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Meat loving peoples of the world have been trying to figure out ways to make inexpensive, tough pieces of meat tender since they started putting flesh to flame.

Luckily, we now have the technology to make all but the most indestructible cuts of meat yield to a fork. The secret to making your basic meats taste extra rich? Marinades!

Marinades are a great starting place to make more of your meat. Back in the days before refrigeration, marinades served double duty. One function was to prevent the meat from spoiling by surrounding the meat in an acidic atmosphere that kept out bacteria. The second function was to flavor and tenderize the meat. These days we can just use these techniques to make a cheap cut of meat, such as flank steak or pork shoulder chops, the best they can be.

The primary components of any good marinade are something acidic, like lime juice or yogurt, and then ingredients such as herbs, spices or fruit to add flavor. Some marinade ingredients such as fresh ginger, pineapple and papaya even contain added enzymatic tenderizers.  Below are a few simple marinade ideas.

Yogurt Marinade

2 cups plain yogurt
2 cloves crushed garlic
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons red curry
2 tablespoons sweet paprika or mild chili powder
1 1/2 tablespoons salt

Directions: Combine all the ingredients and mix well. Combine with grilling cuts like pork shoulder chops, chicken legs or even lamb shoulder chops for one to 12 hours in a zip top plastic bag. This Indian-style marinade does well on a medium hot gas or electric grill and also makes a great marinade for fried chicken!

Dark Beer and Ginger Marinade


1 bottle of dark beer
1 knob of ginger, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon freshly cracked black peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 1/2 tablespoons of salt
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil and/or soy sauce (optional)

Directions: Combine the ingredients, mix well and, as before, combine with tougher beef steaks like top round or eye of round. Marinate refrigerated for two to 12 hours or, if you’re in a hurry, marinate at room temperature for one hour to speed up the process. Although this is ideal for beef it also works well with pork.

Advanced Marinades: Gadgets Required
There are a lot of “tenderizing” gadgets out there, from the simple mallet that smashes the muscle fibers to a tender but mushy mess, to professional steak cubers that achieve only slightly better results.

The best gadget for making marginal steaks into dinners to remember is a simple and effective device called a Jaccard, or box knife. A box knife works like a stamp, with several dozen tiny knives that go into the meat and separate the fibers of the muscle, but leave the structure intact. That means that your steak will be tender but still look and cook like a steak. Also, Jaccard knives are not expensive, retailing for between $20 and $30 at most online specialty shops.

An added bonus of using a Jaccard knife is that it is a perfect match with marinades as the tiny channels cut through the steak by the knife allow the marinade to penetrate much more quickly to the interior of the meat, cutting marinade times by 80%.

One of my favorite recipes to use with a box knife is carne asada marinated skirt or sirloin flap steak.

Carne Asada

4 dried Guajillo or New Mexico chiles
1 lime, juiced
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon coriander seed
2 tablespoons salt
1 quart water, off the boil

Directions: De-seed and de-stem the chiles and combine them with the quart of hot water and let them sit for 45 minutes. When the chiles have become soft and bright red, place them and the water in the blender or food processor with the rest of the ingredients and puree until smooth. Once the mixture has cooled, mix the marinade in with 3 to 7 pounds of tenderized skirt or sirloin flap and allow to marinate at least 45 minutes or as long as 24 hours and then grill over very high heat.

These are just a few ideas that can help keep your dinner’s food cost down but the flavor and tenderness up. Ask your local butcher or grill aficionado for their favorite marinades or experiment and come up with your own. Grilling weather is here!