What Happens to My Steak When I Marinate It in Alcohol?


Whether it is wine, beer or spirits, marinating a steak in any substantial amount of alcohol is not a good idea. As renowned chef Thomas Keller states, “raw alcohol doesn’t do anything good to meat.” This does not mean that wine, beer or spirits cannot be used in a marinade, it simply means that the alcohol must be substantially removed first.

Effects of “Raw” Alcohol on Meat

  • Alcohol in a marinade will chemically “cook” the exterior of meat. Not only is the flavor of this chemical “cooking” awful, it prevents the meat from absorbing the marinade itself. Most marinades, even those with alcohol in them, do not tenderize meat. Marinades do not penetrate very deeply into meat -- typically no more than 1/8 to 1/4 inch deep -- and the point of them is to flavor meat, not to tenderize. Cooking, pounding and some types of slicing can tenderize meat, but marinades typically do not.

Preparing Alcoholic Ingredients for Marinades

  • If you wish to use wine, beer or spirits in your marinade, it is important to remove the alcohol first. To do this, place the wine, beer or spirit in a pan -- along with other ingredients in the marinade -- and bring to a boil. After the liquid begins to boil, remove the pan from the heat, tilt slightly and carefully attempt to light with a long-handled lighter or match. If the pan flames up, substantial alcohol still remains; return the pan to the heat, allow the liquid to come a boil for another 30 seconds, then remove the pan and try lighting again. Continue and repeat this process until no flames are present after lighting the pan of liquid. While this process does not remove all the alcohol from the marinade -- no cooking process can completely remove the alcohol from wine, beer or spirits -- the trace amounts of alcohol left will not have any ill-effects on your steak.

Allow to Cool

  • Boiling is typically not a preferred method for cooking steak. Thus, allow cooked marinades to cool fully, to room temperature at least, before placing your steak in the marinade. If you would like to speed up this cooling process, pour the cooked marinade into a heat proof container and place that container in a refrigerator or freezer. Before placing any hot item in your freezer, however, protect refrigerator surfaces with a heat proof mat, pot holder or trivet.

Proper Containers for Marinade

  • Most metals, other than stainless steel, are reactive and can give off flavors to food when the metal reacts to the acid in the marinade. When marinating, opt for plastic, porcelain or stainless steel containers which will not react with acidic foods and liquids.

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