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The Difference between BBQ Rubs, Marinades, and Sauces

Part of the BBQ Sauces, Rubs and Marinades For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Whether you call it barbecue, BBQ, or just 'cue, enhance the flavor of your oh-so-tender meats by mixing up a flavor-packed marinade, rub, or sauce. Although each seasoning method is used differently, they all give zing to any meat you grill or barbecue.

Seasoning with dry rubs

A rub is a dry marinade that you sprinkle or pat onto meat before you cook it. Rubs can contain just about anything, and they usually include some salt and sugar. You leave them on for a few minutes before you cook or as long as overnight. As meat cooks, the heat pulls open its pores, and the flavors of the rub seep right in.

Rubs help produce bark, a crisp and flavorful crust that also helps hold in meat's moisture.

Marinating: The power and the glory

Marinade, a light liquid that you soak meat in before you cook it, does as much good for the texture of meat as it does for the flavor. Most marinades are made up of an acid (vinegar, lemon juice, or some such) and an oil. The acid helps break down the fibers to tenderize the meat, and oil helps hold the acid against the meat so it can do the most good. The rest is flavor — whatever combination of seasonings you like.

Marinades tend to work fast, propelling a lot of flavor and good tenderizing effect into meat. They can be vehicles for intense tastes or subtle ones.

The big finish: Sauces

You can call pretty much anything liquid a sauce, and depending on who or where you are, your definition of true barbecue sauce may be very different. Different kinds of sauces are appropriate at different stages of the cooking process. You don't put a sugary sauce on food before it has been cooked through, for example, because the sugar burns easily.

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