Rosemary, garlic and onions make grilled steaks healthier—and really, really tasty

by Terry B on June 9, 2010

The rosemary, garlic and onions in a red wine marinade make grilled New York strip steaks very flavorful—and healthier for you too. Recipe below.


Red meat lovers, rejoice! A pair of recent reports are giving it a cleaner bill of health than it has been enjoying lately.

The first was an article in the Wall Street Journal that opens with this bit of encouragement: “Maybe that juicy steak you ordered isn’t a heart-attack-on-a-plate after all.” In his article “A Guilt-Free Hamburger,” Ron Winslow reports on a new study by the Harvard School of Public Health that suggests that the heart risk long associated with eating red meat comes mostly from processed meats. So while bacon, hot dogs, sausages and cold cuts are unfortunately still bad for you, burgers and steaks may not be.

Researchers pooled data from studies around the world and found that “daily consumption of about two ounces of processed meat was associated with a 42% increased risk of heart disease and a 19% heightened chance of diabetes. By contrast, a four-ounce daily serving of red meat from beef, hamburger, pork, lamb or game wasn’t linked to any increased risk of heart disease.”

Winslow goes on to say the study is far from definitive. But hey, if Harvard says red meat is okay, that’s good enough for me.

The second report is more about our favorite way to cook red meat this time of year than the meat itself, but it is no less encouraging. Every year when grilling season kicks in, we hear stories about the health risks of grilling. And every year, we plug our ears with our fingers and sing “la, la, la” loudly until the stories stop. But this is a story you’ll want to hear.

At issue with grilling of meats (and other high-temperature cooking methods, it turns out—frying, broiling or barbecuing, for instance) is the creation of heterocyclic amines, possible cancer-causing carcinogens. Well, as Anahad O’Connor reported last month in The New York Times, marinating meat can prevent the formation of heterocyclic amines during cooking—especially if one of the ingredients is rosemary.

In his article “The Claim: Rosemary Helps Reduce Toxins in Grilled Meat,” O’Connor cites a study published in The Journal of Food Science stating that the use of rosemary in marinades reduced heterocyclic amines in grilled meat by more than 90% in some cases. Rosemary’s toxin-fighting strength comes from three powerful antioxidants—rosmarinic acid, carnosol and carnosic acid. He also states that garlic and onion offer some protection against heterocyclic amines, although less than rosemary.

I have to be honest here. Sure, I started reading O’Connor’s article with scientific interest. But once I saw the words marinade, rosemary, garlic and onions all connected to steak, all thoughts of science flew out the window and my taste buds took over.

Which brings us to this flavorful marinade. I figured if the three ingredients fought carcinogens individually, imagine how delicious—er, healthy—they would all be together. For the liquid, I kept it simple—red wine and a little olive oil. And I added some Dijon mustard and a generous grind of black pepper because it sounded like a good idea. It was. Big time.

Grilled Steaks with Rosemary Garlic Onion Marinade
Serves 4

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
4 medium cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1-1/2 cups dry red wine
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
freshly ground black pepper

4 New York strip steaks, about 1-inch thick, 8 ounces each (see Kitchen Notes)
sea salt or kosher salt

Marinate the steaks. Combine the first 7 ingredients in a 1-gallon zippered plastic food storage bag (or a glass baking dish large enough to hold steaks in a single layer). Add steaks, taking care to coat them with marinade on all sides. Seal bag and marinate steaks in the refrigerator for 8 hours, turning once.

Grill the steaks. Prepare grill. About 30 to 45 minutes before you’re ready to cook, remove steaks from marinade, pat dry with paper towels and let them come to room temperature. Discard marinade. When you’re ready to grill steaks, season them on both sides with salt and additional black pepper. Brush grill with oil and sear steaks over direct heat for about 4 minutes. You can rotate them a quarter turn halfway through if you want cross-hatch grill marks—or not. Flip the steaks, using tongs (never pierce with a fork!) and grill on the second side for about 3 minutes, or until they reach desired doneness (see Kitchen Notes).

Transfer steaks to platter and tent with foil. Let steaks rest for about 5 minutes or so. Plate and serve.

Kitchen Notes

Mix it up, steakwise. This marinade will work beautifully with a number of steaks, including flank steaks and sirloin. Just adjust your cooking and serving methods accordingly.

Don’t overcook your steaks. Besides drying them out and making them nice and chewy, you’ll up the amount of carcinogens in them. That’s right—overcooking meat is another way to create those nasty heterocyclic amines. If your steaks are thicker than an inch, sear them according to the instructions above, then move them away from the coals (set up your grill with all of the heat on one side, if your steaks are thick), cover the grill and finish cooking them with indirect heat. That way, the outsides won’t get overly cooked while you’re waiting for the insides to finish.


{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Dani H June 9, 2010 at 8:15 am

Excuse me, please, while I wipe the drool off of my chin. I just love when you quote a study which says something has health benefits. I’m going with Harvard, too. This marinade sounds scrumptious. A great photograph, too ~ are the mashed potatoes made with a ricer? Hungry now. Thanks for the recipe and all of the info, Terry.

