There’s the Rub
Rules to keep in mind before you raid the spice rack
Creative combos of herbs, salts and spices do more than add bursts of flavor and a delectably crispy crust with a minimum of fuss and calories. Rubs, the ultimate supporting player, allow the protein to shine brilliantly without ever trying to grab the spotlight.
We look at the power of rubs to masterfully bring out the best qualities of barbecued beef, pork, lamb, chicken and seafood, and share some creative and eminently imitable recipes from the Reinhart kitchen.
No one blend is recognized as a universal rub, giving creative chefs plenty of room to innovate. A few basic rules of the rub to keep in mind before you raid the spice rack, advises Corporate Executive Chef Jeff Merry:
Major components of a dry rub can include: sugar for sweetness, browning and crust formation; savory from green herbs, spices, garlic and other flavorings; spices and herbs; and spicy flavors from hot peppers, ginger, horseradish and mustard powder.
Stock up on garlic, onion powders, cumin, oregano, paprika and chili powder, which enable you to whip up just about any type of rub. Paprika and chili powder are particularly important for color and flavor, and complement heartier foods like steak or salmon well. Milder rubs made with oregano and thyme are ideal for chicken breast or white fish like mahi-mahi.
Try a technique called “blooming” in which you fry the spices in a bit of oil for a few minutes before preparing the dry rub. The heat triggers the Maillard reaction, releasing the oils and intensifying flavors, aromas and colors.
Cover the entire surface of the meat. If the dry rub is not adhering well, make a wet rub by adding water or oil, or a simple mix of hot chili powder, cayenne, fresh ground pepper and lemon juice. Wet rubs are rubbed or sprinkled all over the meat prior to marinating.
Want to go regional with your rub? Consider a thick, sweet, sugar-based rub for Kansas City, arguably the birthplace of barbecue ribs. In Memphis, a savory rub made with salt, black and cayenne pepper, garlic and onion powder, paprika, oregano and celery seed is the gold standard. Spicy dry rubs predominate in North Carolina, St. Louis (with smoky spices in the mix too) and Texas, where beef lovers rub it on with cayenne pepper and chili powder. Hawaii goes basic with garlic, salt and pepper, and ground coffee for added intensity.