What is the difference between brine and marinade? Can I use the brine in place of marinade? These are some of the questions that come up when cooking as we seek ways in which we can get the most out of meats. Nothing beats meat that is oozing of flavor and that which comes right off the bone in a bite.

If I am having guests over, my focus is always on how I can achieve this, even when I am cooking something small for myself. Brine and marinade bring different things to the table. Brine adds moisture to the meat, making it juicy and this is why people love it. Marinade, on the other hand, adds flavor to the meat.

They are both essential in the kitchen, and you will enjoy the results that you can achieve while using them. You should note though that you cannot use them interchangeably. Here is a breakdown of what they are and how you can use them to help you gauge the right answer for brine vs marinade in your next cookout.

What is a Marinade?

Marinades are known for their ability to add flavors to the meat. They also result in more tender meats as compared to using brines. The downside to them is that they do not add as much moisture. Marinades are essentially sauces with some acidic base.

It could be vinegar, wine, citrus or other such substance. The acid present works to break down the protein structure in the meats. As a result, the water in the marinade gets in between the protein structures, and this makes the meat tenderer than it would have been without the marinade in play.

The thing with marinades though is that they work on a quarter inch of meat towards the outside. Thanks to this, not much liquid gets into the meat pieces. But this does not affect the flavor which gets absorbed in tons.

This method works best for small pieces of meat that are tender. Examples of such meats include pork chops, steaks and chicken breasts. I find it easy to work with marinade when the pieces are small as they get lots of water and come out juicy.

Marinating tips

To start, cut your meat into small pieces and prepare the marinade. Place the pieces in the marinade. One or two hours are enough if you are in a hurry. If not, let the pieces sit for up to 12 hours before cooking them. The critical thing in marination is to ensure that all the meat pieces are in contact with the marinade and you can use sealed bags for this.

Be sure not to overdo the soaking as it can end up drying out the meat. Ensure that you conduct the marination in the fridge. While the marinade may have an acidic base, this will not keep bacteria from growing in the food while it is at room temperature.

Dry marinade

You can choose to enhance flavor and do away with the tenderizing. All you need is to rub the chosen meats with a dry mixture of salt and herbs hours before you start cooking.

What is Brine?

Brine is a solution whose basis is salt, and you can use it to make large pieces of meat juicy. I prefer using it on meats which tend to lose moisture when exposed to heat. Examples include whole turkey, pork roasts and whole chicken. If you are looking to avoid that dry feeling once the meat is ready, an excellent solution to this issue would be the use of brine.

Usually, when people talk of brine, the image that comes to their mind is that of salt dissolved in water. This brine is quite simple to make and serves the purpose just as well. However, you can get more out of your meat by adding sugar and other flavors.

Cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, and other spices add some flavor to the meat as it brines. The basis of brine lies in osmosis. Think of it this way. All meats contain water in their cells. These cell walls are of semi-permeable membranes which allow water to move in and out of the cells.

When you place meat in brine, the water in the meat cells moves through the cell walls and into the brine. The process of osmosis works such that water molecules will move from a region of high concentration to that where water molecules are low in concentration.

The brine will lose some of its salty nature owing to this movement, and this will cause the water molecules to move back into the meat cells. As it enters the cells, it will carry with it some of the salt and the flavors.

The presence of salt in the cells ensures that water remains within the membranes even as cooking takes place. The result is that you get to cook your meat until it is tender, juicy and moist. Brining is quite simple once you understand the science behind it.

How to Brine Meat

Brining meat is a simple process. Start by preparing a salty solution. You can also make a salt and sugar brine and add other flavors if you wish. Next, place a large piece of meat in the solution and the brining can then commence. There are tons of ways that you can soak your meat, including in a 30-minute brine and an overnight brine.

The less time you spend in brining, the less time that the meat has to absorb the flavors. I find that an overnight brine gives me the juiciest results. Whichever route you opt to follow; ensure that you refrigerate the meat during the process.


When it comes to brine vs. marinade, it is all about the kind of cut you are handling and what you hope to achieve from the process. Marination is best when dealing with soft meats as well as vegetables and brining works for tough cuts.


Peter's path through the culinary world has taken a number of unexpected turns. After starting out as a waiter at the age of 16, he was inspired to go to culinary school and learn the tricks of the trade. As he delved deeper, however, his career took a sudden turn when a family friend needed someone to help manage his business. Peter now scratches his culinary itch on the internet by blogging, sharing recipes, and socializing with food enthusiasts worldwide.

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