Grill Tips, Que&A

Seasonings, Rubs, Marinades & Brines

What’s the Difference Between Seasonings, Rubs, Marinades & Brines?

If you’ve been grilling for a while, you know there are a million different ways to prepare your meats and veggies to achieve the perfect flavor.

Sometimes it’s best to keep things simple. You can never go wrong with a little salt and pepper. Other times you want your flavors to run deep, so you reach for some seasonings, a great rub, some marinade, or even start with brine.

In a nutshell, seasonings, rubs, marinades, and brines all play a unique role in getting food exactly how you like it, because they each have a way of either creating flavor, enhancing flavor, or improving texture. That’s why today, we’re tackling the question, “What's the difference between seasonings, rubs, marinades, and brines?”

  • In this article, you’ll learn about:
  • Dry ingredients versus wet ingredients
  • How different ingredients are used to create flavor vs. enhance flavor vs. improve texture
  • How long to let your ingredients soak in a marinade.

Dry Ingredients: Seasonings & Rubs

Since seasonings and rubs are both dry ingredients, they might feel like the same thing, but that’s not quite true. Here is the difference between seasonings and rubs.

applying dry seasoning to steak

Seasonings & Rubs are both dry ingredients.

Seasonings are typically blends of dried herbs and spices. You can use seasonings to enhance or add flavor to a dish, both before and after cooking. Pretty simple!

Seasonings Add Flavor Before & After Cooking 

Many seasonings you find in your spice cabinet have ingredients like kosher salts, black peppercorn, dried oregano, basil, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, thyme, dill, or red pepper flakes. They may also contain culinary spices such as cinnamon, paprika , turmeric, ginger, saffron, and cumin.

assorting seasonings and dry rubs

Seasonings are blends of dried herbs and spices used both before and after cooking to enhance flavor.

Rubs Add Flavor & Texture Before Cooking

A rub is any combination of spices, salt and sugar used to season meat prior to cooking. Unlike seasonings, rubs are almost never added after cooking.

There are dozens of different rubs, from barbecue rubs and chili powder to jerk seasoning, sate, and curries. Not only do rubs add flavor to your dishes, but they also add texture.

When you coat anything with rub–like a blend of brown sugar, smoked paprika, and garlic salt–you can be really generous with how much you use–much more than Seasonings. If you've ever had Memphis dry rub ribs, you know what we mean.

man massaging rub into meat

Rubs are combinations of spices, salt, and sugar used before cooking to enhance flavor and texture.

Wet Ingredients: Marinades & Brines

Marinades and brines are a different story than seasonings and rubs. These wet ingredients are both used before cooking to infuse meats, but they sort of work in different ways.

assorted marinades

Marinades & Brines are both wet ingredients.

Marinades Infuse Flavor Before Cooking

Marinades are made up of oil, vinegar, spices, and herbs, and are most used to infuse flavor before cooking. When you soak your meats and foods in a marinade, it infuses some of that flavor into the ingredient, and may even soften it slightly.

For example, a chicken breast soaking in a marinade of oils, vinegar, herbs and spices will absorb some of those flavors, infusing it with all sorts of tasty qualities.

Pro tip: To get the most out of your marinade, leave your ingredients in for at least 6 hours, and no more than 24.

chicken breast soaking in marinade

Marinades are an easy way to infuse your meats with flavor before grilling.

Brines Infuse Flavor & Moisture Before Cooking

Like marinades, brines infuse flavor before cooking, but they’re also used to infuse moisture.

If you let a thick chicken breast soak in a basic saltwater brine in the fridge overnight, the water and salt will slowly seep into the protein fibers, enhancing the flavor from within, and locking in moisture so that every bite is perfectly juicy!

You can create a brine with a saltwater mix, or any number of liquids like buttermilk, apple juice, or even dark beer. Here’s a basic saltwater brine mixture you can try at home:

  • 4 cups of water
  • 4 tablespoons of salt
  • 1 resealable plastic bag (or tupperware)
  • (Add a spring of fresh thyme or rosemary for added flavor)

Place some chicken into that saltwater mixture. Seal it. Allow it to sit overnight in the fridge. Pat your chicken completely dry. Then drop it on a white hot grill. (NOTE: For brines to be effective, give them no fewer than 12 hours and no more than 2 days)

chicken breasts soaking in a brine

          Brines bring moisture and flavor to your meats before grilling.

It’s All About Preparing for the Way You Like It

Now that you know the basic differences between seasonings, rubs, marinades, and brines, what can you take away from all this?

You know your grill is a great tool for bringing out flavors, but bringing out deep flavors and texture really begin with how you prepare your ingredients before they hit the grill.

There are a million different directions you could go, and whether it’s seasonings, rubs, marinades, brines, or some combination of them all, the important part is taking time to enjoy the process.

assorted foods on gas grill

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