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

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

Sometimes it’s best to keep things simple. You can never go wrong with a little salt and pepper. Other times you want your flavours 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 flavour, enhancing flavour, 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 flavour vs. enhance flavour 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.

Seasonings & Rubs are both dry ingredients.

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

Seasonings Add Flavour 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.

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

Rubs Add Flavour & 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 flavour 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.

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

Marinades & Brines are both wet ingredients.

Marinades Infuse Flavour Before Cooking

Marinades are made up of oil, vinegar, spices, and herbs, and are mostly used to infuse flavour before cooking. When you soak your meats and foods in a marinade, it infuses some of that flavour 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 flavours, 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.

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

Brines Infuse Flavour & Moisture Before Cooking

Like marinades, brines infuse flavour 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 fibres, enhancing the flavour 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 flavour)

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 flavour 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 flavours, but bringing out deep flavours and texture really begins 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.

Visit our Que & A blog for more pro tips and tricks on creating flavour.

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