a very fine cut of beef. I don't eat that very often. Probably only a couple times a year.

                        I love marinades. I love highly seasoned food, and marinades achieve that. I hate getting BBQ brisket from the inside cut or the lean part of the brisket. I don't care how well it has been cooked. I like the pieces with the spice rub on it, and especially the burnt ends where the seasonings have amalgamated with the smoky fat.

                        I like marinades that tenderize: lime juice, yogurt, and papain. Other ingredients bring out umami. I like the effect of a little sugar in a marinade which causes caramelization with certain cooking methods. I love the way that aromatics like garlic, ginger, and various types of onions permeate meat deep inside. And I can't help but love well salted food. Marinading makes that magic happen.