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How to make a BBQ Rub

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A Basic BBQ Rub

BBQ Ribs
Every great BBQ chef has a secret recipe for his perfect rub.  But there are some basics that can make seasoning your barbecue a simple process that yields delicious results.  A rub is a set of spices that when liberally applied to the meat you plan to cook act as a dry marinade.  The flavors in the rub slowly permeate the meat as it cooks.  This, when done with the right set of flavors, will lead to a result that will have the whole neighborhood talking. 

Although it is called a rub, you don't want to literally rub your spice combination into the meat.  You simply want to sprinkle it all over the beef, pork or poultry you plan to smoke.  If you rub the spices into the meat, it will clog the pores.  This will prevent the pores from opening during the cook which is a bad thing.  As you cook the meat, and it hits certain temperatures, moisture in the meat will be released through the pores. This time of release will allow both smoke and seasoning into the meat.  This is how the dark outer bark is created and thus, a much more flavorful finished product.

So what goes into a BBQ rub?

If you start with a simple base, you can play with that base recipe and find nuances of flavors as you cook more.  But you should work with the basics, get that perfected and then, you can work to make it your own.

First, make sure all your spices are fresh.  Old spices can lead to strange tastes and ruin your finished piece of beef, pork or poultry.  


Ribs with paprika rub
One of the most important spices in BBQ cooking is Paprika.  Start with paprika.  For the same reason it is sprinkled over the top of hard-boiled eggs, paprika is a nice start for a spice combination.  It is a simple spice, with both a little heat and a sweet, earthy flavor.   It also adds a lovely color to meat as it cooks.  Some spices will burn up or get really gummy during the smoking process. But paprika really just browns up nicely

Salt, Pepper and Garlic

This three spice combo is essential in nearly every recipe.  Just be careful how you combine them.  For a piece of beef, you can go very heavy on the garlic.  On a piece of pork, maybe go lighter on the garlic and kick up the level on the salt, as pork tends to be sweeter.  And a little extra salt on the pork can work wonders.  But this three spice combo, often called chef's spice, is an absolute must for a base rub.


Next, you add your sweetness.  I've seen a lot of different methods for adding sweetness, but let's just concentrate on the basics.  Brown sugar burns.  It chars at a really low temperature, so you have to really watch how much brown sugar you use in your bbq seasoning.  I generally just use simple granulated sugar.  It mixes in well and can be applied evenly without charring and leaving an aftertaste.  Raw sugar is also delicious, but can be quite coarse and harder to spread evenly over the protein.


Additional Spices

The Dos - Without going in to every spice out there, just understand there are some spices that do well for bbq and some that don't seem to work out at all.  If you want to play around, try cayenne for heat, granulated onion, white pepper, mustard powder, cumin (which I love), or even a little curry powder.

The Do Nots - Stay away from anise, coriander, chives, mint, dill, rosemary, basil, or turmeric.  I've played with all of these and had horrible results.  They just aren't barbecue spices.  And they tend to give overpowering flowery or bitter tastes that don't jive with the BBQ vibe.  

So stick with the basics, make enough to cover the meat liberally and sit back and wait for the delicious results.



Barbecue! Bible Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades, Bastes, Butters, and Glazes
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(price as of Mar 22, 2015)


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