Many people say that the only way to cook a steak is if it has been marinated first. Some say that steaks just don’t taste as tender if they haven’t been marinated, or that the steak is too dry. Well, It’s probably to dry because they over cook their steaks! Marinades will usually cause meats to become more dry after a marinade! But does the steak really become more tender after a marinade? Let’s take a look at what marinades can do to meat to see if it really is true.
If you were to eat a piece of steak completely raw, you would find it to be incredibly chewy. This is because the steak is filled with connective tissue that is very hard to break down. When you cook steaks, that connective tissue turns into a gelatin like texture, and becomes much easier to break down with your teeth. Some cuts of steak (especially the cheaper cuts of steak) Need a little bit of assistance to break down. This is why slow cooking can make cuts like pot roasts incredibly tender. Over time, all of the connective tissue will ultimately break down and turn into gelatin.
Now when you put a meat into a marinade, you are infusing the meat with not only flavor, but also enzymes that will help to break down these connective tissues prior to cooking. A long time ago, it used to be popular to wrap meat in papaya leaves to help tenderize meat. There is a good reason for this. There is an enzyme in Papaya leaves called Papain, which is kind of like a digestive enzyme. Connective tissues in steaks that come into contact with this enzyme will start to break down. Now that we’re in the age of Commercial Steaks and Tinder, Papain is available commercially. Some slaughter houses even inject papain into animals before slaughter to help to tenderize the meat.
Because marinades are only effective with the portion of the meat they are touching, larger cuts of meat do not benefit much from marinades. You can puncture the meats, but it leads to a fairly uneven tenderness patterns, which can be very strange. Flat cuts of meat generally benefit more from marinades because most of the meat is the outside surface area anyways! When you do marinade, you want to be sure to keep the meat in an airtight container, and that you flip the meats regularly to prevent uneven tenderness. You will also want to make sure you keep the steaks refrigerated during this process to prevent any possibility of bacteria growth on the steaks.
You can purchase papain online for fairly cheap in a powdered form. Next time you make a marinade, try mixing in a couple Tablespoons of papain to see if the steaks benefit from the added enzymes! Let me know if you do, and if the steaks turn out more tender!