Grilling Tips Part 6: Marinade Vs. Rub

Rubs and marinades are both great ways to add flavor to your grilled foods. But when should you marinate and when should you rely on a rub?

Marinades are liquids that are made of herbs, spices, and an acid—usually a citrus, vinegar, or alcohol. They not only add flavor to your meat, but also tenderize. The acids breaks down connective tissues and make meat more tender. If you are cooking a protein that is already tender — fish, chicken breast, or filet — then you should marinate briefly, for 2 hours or less. Tougher cuts of meat should be marinated in the fridge anywhere from 4 hours to overnight. Don't leave your meat marinating for longer than that or it will turn to mush. And room temperature meat can cause food poisoning, so do not leave your meat marinating at room temperature for longer than 40 minutes.

Large sealable plastic bags are perfect for marinating, as is a glass or ceramic dish with plastic wrap over the top.

Any leftover marinade in the bag or bowl can be used to baste the meat while it's on the grill, but no matter how tasty it is, do not use leftover marinade as a sauce — it's contaminated by the raw meat. IF you really want to re-use it, boil it for about 3 minutes.

Use 1/4 cup of marinade for each pound of meat.

Rubs are mixes of spices and seasoning that add flavor but don't tenderize. Dry rubs are, in fact, dry and powdery. Paste rubs are mixed with enough of a wet ingredient, like oil, soy sauce, or mustard, to form a paste. Both kinds of rubs should be patted onto the meat to form a coating or crust — remember to pat gently; don't rub hard.

Rubs can be applied just before cooking, but for more impact you can put rubs on a few hours before you plan to cook and store meat in the fridge.