Marinating meat is a fantastic way to elevate its quality, flavor, and texture. Unfortunately, there seems to be a ton of conflicting information out there, not to mention unfounded opinions, about marinating steak in soy sauce.
So, how long should steak marinate in soy sauce? In our personal experience: 30 minutes is a good starting point, 4 hours is ideal to produce the best results, and anything longer than 12 hours is just a waste of time.
Soy sauce marinades are pretty versatile, so we’ll cover how to marinate steak in soy sauce — the type of soy sauce marinade you should use, how best to use them, and how long your steak should marinate.
What Is The Purpose Of Marinating Meat?
Marinating meat is a technique that has been around for a very, very long time. It is used to tenderize meat, add flavor to it, and make it juicier. This one simple step could add a ton of benefits to your final dish!
Marinades are often made with either an extremely salty or acidic base ingredient. This is the key ingredient tenderizing the meat.
When you marinate meat, the acid or salt helps break down tough protein fibers in the meat. Once these fibers are broken, it allows the flavors from the marinade to be absorbed. This simultaneously adds moisture, a.k.a. juiciness!
In addition to the base ingredient, you can also use a ton of other flavorful ingredients such as herbs, spices, chopped onions, or fresh garlic. Just make sure the flavors complement each other and make the meat even tastier!
While this can seem like an excessive step when considering cooking time, some cuts of meat do require some form of tenderizing. You absolutely cannot enjoy them if you haven’t tenderized them.
Why Soy Sauce?
Soy sauce is a very unique ingredient. Most people just think that it adds a ton of saltiness, but it also helps to develop an umami flavor.
Umami is difficult to describe. But think of a grilled steak, smoked meat, or cured sausage — umami is that super savory, meaty flavor that you get.
Since soy sauce has an extremely high sodium percentage, it will tenderize the meat very well. Just like an acid, it will break down the tough proteins, enabling the meat to absorb other flavors and juices.
Soy sauce will add moisture as well as umami. Plus if you have any other additional ingredients in the marinade, you can definitely expect those to come through too.
Ultimately, there isn’t a right or wrong reason to use soy sauce as a marinade for steak. It all depends on what flavors you like and, to some extent, what ingredients you have available.
How To Marinate Steak In Soy Sauce
There is a ton of controversy when it comes to marinating meat. And honestly, for most arguments, we can see both sides. But, at the end of the day, we follow the rules that our professional chef friends taught us.
So, here is our guide for properly and effectively marinating steaks in soy sauce.
Step 1: Make Your Marinade
To start, you will need to make your marinade. The most important ingredient to add is the soy sauce — and you will need a lot. You can make a soy sauce marinade with additional ingredients (ex. garlic, honey, and olive oil) if you’d like.
Check out this video from Allrecipes on YouTube if you need marinade ideas!
Step 2: Fork The Meat
This step is optional, but we highly recommend it. Forking the meat basically describes a technique where you poke holes in the steak.
Not only will this help to break down the tough protein fibers, it will also allow the soy sauce to penetrate deeper into the meat instead of only into the surface.
Step 3: Coat The Meat In Marinade
Place the meat inside a dishwasher-safe container of choice (we like this one) — this way you’ll have less scrubbing to do later. Then, cover it with your soy sauce marinade.
All sides of the steak should be evenly covered with the marinade, otherwise it won’t tenderize evenly.
Step 4: Refrigerate The Marinating Steak
Cover your marinade container with plastic or saran wrap (or a lid if you have one), then place the steak inside your fridge to marinate. Keep it away from other items in your fridge, such as fresh produce or raw ingredients.
Step 5: Allow The Steak To Marinate
Now, all that is left to do is leave the steak in the marinade for several hours (we’ll cover the timing in the next section). The longer you leave it, the more flavorful the meat will become!
Step 6: Cook The Steak Properly
Always make sure you know how to cook the steak of your choice. Even if you marinated it perfectly, incorrect temperatures and cooking times can ruin everything!
You can check the internal temperature of your steak to see how much it has cooked — we recommend this meat thermometer. There are loads of articles out there (and on our site) that can guide you on proper cooking techniques for meat.
How Long Should You Marinate Steak In Soy Sauce?
As we have mentioned, controversial topics exist surrounding marinating meat. And this particular question is one of the most hotly debated ones.
Marinating a steak in soy sauce for at least 30 minutes is a must, but your steak will have just started to tenderize and will have soaked up barely any flavors. If you are short on time, however, it is better than not marinating at all!
In our experience, steak is optimally tender, juicy, and super flavorful after 4 hours in a soy sauce marinade. This is because this type of marinade is quite salty, so it will take slightly longer to break down the tough fibers.
Now, the maximum amount of marinating time for steak is 24 hours. After about 12 hours, your meat has absorbed as much flavor as it can and the texture is very tender.
For us, anything over 4 hours is kind of a waste of time, but to each their own. Many grill-masters have different opinions on how long to marinate meat. At the end of the day, experimenting is how you’ll find what works best for you!
Tips For Marinating Steak In Soy Sauce
- Remember, a marinade is uncooked — you’re not creating a basting sauce. Simply whisk together the ingredients and do not apply any type of heat before cooking. This way, the flavors will be better released by the ingredients and better absorbed by the meat.
- If you don’t have enough marinade to cover your entire piece of meat, we’ve got a trick for you. Place the steak in a large bowl of marinade and cover it with plastic wrap. Halfway through the resting time, turn the meat over so that the other side can also tenderize!
- You must marinate meat inside a fridge. Bacteria thrive in the temperature danger zone, which is between 40-140ºF (4-60ºC). Keeping your meat at room temperature for hours will only put you at risk of contracting food poisoning.
- The salt or acid in your marinade won’t prevent bacteria from growing. If you leave anything in an open environment, bacteria will still multiply in one way or another.
- After your steak has marinated, you can drain it from the liquid and remove excess soy sauce. It is best to cook the meat when it is completely dry. Otherwise, the marinade will just burn from the high heat.
- If you want to use the marinade as a basting sauce, you must first cook it in a separate saucepan. Then, you will need to sear the steak before applying your new basting sauce.
Should the marinade be just soy sauce, or can you include other ingredients?
We rarely use plain soy sauce as a marinade. Our recipes always include olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and maybe some other ingredients.
As we have said before, a marinade can include spices, herbs, and aromatics. Even something like barbeque sauce will make a wonderful addition!
Since you aren’t cooking the steak in the marinade, you can even use whole spices, like peppercorns or crushed garlic. Sometimes larger forms of ingredients provide better flavor!
Can you use low-sodium soy sauce for a marinade?
Yes, you can use a low-sodium soy sauce for your marinade recipe. Even though the salt levels are lower than with regular soy sauce, it is still more than enough to tenderize your meat. And, it will also be a generally healthier option.
Which type of soy sauce is the best to use in marinades?
Personally, we like to use “light” soy sauce. This isn’t the same as low-sodium soy sauce. This option is lighter in color than other soy sauces, which means that it won’t make your meat a dark color when it is being marinated.
This is just our personal preference because we like the appearance more. Use whatever you think will give the best flavor!
What happens if you marinate meat in soy sauce for 2 days?
Nothing really happens after about 12 hours — this is something we have experimented with. After that amount of time has elapsed, the meat is as tender as it is going to get and no more marinade will be absorbed.
Can you speed up the marinating process?
By vacuum sealing your meat in a bag with its marinade, you can speed up the process quite a bit. It is a technique we have used for many years! But you obviously need a vacuum sealer, and those can be pretty expensive.
If you’re in the market for a vacuum sealer, though, we recommend this one.