Marinating Vs Brining – And Smoked Meat

Hey there my fellow pellet smoking fiends and welcome to my post where we will take a look at something I have often thought about, but not really checked out fully until now – marinating vs brining – and is it something that is needed at all. Now, as an amateur ‘pitmaster’ – and I use that term loosely – I have always been an “add a rub” and smoke the meat type of guy.

Marinating Vs Brining - Header

However, as someone always looking for something to smoke in my new Traeger Pro Series 22 Pellet Smoker, I have been checking out some recipes lately for inspiration. What I am finding then is that many of these recipes call for meats to be brined (wet or dry), or marinated. So I am guessing then I had a bit of a look at it all.

Let’s start at the top..

What is Marinating?

In simple terms, marinating is when you cover a meat with a sauce and leave it for a certain amount of time so that the flavors of the sauce (called a marinade – go figure) can ‘infuse’ into the meat to add to its flavor as it is cooked.

Now, I always thought a marinade was a marinade, and that they always came from a bottle as my mum made us honey soy chicken or something like that. However, there is actually a science to this whole marinade thing in that all good marinades should include:

  • Fats – like olive oil or yogurt help to carry flavor into the meat – when it comes to smoked meat, a mustard can help bind this as well.
  • Acids – such as vinegar (apple cider vinegar is common in smoked meat recipes such as pulled pork), lemon juice or wine to tenderize the meat
  • Seasonings and herbs – add depth and flavor.
Marinating Vs Brining - Marinated pork shoulder

What types of meat should be marinated for a smoker?

So, as this page is about smoking, then let’s talk about it in terms of the smoker. Additionally, my interest in doing a Carolina Pulled Pork which is marinated beforehand was the main catalyst for this post as well. So, with all that in mind, the following meats can be marinated prior to a smoke:

  1. Pork:
    • Marinade options: Apple cider vinegar-based marinades, honey and mustard marinades, soy sauce and ginger marinades, pineapple juice-based marinades.
  2. Beef:
    • Marinade options: Red wine and herb marinades, Worcestershire sauce-based marinades, balsamic vinegar and garlic marinades, coffee-based marinades.
  3. Chicken:
    • Marinade options: Buttermilk and herb marinades, lemon and herb marinades, yogurt-based marinades with spices like cumin and paprika, teriyaki marinades.
  4. Turkey:
    • Marinade options: Citrus-based marinades (lemon, orange), maple syrup and herb marinades, apple cider-based marinades, Cajun-style marinades.
  5. Fish and Seafood:
    • Marinade options: Citrus and herb marinades (lemon, lime, cilantro), soy sauce and ginger marinades, teriyaki marinades, coconut milk-based marinades.

How long should I marinate for?

Marinating times will obviously vary depending on the type and thickness of the meat. Thicker and tougher meats such as brisket or pork should can be marinated overnight. However more delicate meats such as poultry or seafood can be good to go after a few hours.

Additionally, if you have a lot of acidic ingredients, then marinating too long can affect the meat and make it a little mushy as well.

What is Brining?

My understanding in regards to brining is that it actually serves two purposes:

  1. Flavor enhancement – Just like when marinating, a brine will add flavor to the meat before it is cooked.
  2. Moisture retention – As many brines are salt or sugar based, they assist in keeping the meat moist as it cooks.

Furthermore, there are two types of brining:

  1. Wet – which is where the meat is soaked in a solution usually consisting of saltwater and maybe an acid or herbs and spiced. This is really good for meats that dry out quickly in a smoker such as chicken, turkey and smaller cuts of pork.
  2. Dry – We often call this a rub which is a sugar based dry brine that is rubbed all over the meat. It can however also include a simple addition of salt to a cut of beef and left overnight. This is good for bigger cuts that cook for longer such as beef or pork.
Marinating Vs Brining - dry brined beef

Check out my: Traeger 321 Ribs Recipe and Cooking Guide

What types of meat should be brined for a smoker?

When it comes to brining for the smoker, the following can act as a guide:

  1. Poultry (Chicken, Turkey):
    • Whole chickens or turkeys: Brining these larger birds in a wet rub helps keep the meat moist and flavorful during the long smoking process. Brine for 8 to 12 hours or overnight for best results.
    • Chicken pieces (e.g., breasts, thighs, wings): Brine for 1 to 2 hours before smoking to add extra moisture and flavor.
  2. Pork:
    • Pork ribs: Brining ribs with a rub before smoking can help tenderize the meat and infuse it with flavor. Brine for 4 to 6 hours before smoking.
    • Pork shoulder (for pulled pork): Brining a pork shoulder with a rub before smoking can lead to incredibly tender and flavorful pulled pork. Brine for 12 to 24 hours depending on the size of the shoulder.
  3. Beef:
    • Brisket: Brining brisket with a rub can improve tenderness and flavor absorption during smoking. Brine for 12 to 24 hours, especially for thicker cuts. I have seen a few recipes where briskets have been wet brined in salt and water before cooking as well, however I have not tried this myself as yet.
    • Beef roasts: Larger beef roasts like chuck or round roasts can benefit from brining before smoking. Brine for 12 to 24 hours for optimal results.
  4. Fish and Seafood:
    • While fish and seafood are not typically brined for as long as other meats, a short brining period can still enhance their flavor and moisture retention during smoking. Brine fish fillets or seafood for 15 to 30 minutes before smoking.

How long should I brine for?

Again, as with marinating, times will obviously vary depending on the type and thickness of the meat. Thicker and tougher meats such as brisket or pork should can be brined overnight. However more delicate meats such as poultry or seafood can be good to go after a few hours.

Additionally, if you are using a wet brine, then sitting your meat in it for too long can affect the final outcomes as well.

Marinating vs Brining – So, what does all this mean?

Ok, so in short, as with everything to do with smoking, perfection is in the eye of the pitmaster. So all I can really do here then is tell you what I do, and then open it up in the comments below for others to put their input as well.

My favorite brines, marinades then are as follows:

  • Pork shoulder (pork butt) – I have found best results here to add a sugar based rub with garlic and onion powders as well as paprika (I liked smoked), cumin, chili, salt and pepper and then leave overnight.
  • Pork ribs – Same as above but I only tend to rub these an hour or so beforehand
  • Beef – I love the flavor here that comes from a simple salt and pepper rub with a bit of paprika added and left over night. I have used olive oil and worstershire sauce as a binder but to ben honest, it is the salt that I love here. The way the salt sticks to the meat when it cooks is amazing.
  • Carolina Pulled Pork – I have recently been playing around with these recipes and found that marinating overnight with their apple cider vinegar based marinades really works well.

Check out my: Traeger Beef Short Ribs Recipe and Cooking Guide


So there you have it, my discussion on the whole marinating vs brining thing. I hope it has been of assistance but as usual, if you have any questions please do not hesitate to reach out by commenting below. I would also love to hear abut your brining regimes below as well.

Are there any other products you have been looking at but want to know more about? If so, please comment below and I will do my best to get some details for you.

Until next time

Have fun and get smoking!


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