To Salt or Not To Salt the marinade

In the Feature article “How to Make Any Marinade in 5 Steps,” ( Karl recommends holding off on adding any salt to the marinade and salting the dish separately, later.

Similarly, I read a helpful blog post by Cynthia ( that also recommended using the salt on the meat itself, at least an hour before cooking as it comes to room temperature, to allow time for the salt to be absorbed by the meat’s cells, where it will bind with water that will keep the meat moist.

But how does this technique (salting separately) compare to wet brining? Anyone know the science behind what would make one technique preferable to the other? Maybe I’m just befuddled but they seem contradictory. Thanks!

  • Posted by: Pegeen
  • July 2, 2013


Pegeen July 10, 2013
The shorthand, "brine chicken and pork" but "salt the beef" is handy. Corriher's article mentions using buttermilk and yogurt to truly tenderize. I'm familiar with those mediums for chicken and pork, but not so much for beef, so if anyone can recommend recipes they've tried that include milk-brining of beef?
Found one recipe here, Short Ribs Braised in Milk and Gorgonzola:
Pegeen July 2, 2013
Chef Ono - So interesting. Your info, supported by Shirley Corriher's article, might be a game changer for me. I need to go do my reading and homework. Many thanks for the time and knowledge put into your post.

Voted the Best Reply!

ChefOno July 2, 2013

Acids can both toughen and tenderize, depending upon the strength of the acid, the protein, and the amount of time for which it is exposed. The toughening aspect is important to understand but, unfortunately, not well known. Salt tenderizes, helps proteins gain or retain moisture, and helps draw flavors into the meat. The two different principles may or may not be combined.

The best explanation of marinating I've come across, what works and what doesn't, is from Shirley Corriher:

Salt dissolves parts of the protein structure which both tenderizes it and allows it to hold onto more water. In the case of a brine, the weakened meat fibers will soak up some of the water from the brine along with any flavorful compounds, herbs or whatever you've added to the mixture. (Note what "binds" is proteins + water and proteins + flavor molecules.)

So, (dry) salt helps retain moisture, brine both adds moisture and helps it remain in the meat. My rule is "brine chicken and pork, salt beef". Beef usually doesn't benefit from the added water (nor do pork ribs but that’s a whole other subject).

Time is a big factor in either technique. Salting a steak an hour or two before cooking won't have a deep effect -- but that's okay because most of the damage caused by cooking is to the outermost layer of meat, precisely where the salt will have done its job. A bit tangential perhaps but, bringing a steak up to RT has negligible effect on the outcome but the salt is a powerful tool.

ChefOno July 2, 2013

All that and I neglected the title question. Yes, salt the marinade. Whereas most marinades don't do much for tenderizing or anything for moisture, salt does. It will help the flavors in the marinade penetrate and remain behind after cooking. And of course, salt is a flavor enhancer by and of itself. There are no down sides (unless you over-salt) despite the myth about salt "drawing out moisture".

I'm sure I could think of many other examples (any marinade with soy sauce for instance) but my head is fogged with thoughts of Thomas Keller's magnificent roast chicken which bathes for six hours in a lemon-herb brine before going into the oven. Seriously, make that dish, it will answer all your questions with the first bite.

HalfPint July 2, 2013
Sounds like 2 different techniques. Karl is marinading which involves an acid as the protein tenderizer, not salt. He's not brining. Cynthia is salting which is a dry-brining technique. Dry brining (salting) and wet brining operate on basically the same principal (i.e. that ultimately, the salt will bind with water to keep the moist in the meat). The difference is the delivery method of the salt between these 2 techniques of brining.
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