Brining makes meat tender because the salt (and some sugar) breaks down proteins. Shouldn't a salty/sugary marinade do the same thing?


Brining does not technically "break down" proteins in meat. At least not the way marinating does.

Brining actually involves osmosis which carries salt and sugar inside the cell walls. This denatures the proteins causing them to unravel and interact with one another. This forms a matrix which traps moisture in the meat.

Marinating on the other hand actually does "break down" the proteins using acidity. The acid literally does consume the proteins and break down the texture of the meat. If the marinade has salt in it, then osmosis will occur as well and the marinade is also serving as a brine.

So, to answer your question: Yes, a salty marinade will brine your meat, but the protein breakdown that occurs is due to the acidity of the marinade.

  • 4
    Marinating doesn't tenderize either. Harold says on page 155: "The acid in marinades does weaken muscle tissue and increase its ability to retain moisture. But marinades penetrate slowly, and can give the meat surface an overly sour flavor". Alton Brown in "I'm just here for the food" pp 182 says: "Sure, acidic liquids... can dissolve proteins... but the effect is localized to the surface of the food..." He goes on to say that the reason it seems to tenderize is because the strong flavors stimulate saliva. – Sobachatina Sep 11 '10 at 0:36

The point of brining is not tenderization- It's juiciness and flavor.

When brining, initially dissolved substances inside the meat cells leave into the brine. When the solution reaches equilibrium they start to move back and forth, in and out of the meat. Any flavors in the brine move into the meat as well. The salt denatures enough protein to lock some of the water inside the meat causing more water to get pulled in. After a little while the meat is super charged with water that won't even cook out.

In order to work, the solution has to have relatively a lot of salt in it. But even then, the salt is not able to break up the collagen fibers that make meat tough- it takes heat and time for that to happen.

In order to get the super-charged-juiciness with a marinade it would have to have a lot of salt and water- more than marinades usually do. And then you would have made yourself a brine.

  • So really I should make a brine, then add something flavorful. – user1575 Sep 11 '10 at 17:20
  • 1
    @user1575 - I wouldn't say that you should make a brine. It depends what you are trying to do. If the goal is extra moisture- like when roasting a turkey- then definitely brine. If the goal is a quick boost of flavor then a marinade is good. If you are trying to tenderize a tough piece of meat there are other methods of course: papain, smoking, braising, etc. – Sobachatina Sep 11 '10 at 20:06

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.