04/17/2015 08:33 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Injecting Your Meat with Flavor


As many barbecue pros know, injecting is the most efficient way to add flavor and moisture to smoked, barbecued, or grilled food. Think of injecting as marinating from the inside out.

Let me explain. Rubs, spice pastes, and glazes sit on the meat's surface. Marinades penetrate only a few millimeters into the meat. Brining and curing solutions do reach the center, but require several days or weeks to do so (a process that takes up major real estate in your refrigerator). Injecting gets the flavor to the center of the food in seconds with the push of a plunger.

Many injectors look like oversize hypodermic needles. The syringe (plastic or stainless steel) typically comes with a 2- to 4-ounce capacity--enough for most barbecue projects. Use it for injecting broth, melted butter, or other liquid seasonings. For thicker flavoring mixtures (like pesto or jerk seasoning), invest in a wide mouth injector--often sold with a metal spike for making a deep hole in the meat in which you inject your spice paste.

To use an injector, fully depress the plunger and insert the needle in the injector sauce. (Some needles are closed at the end but have holes along the sides. Make sure the perforations are fully submerged in the sauce.) Pull the plunger back to fill the syringe with liquid. Plunge the needle deep in the meat, then depress the plunger slowly and steadily. (A quick plunge may send streams of injector sauce squirting in the opposite direction.) Withdraw the needle gradually.

Alternatively, minimize the number of holes you put in the meat by angling the needle in two or three directions using the same entry hole. Continue injecting until liquid begins leaking from the holes, indicating the meat cannot hold any more. For easier clean-up, work over a rimmed baking sheet.

So what should you inject with your injector? The short list includes broth or stock, melted butter or olive oil, cognac or whiskey, hot sauce or Worcestershire sauce, fish sauce or soy sauce, or a combination of these ingredients. For a touch of sweetness, add fruit juice or molasses or honey. (Warm the latter in a saucepan of simmering water so they flow easily.)

As for the target, good candidates include large cuts of meat, like whole hogs, hams, and pork shoulders, whole turkeys and chickens, briskets, etc., plus intrinsically dry meats like pork loin, lamb leg, beef round roast, and double thick pork chops.

Get more tips on injecting, recommended injectors, and an injector sauce recipe, at

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Steven Raichlen is the author of the Barbecue! Bible cookbook series and the host of Primal Grill on PBS. His web site is