Ask Chef Hosch and Ann

Q: Wet rubs, dry rubs, marinades, brines, injections … Chef, what is the difference?

A: Everything you listed is a type of flavor enhancer, a combination of ingredients mixed together designed to improve the flavor of foods. They are all meant to enhance the flavor, not overpower or hide it. The ingredients and method vary but the end result is the same – a more flavorful meal.

Wet and dry rubs

There are two types of rubs, wet or dry. As the name implies, the ingredients are rubbed onto the surface of the meat. We’ve already talked about dry rubs. In last month’s column about herbs and spices, I included a recipe for a dry rub. Several months ago, in the column that covered savory cooking with chocolate, we used a dry rub with cocoa on a tenderloin of beef.

Wet rubs are either water based or oil based. They can be slathered on a bit thicker than a dry rub. Water based rubs often contain broth, juice or wine. Sugar and salt dissolve better in water based rubs. Oil based rubs bring out the flavor in some herbs and spices better than a water based rub. Oil also seals the surface of the meat and helps with browning.

Brines and Injections

Brines and injections are mainly salt water solutions with sugar, herbs and spices added. With brining, the meat is submerged in the solution. Brining adds moisture to the meat but it also adds sodium. If you are on a salt restricted diet, you should probably skip brining. With injections, the solution is injected deep into the flesh of the meat with a special tool called a marinade injector. A salt water brine is often used but you can inject any kind of marinade or flavoring and omit some of the salt. That might be a much better choice for those watching their sodium intake.


If you’ve ever poured bottled Italian salad dressing on a chicken breast and let it soak a while, you’ve used a marinade. Marinades are basically made up of four main ingredients – oil, acid (vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice etc), herbs and spices. Italian dressing is a perfectly acceptable tenderizing marinade because it contains all of those ingredients. Acid is the tenderizing agent. It works because it breaks down the fibers in the meat.

The tougher the meat (like flank steak) the longer the marination time. Chicken, salmon and other lean cuts of meat and fish become gummy and mushy if marinated too long. Remember, it is the acid that tenderizes the meat. Marinades without acid will not have that tenderizing effect but they can add a lot of flavor. Following is my recipe for Tuscon lemon chicken.

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

3 cloves of garlic

2 tablespoon fresh basil

1/4 cup olive oil

2 teaspoon fresh lemon zest

1 teaspoon minced rosemary

Salt and pepper to taste.

Mix all ingredients together. Pour over chicken breasts and refrigerate overnight. Grill, panfry, broil or bake.

Q: Chef, how can I make standard picnic/cookout meals healthier? It seems like hot dogs, hamburgers, kielbasa, potato and macaroni salads are standard fare at every cookout. Do you have any alternatives for healthier, lower calorie meals?

A: Most of the traditional foods we find at picnics and cookouts are high in fat, high in calories and low in nutrition. There are ways to lighten up calorie laden foods or to substitute foods that are naturally lighter and healthier.

In May’s column, we talked about grilling. The menu we featured in that article is an example of healthier food choices. Grilled salmon, grilled summer vegetables and thinly sliced red potatoes are all heart healthy, low in fat and calories. Following are some other ideas and substitutions for lightening up the menu at your next cookout.

Potato and macaroni salad

Mayonnaise based potato and macaroni salads are high in fat, sodium and carbohydrates. Store bought salads are even worse because they usually contain preservatives. Instead, opt for a fresh vegetable salad in a light balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Fresh broccoli, zucchini, mushrooms, tomatoes, summer squash; tossed in a vinaigrette dressing with fresh herbs and served over spinach or leafy lettuce makes a much healthier salad. It is lower in fat, lower in calories and chock full of vitamins and nutrients.

If it just doesn’t seem like a picnic or cookout without traditional potato or macaroni salad, there are a few tricks you can use that will cut the calories and fat without sacrificing the flavor.

Cook the potatoes or macaroni and cool until about 40 degrees. Overnight is best. Use three parts plain, nonfat Greek yogurt to one part mayonnaise. Mix your favorite ingredients into the yogurt. Spices, mustard, pickles, hard boiled egg, salt, pepper – whatever your recipe calls for. Add the yogurt first, before the mayonnaise. Since it has no oil, it will not seal the surface and the potatoes or macaroni absorb the flavors in the yogurt. Chill for at least four hours. Add mayonnaise and stir.

Hot dogs, hamburgers and steaks

Hot dogs are a nutritional nightmare. They are full of preservatives, nitrates and fat. An average hot dog has about 150 calories and 18 grams of fat. Opt for the lower fat varieties made with turkey or chicken. Kielbasa or smoked sausage made with turkey is a better choice than full fat varieties that are loaded with fat and calories.

Regular ground beef – 70/30 percent ratio – has 93 calories in an ounce. 76 of those calories are from fat. Multiply that by six, the weight of an average size burger. That is a lot of fat and calories! Use leaner ground meat (80/20 or even better, 90/10) and save yourself a lot of calories and fat. Try lean ground (white meat) turkey burgers. Or how about a veggie burger? You will find several brands in the freezer section at the grocery store that are a healthier choice than ground beef and taste great on a whole grain bun garnished with lettuce and tomato.

Or skip the hot dogs and burgers altogether. Chose a cut of meat that is naturally leaner. Meat that has “loin” in the name is naturally lower in fat. Think sirloin steak instead of T-bone or porterhouse; pork tenderloin instead of spare ribs. Fish tastes great grilled on the barbecue.

“Side dishes” – vegetables instead of chips

Skip the chips and serve fresh vegetables. They can be served as a side dish or even a main course. Following is a recipe for fresh veggie kabobs.

Fresh vegetables (summer squash, zucchini, red and yellow peppers)

Grape tomatoes

Mozzarella balls

Fresh basil leaves

Halve the peppers and slit the squash and grill. Don’t cut into smaller pieces until after grilling. When the grilled “semi whole” vegetables have cooled to room temperature, cut into bite sized pieces. Place on skewers alternating vegetables with grape tomatoes, mozzarella balls and fresh basil leaves. Drizzle with infused olive oil.


You can’t go wrong with watermelon, a tried and true, traditional picnic favorite. Chilled watermelon is not only refreshing and delicious; it is also a good source of potassium, and a very good source of vitamin A and vitamin C. Fresh fruit is always a good choice for dessert. It can be combined in a fruit salad or grilled. If you don’t mind a bit more prep time, try the following recipe.

Fresh fruit (watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple, strawberries, mango, jicama)

Juice from 3 fresh limes

Sea salt

Chili pepper

Cut ingredients into bite sized pieces. Place fruit on a large platter. Sprinkle with sea salt and chili powder. Pour lime juice evenly over fruit.

With these tips your summer picnics and cookouts will be lighter and healthier, but just as delicious as the full fat, high calorie version.

Chef Hosch and Ann’s column prints on the first Wednesday of each month.

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