Should You Pierce Steak Before Marinating? Why & Why Not?

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A piece of steak, a fork, black pepper, red wine vinegar, and sea salt on a countertop
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Should you pierce steak before marinating? Does poking holes indeed allow the marinades to be absorbed better by the meat?

In this article, we’ll attempt to provide an answer to these questions.

Why Use Marinade & How Far Can It Really Penetrate Your Steak?

Using marinades is an easy way to add flavor and tenderize your steak. Most marinades usually have these five key ingredients – acid, sugar, oil, salt, and some sorts of flavoring agents. 

Acid goes to work on the connective tissues, softening the steak before it’s ready for cooking. Once the steak hits the grill, sugar and oil help with the caramelization on the surface. Meanwhile, salt and other flavorings (spices and herbs) create incredible aroma infusion, flavoring the steak as it’s cooked.

Now, to make the most out of marinades, your steak is usually submerged in it for a while before cooking. The longer it sits, the deeper the absorption, the better the flavor. But is it really true? How far can marinades really penetrate your steak?

The answer is not that much, even after leaving it overnight. The amazing people at Cook’s Illustrated did an experiment about this. They concluded that marinade flavors penetrate meat only a few millimeters, regardless of what you mix together. 

Now, keep in mind that salt penetrates deeper than other components of marinades. But if you use too much of it in yours, you might want to try brining instead. Also consider that meat is mostly water, so it wouldn’t want to take in more liquid. Don’t forget that marinades also have oil. And it doesn’t mix well with water.

So, how can you make marinades soak through steak more effectively? Many people come up with the idea of poking holes in it before marinating.

Should You Pierce Steak Before Marinating?

Yes, you should poke holes in steak. That way, marinades permeate it better. But there are a few things to keep in mind. 

When puncturing your steak with a fork, it ends up carrying some of the bacteria on the surface down in the meat. These bacteria would normally get killed when cooking. But they won’t die in this case if you decide to cook the steak to any internal temperature lower than 155F (rare, medium rare, etc.). You risk food poisoning here.

Nevertheless, if you clean the surface of your steak with salt and ensure that your fork is also clean, there shouldn’t be any problem at all. 

Did You Know? Salt kills bacteria through a process called osmosis.

Some people might say that poking holes in steak can leak out all the meat juices. It isn’t true and is just another BBQ myth.

Now, stabbing a steak with a fork (Ouch!) also helps tenderize the steak. This technique usually works great for cheap steak with muscle fibers (e.g. flank). I, however, wouldn’t recommend doing it to a more tender steak with a lot of marbling, such as ribeye.

A Better Alternative

Poking holes is fine and all. But there is another method that does the same thing but better in terms of presentation and how far and wide marinades penetrate. 

Insteading of piercing holes, you can use a sharp knife and slice the steak in a crisscross pattern on both sides. These cuts give the marinades a larger and deeper surface to enter. With poking, you’re limited by the size and depth of the holes.

Another benefit of this method is that the cuts create these edges. When you sear the steak, they all caramelize and give out more flavor. Plus, the steak looks better and more enticing to eat.

Furthermore, by slicing, you can choose to go across the grain. As a result, you cut through some of the long muscle fibers, breaking them into smaller pieces. That in turn softens and reduces the chewiness of the steak.

All in all, this is a better method than piercing holes in your steak. I’ve included a video here to show you how to do it. Enjoy!

Final Word

So, should you pierce steak before marinating? The answer is Yes. However, be sure that you sanitize the surface of your steak briefly with salt. That is to prevent some bacteria being pushed down inside the meat when you poke the holes. 

There is a better alternative than piercing steak. It is to cut both sides of it in a cross-hatch pattern. This technique allows marinades to penetrate deeper into the meat while adding flavor to a larger surface. 

I hope you find this article answers your question. Before you go, I’ve also included some easy yet wonderful steak marinade recipes across the Interwebs for you to try.

This is the best quick steak marinade from Tiffany of LeCremedelaCrumb.com. It only takes 20 minutes to immerse your steak in this marinade. So, if you’re short on time, give this one a try.

https://www.lecremedelacrumb.com/best-quick-steak-marinade/

If you don’t mind a bit of heat in your steak, consider this recipe from Imma of Immaculate Bites. She added some cayenne pepper and that makes the difference.

https://www.africanbites.com/pan-grilled-steak-garlic-herbs/

Last but not least, Hank from HuntGatherCook.com (or Honest-Food.net) has a list of marinades for venison. They also work for beef as well. Check them out and see which one you like the best.

https://honest-food.net/venison-marinades/

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