Marinade, Brine or Inject?


Ray Lampe, Dr. BBQ

Marinating on the idea to brine or not to brine? Perhaps we can inject some knowledge on the best ways to keep your turkey juicy and delicious throughout the cooking process. While marinating and brining seem very similar, and they sometimes can be, they can also be quite different. 


Brining requires a substantial salt level that causes osmosis between the meat and the brine. If the salt level is high enough, it will carry the liquid and flavors into the meat which makes for a tasty piece of meat that should be extra juicy and resistant to overcooking. All of these are great things for cooking proteins that don’t have a high fat content, and also for inexperienced cooks that aren’t quite sure when the food is done. Foods like turkey breast, chicken breast, and lean pork chops are often brined and do very well when they are.


Marinating is intended to flavor your foods after soaking for an extended period of time. The problem is most marinades don’t have enough salt content to actually penetrate the meat, so many times you can be disappointed in the flavor versus the expense and trouble of making a marinade and soaking the meat overnight. If your marinade accidentally or intentionally has enough salt to turn it into a brine you will find much better results. There are exceptions like marinades featuring fruit juices that contain high levels of Papain. It’s an enzyme that will break down the meat, tenderizing it and absorbing the flavor at the same time. 


Injecting solves the problems of a marinade or brine not getting deep into the meat in a timely fashion. This has become really popular with BBQ cooks because they are often on a short schedule and now there are marinade products that are specifically designed to be injected into briskets and pork butts to help with flavor and moisture retention. Phosphates are often part of those products, which is different than brining or traditional marinating. For more info on that, I’d suggest Google as it’s a lot of info for this spot. The good news is the popularity has made it easy to find a big kitchen syringe if you want to try it. 

  • For brining, injection shortens the time it takes for the brine to get into the meat and really helps with big, irregularly shaped things like a turkey or a pork butt. 
  • For marinades, it solves the problem of the flavor not getting into the middle of big pieces of meat. You’ll want to take your time and inject small amounts in many places to distribute the marinade evenly. Injecting is a great help with marinating. 

Safety note: Any brine, marinade or injection liquid should be ice cold before using it. Make it ahead and refrigerate overnight.