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Marinate on This: A Guide to Choosing Meat

by Eileen Sweeney ; Updated September 12, 2017

Overview

It's almost summer and that means steaks sizzling on the grill. Cooking meat to perfection in your backyard starts with your choice of meat and how you prep it. One of the most important steps is taking the time to marinate your meat. Scott Buer of Bolzano Artisan Meats explains that "marinating gives flavors time to soak all the way through into large cuts and can also help tenderize." You can marinate just about any meat or meat substitute, from a T-bone to tofu. Here are some of the best candidates.

Why Marinate?

According to Tracy Smaciarz, owner of Heritage Meats in Washington state, marinating "breaks down enzymes in meat." This helps to tenderize the meat. As the meat starts to break down a bit, it allows for better absorption of the marinade, which means more flavor. Having an acidic component, such as vinegar, in your marinade furthers this process. It also makes the proteins easier to digest.

New York Strip

Smaciarz, a butcher, loves throwing a New York strip on the grill, but first he marinates it for 4 to 6 hours in balsamic vinegar. Add some salt and pepper, and you have an easy, delicious steak dinner. For extra flavor, he recommends crumbling some blue cheese on top.

Flank Steak

When it comes to cuts of beef, chuck steak, top round steak, skirt steak and one of the most popular choices, flank steak, are excellent choices for marinating. These cuts are not as tender as other parts of the cow, so they really soak up the benefits. You should typically allow 1/4 to 1/2 cup of marinade for each pound of beef. You can marinate from 4 to 24 hours.

Chuck-Eye

In the world of beef cuts, chuck-eye is a great "hidden gem," says Smaciarz. Chuck-eye is the same muscle as rib-eye at about one-third the cost. Marinate a chuck-eye steak and throw it on the grill.

Ribs: Beef and Pork

You can't go wrong with ribs at a barbecue. Marinating them first will make them extra tender and juicy. If you're cooking with beef, Smaciarz recommends Korean-style Kalbi short ribs. The meat on these ribs is a long, thin strip and is perfect for grilling, as it cooks quickly. If pork is your choice of meat, try baby back ribs or spare ribs.

Pork

Scott Buer of Bolzano Artisan Meats says when it comes to pork, the shoulder is the obvious choice. "Shoulder is great because slow cooking brings out all the flavor -- tough cuts have the most flavor; they just take time to do," he explains. Other great pork cuts for grilling include chops and tenderloin. Be careful when grilling not to let sharp utensils puncture the meat and release crucial juices. Buer recommends a marinade of apple cider vinegar, mustard and ketchup. Or try orange juice, garlic and morita chili peppers.

Chicken

Chicken is great for marinating and grilling. Two hours should be about right for marinating chicken breasts, but always check your recipe. Marinating chicken for too long can make it tough or stringy.

Seafood

Seafood is another ideal candidate for marinating. You'll likely want to use thick, steaklike cuts, as they are easier to grill. If you have a grill basket, you can choose flakier fish or shellfish. As seafood is more delicate, it requires far less marinating. Typically 30 minutes is sufficient. An acidic marinade can actually begin to cook the fish, so be sure to keep marinating to a minimum.

Lamb

If you have a bit more of a budget, lamb can be an out-of-the-ordinary choice for the grill. Kabobs are a great way to grill and serve lamb. For a Mediterranean flavor, try marinating in yogurt.

Important Tips

Never leave marinating meat out at room temperature. Discard your marinade once the meat is ready to grill. Because it's been in contact with uncooked meat, the marinade should never be reused. Avoid aluminum when marinating, as this can actually change the chemical makeup of the meat. Follow these safety guidelines for successful marinating and delicious grilled meats at your barbecue.

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About the Author

Eileen Sweeney is an editor at Demand Media and previously worked at Yahoo! A graduate of Ohio University, she also studied photography at Santa Monica college and is an award-winning photographer.