I want to marinade some meat to infuse with some flavors. (Ribs as it happens, with liquid smoke, whiskey, orange liqueur, spices)

I was about to put in some brown sugar as well; but I was wondering if that would work against me.

Reasoning: The sugar will draw out moisture from meat. So the general flow will be out rather than into the meat.

(I am planning on adding some sugar, hoisin sauce, etc; tomorrow when I bake them (before grilling them))

However most marinades I have seen have sugar in them.

Is there some reason for that; or is it just easier to put all the flavors in, in one go?

  • Drawing moisture out is part of the process, you have to draw moisture out to get other things in. Meat generally has plenty of moisture to spare.
    – GdD
    Commented May 8, 2015 at 12:06
  • I ended up splitting up my batch in two. One I added maple syrup and brown sugar. It did make a difference. One batch was dryer and had less whiskey flavors. However I mixed up which one it was, while serving. (Doh!) So I am going to have to try again. I will advise when I have repeated the experiment a couple of times. Commented May 10, 2015 at 20:23

1 Answer 1


Yes, the sugar will temporarily draw some moisture from the meat. However, that sugar/water solution will also gradually diffuse into the meat, and the sugar will end up pulling in more water in the long-term.

In any case, the effect is usually small, and any (probably temporary) moisture loss will only be from the outermost 1/8" or so of meat, which will likely dry out in the cooking process anyway. (To see how the marinade mostly works on only the outermost layer of meat, see some of the photographs at this link.) The interior of the meat will likely not lose any moisture at all, particularly in a wet marinade.

Over many hours or days, small molecules like salt and sugar in a marinade will be able to penetrate beyond the surface layer and flavor the meat, but the process of moving beyond the surface is quite slow.

Mostly, one includes sugar in a marinade to thoroughly coat the surface of the meat with sugar, which will aid in browning reactions that enhance the flavor of cooked meat. Too much sugar can cause the surface to brown excessively or char, but a little will significantly enhance the flavor of the outer layer.

  • Worth noting that the orange liqueur will contain a reasonable dose of sugar, probably enough to contribute to browning quite nicely.
    – logophobe
    Commented May 8, 2015 at 19:41
  • @logophobe There was only a couple of teaspoons, but good call. Will have to test that next time. Commented May 10, 2015 at 20:25

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