What’s the Difference Between a Marinade, Brine, Rub and Sauce

Check out our dummy sheet about the differences between marinades, brines, rubs and sauces.

The Differences Between Marinades, Bones, Rubs and Sauces


It’s usually a mixture of an acid, salt, fruit or vegetables and spices that is used on meat, fish or other foods. Cooks let it soak to add flavor and soften textures. Marinades don’t soak into the whole cut of meat or whatever you’re using. It only affects the surface of the food.

So how does it work? The acid in the marinade breakdowns the proteins on the surface of the meat, which makes it more tender.

Because marinades don’t easily penetrate far into the meat, they are best used on smaller cuts like steaks and pork chops. This will result in a nice bit of tenderizing and flavor penetration. If you use marinades on larger cuts, what often happens is that the marinade is overly effective on the outside of the meat, making it mushy or tough, and yet doesn’t penetrate the inside and thus has no effect there.

Food safety alert: Never, ever cook with used marinades and always refrigerate food while it is marinating.

Want even more information? Check out our everything you need to know about marinades article. It tells you how marinades work and talks about the different basic types of marinades too.


Where marinades are used to tenderize meats, brines are used to add moisture. Cooking dries out meat, which can turn a chicken dinner into chicken jerky. A brine helps lean meats to stay moist by breaking down the surface and retaining water. The result is juicier meat.

Brines need only consist of salt and water with other ingredients optionally added for flavor. That’s it. There’s nothing fancy about it. Brines are traditionally used on lean proteins, such as turkey and chicken. You always discard the brine before cooking.

Spice Rub

Dry rubs are mainly used to add flavor to meat. But if your rub contains salt (and it probably does) then it can help to melt fat as the meat cooks, which makes the meat more juicy.You mix up your favorite dry spices. Then your rub your rub directly onto the cut of meat. Then you either let it sit in your refrigerator until you’re ready for dinner or get it cooking immediately. Both work.

Because of the way that a salt rub can melt the fats on the outside and inside of meat as it cooks, these are especially useful on large cuts of meat. The rub is going to flavor the outside but it’s also going to penetrate and melt fats inside to make every slice of roast juicy and delicious.


Sauces add moisture and flavor to dishes. They are meant to be enjoyed when you’re eating the food. You should not use marinades as sauces if meat has been sitting in them unless you very thoroughly cook the marinade. Brines should not be used as a sauce ever. They will be way too salty. Grab a bottle of BBQ sauce instead.

There you go. Now you know the difference. Get into the kitchen and start cooking.


Amy Bowen

Amy had no clue how to cook until she became the food reporter for a daily newspaper in Minnesota. At 25, she even struggled with boxed mac and cheese. These days, Amy is a much better cook, thanks to interviewing cooks and chefs for more than 10 years. She even makes four cheese macaroni and cheese with bacon, no boxed mac in sight. Amy is also on the editorial team at The Cookful.