Dry Rub vs. Marinade: Which Is the Way to Go for Grilling?

The secret's not in the sauce—it's in what comes before! You can use dry rubs and marinades to take your grilling to the next level.

Put down the hot dogs. It’s time to challenge yourself at the grill! You’ve found the right grill, the best steaks for grilling and now you need to deliver the flavor.

Both dry rubs and marinades are equally simple—and equally powerful—in transforming whatever you’re preparing. But which one is best the next time you fire up the grill?

Dry Rub vs. Marinade

The main difference between a marinade and a dry rub is liquid.

Marinades blend spices with oil and liquids like vinegar or citrus. The acid helps make meat more tender while upping the flavor. The tougher the meat—think beef and chicken thighs—the longer you can marinate it, from 12 to 24 hours. However, smaller cuts of steak or fish should only be marinated for around an hour.

To learn how to make a marinade, start with our guide. You can also play around with marinades, mixing things up with ingredients like honey, mayonnaise, beer and sour cream.

Dry rubs, not surprisingly, are a dry blend of spices. The ingredients often include things like paprika, brown sugar and salt, which add both flavor and texture. The rub can be used both before and during grilling, but applying it up to an hour before cooking can amp up the flavor. You can buy them at the store, but it’s easy to make your own dry rub.

In our opinion, dry rubs and marinades each deserve their time in the spotlight. Both are equally viable options for making tasty (and healthy!) dishes, and both can do wonders for your meat and vegetables.

What About Brines?

Especially if you’re a Thanksgiving turkey aficionado, you’ve likely come across the word “brine” before. A regular brine is when meats and vegetables are placed in a saltwater solution before cooking, and a dry brine does almost the same thing, albeit with no water. However, a brine’s main job is to guarantee juiciness. You’ll want to stick with marinades and dry rubs for the best flavor.

Marinades That Will Change How You Grill
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Kim Bussing
Kim Bussing is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles. She has written for publications including Reader’s Digest, Modern Farmer, Clean Plates and Vice, among others, and she is working on her first novel. She is always on the hunt for the perfect gluten-free cinnamon roll.