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Marinade vs. Dry Rub: What's the Difference?

Find out which technique will take your dish from good to great
What's the Difference Between a Dry Rub and a Marinade?
Photo: Tasting Table

Dry rubs and marinades are simple ways to add serious flavor to your food. They are your secret weapons for creating delicious grilled meats and vegetables, but the two preparations are actually very different and are used for different purposes.

The quick answer: In addition to adding flavor, a marinade also tenderizes meat, while a dry rub does not.

As the name implies, a dry rub has no liquid component and usually consists of spices such as brown sugar, salt, paprika and cumin. The mixture can be applied to food ahead of time or added during the cooking process; however, to get the most flavor, apply your rub of choice at least an hour before cooking. In addition to flavor, a rub also adds texture and is great for larger pieces of food like brisket, ribs, steak and certain types of fish.

A marinade is a mixture of spices, plus an acidic liquid like vinegar, citrus or wine. The acidity helps tenderize tougher cuts of meat while also intensifying the flavor. Hearty meats such as steak, pork and chicken can marinate anywhere between 12 and 24 hours, but seafood and thinner cuts of meat like skirt steak should marinate for no more than an hour or so.

Pro tip: Turn any leftover marinade into a sauce by reducing it in a pan or using it to baste your meat, making sure to heat the liquid since it's been contaminated with the raw meat. You can also easily amp up your marinades by incorporating ingredients such as olive oil, soy sauce, yogurt, mustard, mayo, Worcestershire sauce and pickle juice.

Now you're ready to get cooking.

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