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What is the difference between marinating and brining?

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Posted: Friday, July 5, 2013 8:53 am

Dear Barbara: It is obvious to me what a dry rub would be when grilling meats, but could you explain the difference between marinating and brining? You are putting meat into a liquid, so it seems they would be the same. — Annlyn from Elk Grove

Dear Annlyn: Yes, you are putting meat into liquid, but the similarity stops there. A marinade most always contains an acid (lemon, vinegar, or wine). It also contains flavorings that will infuse into the meats. The acid starts breaking down the proteins in the meat, thereby making it tenderer. I would definitely use it on less expensive cuts of meat. Always marinate the meat in the refrigerator using a glass, ceramic, or stainless steel dish. Since there is an acid in the marinade, never use an aluminum container. I like using a Zip-Loc freezer bag (set in a dish in case it leaks) for marinating because there is much less clean up. Be sure and discard the marinade after removing the meat.

Brining would be putting the meat in a salt and water solution (you can add other things such as sugar, onions, etc.) so that the meat retains moisture. This procedure is excellent for poultry and pork. You need the correct proportions of each, so you will need to check online, or in a cookbook, for the formula. Happy grilling!

Dear Barbara: I want to make shish kabobs for a small barbecue, but I have no idea what kind of meat to buy. Any suggestions would help. I am cooking for a crowd, so I don’t want to use steak or a really expensive cut of meat. Thank you. — Eric from Lodi

Dear Eric: Kabobs are great for a crowd! The great part is that they can be made ahead and also cook very quickly on the grill. The best cut to use, in my opinion, is top sirloin. It would be nice and tender if you could marinate it after you cut the pieces. If your skewers are wooden, be sure to soak them in water for at least 30 minutes before making the kabobs.

Years ago, a friend of mine purchased meat for kabobs. Being a new cook, she thought it was nice that the meat was already cut into nice sized pieces. When people tried to eat them, they were so tough that they couldn’t chew them. She had purchased stew meat!

If you feel at all uncomfortable picking out the meat, ask the butcher. They are just great at suggesting what would work well.

Barbara Spitzer is a Lodi home cook who also develops recipes for specific consumer products. Do you have a cooking question? Send it to Barbara Spitzer at Please include your first name and city.



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