Seasonings, Rubs, and Marinades… What’s the Difference?
Is your food rubbing you the wrong way? Understanding the difference between seasonings, rubs, and marinades can be the ticket to your culinary success and when used correctly will leave people wanting to know your secrets!
“Seasoning” is a generic term for anything used to enhance the flavors in meats, veggies, potatoes, eggs, pasta, and more. The fun part is… there aren’t many rules! A combination of salt and pepper is technically a seasoning. Add a little olive oil, vinegar and some herbs and you have a marinade. With sugar and spices you have a dry rub. Put in a little mustard and you have a wet rub.
There is no need for a culinary degree or an extensive knowledge base in spices to know how to season food properly, but we can give you a few tips to help make it easier, so don’t be intimidated. As you become more comfortable cooking with different seasonings, your food will be more enjoyable, and your guests will be impressed!
How do you use it? Once you have a good combination of salt, herbs, and spices, you are ready to apply the seasoning. It can be applied to meat, veggies, pasta, or anything that could use a little extra flavor. Simply sprinkle it over your dish before cooking to allow the herbs and spices to infiltrate flavors and give your dish more depth. If you prefer, you may want to finish the dish with additional seasonings for added flavor.
There are countless ways to season food, so let’s look at some of the popular ways that can help you season like a pro right at home.
Rubs (Wet or Dry)
Rubs, both wet and dry, are very popular for barbecuing and grilling! Every barbecue expert has their “secret recipe” for the best rub, and the trick is surprisingly simple. It is all about the sugar. Use brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup to get tremendous flavor. Without sugar, it’s not really a rub, it’s just a seasoning.
When grilling, the sugar coats the outside of the meat, allowing the salt to draw out moisture and the spices to infiltrate and add flavor. This makes the meat tender, juicy, and delicious!
How do you use rubs? Just as the name suggests, rubs should be “rubbed” onto and/or into the meat. To get the best results and a tasty caramelization, it is imperative that the meat is dry with no extra moisture before applying the rub. This can be achieved by patting the meat with a few paper towels prior to rubbing. Once dry, get in there and give it a good rub! After rubbing and prior to cooking, we suggest allowing the meat to rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
When do you use a dry rub? It is best to use a dry rub when you are cooking meat that has good natural flavor and consistency. This includes shrimp, seafood, chicken and pork tenderloins, or a premium cut of steak that does not need to be tenderized.
Dry rubs are also great for fatty cuts of meat such as pork butt that will cook low and slow with no need for extra moisture to stay tender.
When is wetter better? A wet rub is simply a dry rub with added moisture that brings out more intense flavor, allowing the seasoning to stick together, and sometimes adding an element of tenderization. Wet rubs are best used when grilling meats and veggies that can benefit from the added moisture and powerful flavor, such as flank steak, potatoes, and zucchini.
Wet rubs are also an asset to slow cooking, especially with meat that has the bone in, such as ribs or chicken drumsticks.
Creating a wet rub! When making a wet rub it is recommended to combine two parts dry rub and one part “wet” element. This will create a paste-like mixture that sticks well. If adding to veggies, we generally add an extra drizzle of olive oil to thin out the paste and then toss to coat instead of rubbing.
A few of our favorite “wet” elements:
“Wet” elements that also tenderize:
Marinades are a great way to tenderize meats while adding loads of flavor. The main component of a marinade is always an acid, typically vinegar, wine, or citrus juice, combined with oil, salt, herbs, and spices. Using infused balsamic vinegars and olive oils are a fun way to enhance the flavor of any marinade. For the best results, marinate your meat for at least one hour and up to 24 hours.
Caution: Some delicate meats that marinate for over 24 hours will start to become grainy because they have started “cooking” from the acid.
Quick Tip: When buying and freezing meat in bulk, place smaller portions along with different marinades in ziploc bags and freeze. This allows you to have fun trying several different kinds and when the meat is removed from the freezer it will thaw and marinate at the same time.
What proportions are best? Let taste be your guide! When using high quality oils and vinegars, a 50/50 ratio is ideal. Add an emulsifier, such as mustard or honey, and two parts aromatics, such as a rub, seasoning, or fresh herbs to add a pleasant aroma to your dish!
Note: Due to the acid in your marinade, always use a non-reactive container (basically no metal) to avoid a metallic taste. We love glass, plastic, or ziploc bags for minimal cleanup.
What do I do with my leftover marinade? Make sure to add the marinade a little at a time. This ensures you do not over use it. The marinade that does not come in contact with raw meat can be used as a salad dressing or pan sauce! The ratio of oil to vinegar and aromatics is perfect for multiple uses.