Originally published by Tasting Table on August 13, 2023
Written by Matthew Spina
Marinating beef is nothing new, but within the world of steak-steeping solutions, there are way more options than you might realize. While classic choices might be a soy-sauce mix or a citrus-based carne asada, there are now many creative ways to both tenderize your cut and infuse it with unique flavors. You only need to look to chicken for inspiration, where pickle juice or buttermilk brines are used for anything from whole roast birds to fried chicken. In fact, a combination of those two ingredients is supposedly what gives the sandwiches at Chick-fil-A their incredible juiciness and flavor. Why wouldn’t you want to give steak a try with that?
A buttermilk and pickle juice brine for steak is very simple and can transform a basic cut with almost no additional ingredients. Pickle juice has plenty of salt to work as a brine, while buttermilk subs in for the acid you would normally get from vinegar or lemon juice. You can vary the ratio of buttermilk and pickle juice depending on your tastes, but if you drop the amount of pickle juice, just remember to compensate by adding some salt to the brine. Beyond that, you can add a few dashes of hot sauce or spices like garlic powder, but the two core ingredients are all you truly need. Marinate your steak anywhere from an hour to overnight, pull it out, pat it dry, and cook using your preferred method for a shockingly bright and tender result.
A buttermilk and pickle juice brine can break down tough steak and add flavor
Individually, buttermilk and pickle juice can be powerhouse marinades, but combined, they form something really special. Salt and acid can both act as tenderizers for meat, and pickle juice has both. It breaks down your steak’s muscle structure, which helps it retain moisture as it cooks, and as a little bonus, all the spices and flavor in the brine work their way into the cut. Buttermilk is also acidic but has something pickle juice is missing — fat. So not only does combining the two double the tenderizing power of your brine, it gives your taste buds everything they desire in one easy package. No wonder this stuff is so popular with lean pieces of chicken.
If you are going to use a buttermilk and pickle juice brine with steak, stick to tougher cuts that normally need a marinade, like flank or skirt steak. These cuts have tons of beefy flavor but will really benefit from an extended brine to break down their connective tissue. More tender cuts of steak can work well too, but cut down on the marinade time, as buttermilk and pickle juice’s tenderizing strength can actually turn meat mushy if you let it sit too long. As hard as it may be to hold back, with something as good as buttermilk and pickle brine, even a little goes a long way.