Laura [What I Like] June 9, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Oh yum! I’ve just discovered the hanger steak and have been on sort of a marinating and indoor grilling kick as a result. I’ll have to give your marinade a try with it…I love strip steaks but hanger is delicious and cheap!

Terry B June 9, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Thanks, Dani! The potatoes are actually hand mashed, with a little of the feta left over from last week’s lamb burgers. I still want to try some feta in scrambled eggs as you suggested.

Laura, hanger steak will be great with this. Like flank steak, it’s really one of the most flavorful cuts of beef around.

Wizzythestick June 10, 2010 at 1:23 am

It doesn’t get much better than this absolutely perfect steak.

Jenn (Jenn's Menu and Lifestyle Blog) June 10, 2010 at 2:04 am

I’ve never thought of using wine in a marinade, that sounds wonderful! The next time I have red meat I’m going to try this. Thanks!


Carrie Oliver June 10, 2010 at 2:26 pm

I have to say that I only marinade my steaks or use sauces when the steaks themselves don’t have much flavor, but this sounds like it’s worth a try – I love garlic and rosemary and I have several steaks in the freezer that need some help in the flavor department. I use garlic and rosemary on lamb but hadn’t thought about using them with beef!

Cynthia Fox-Giddens June 10, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Absolutely yummy! I will have a steak on occasion and can imagine the aroma in the kitchen of the rosemary, garlic, and onions. Heavenly!

Terry B June 10, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Thanks, Wizzythestick! I’ll admit, I’m a dyed in the wool carnivore at heart.

Jenn—Like lemon or lime juice, wine is one of those useful acidic liquids that can tenderize tougher cuts of beef. It also adds to the flavor nicely—it was definitely noticeable with these steaks.

Hope you like it, Carrie.

Cynthia—Yes, it was quite aromatic as I was chopping up the ingredients for the marinade. To me, that’s one of the pleasures of cooking.

Jessie June 11, 2010 at 12:27 pm

I just LOVE red meat. Other girls look at me as strange because I enjoy a good hamburger or steak every once in awhile. This looks AMAZING. Thanks for posting!

nlp opleiding June 11, 2010 at 3:15 pm

wow! it seems there’s a reason not to leave the meat behind. i love this!

katie June 11, 2010 at 7:44 pm

Whew! Lucky for us we never over cook and always marinate. Actually, lucky for us it’s not unhealthy because we always did the finger in the ear/ lalala too. Life is for living, after all. (Yeah, and a 4oz steak?)

Maytina June 12, 2010 at 5:02 am

I don’t eat red meat much anymore, but this looks like the perfect recipe to work some in. Thanks!

ellen June 12, 2010 at 7:00 pm

I cannot wait to try this dish out! And thank you for your Kitchen Notes advice on how to cook steak a bit more instead of turning it into cowhide.

Alta June 14, 2010 at 5:28 pm

I love the way you think! It doesn’t surprise me that they’ve found that processed meats increase health risks. Duh, most processed FOODS increase health risks. Why should meat be any different? We haven’t typically eaten red meat more than twice a week anyway – it’s too pricey – but when we do, THIS would be a great way to enjoy it. Drool.

Fight the Fat Foodie June 15, 2010 at 4:10 am

Looks wonderful! Love rosemary on meats.

[email protected] June 15, 2010 at 11:54 pm

I don’t believe these ‘recent reports’ though as, for one thing, it depends on who was funding the study. Half the time, even studies from reputable universities, you’ll find out are funded by somebody like the ‘Beef Board’ so the studies are very rarely viable.

The Japanese are the world’s longest-living people and eat little red meat. Americans live far less than people in most other developed countries, and most scientists say that’s because of their lifestyle including eating far more red meat than most other countries. Me? I’ll stick to the Asian way of eating thanks :)

And don’t get me wrong, I love red meat. Just don’t eat much of it as it’s expensive and unhealthy.

Flank Steak October 13, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Wow this does looks/sounds really tasty. This might have to be whats for dinner tomorrow night, hope I can pull it off haha.

Speckle of Dirt February 2, 2011 at 7:28 pm

This recipe looks amazing!

jane hollar June 13, 2011 at 6:16 pm

This sounds great. I marinste in sauce. 5oz water. juice of 1 lemon,1tsp. Gd.ginger and 2cloves ch Garlic and 1cup port or burgundy wine.
marinate turning often for 4-5 hrs.or over night in ref. Grill in or outside.

Cathii April 8, 2014 at 6:24 pm

I prepared this recipe for dinner last night (I forgot to comment lol) The steaks marinated only for 3hrs, but the flavours were still intense. I used a griddle pan over the gas flame and they came off so tender and juicey, the knife cut through them effortlessly. This meal will definitely be on my rotation :)
Thank-you from Australia.

maureen July 15, 2015 at 2:05 am

I need a marinade and this sounds good except for the rosemary. My husband dislikes rosemary. What other spice could I use or just skip a spice?

Terry B July 16, 2015 at 9:11 pm

Maureen, try any mix of fresh herbs you might have on hand. Oregano, thyme and parsley would be a good mix—or even oregano on its own. Hope you like it!

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