CapeMay.com Blog

Rubbing it in: Barbecue Rubs

Try a dry rub the next time you barbecue. Dry rubs are a blend of dry spices and herbs with salt and sugar added. I prefer dark brown sugar since it contains molasses which provides depth of flavor.

Barbecue has its roots in the Caribbean islands and was raised to an art form in the American South. With these origins, it is no surprise that this cooking technique is slow, lengthy and flavorful. Like a Dixie drawl from a southern belle, good barbecue lingers in the air. Barbecue is an event for all the senses. It can be smelled before it is tasted. As you get closer to the smoker you can hear the sizzle of dripping fat like rain on a hot tin roof. A peek inside reveals food that has honored its source and your salivary glands kick into overdrive. The taste would make Rhett Butler give a damn.

The first component of good barbecue is the heat source. Wood Charcoal is used, not briquettes and definitely not propane that is grilling. The goal in barbecue is to cook over coals NOT flame. Barbecuing utilizes less tender cuts of meat primarily shoulder, leg or the ribs. These are worked muscles that are layered with collagen. Collagen is a connective tissue that breaks down in moist heat yielding that rich juicy flavor that makes the less tender cuts the best kept secret in the butcher’s shop. Since we need moist heat this means we are going to cook in a covered or closed environment. A tight fitting lid is a necessity.

The second component is seasoning. Unlike grilling, which utilizes marinades, barbecuing uses dry or wet rubs for primary flavor. A secondary layer is introduced during cooking via wet mops or sauces. Dry rubs are a blend of dry spices and herbs with salt and sugar added. I prefer dark brown sugar since it contains molasses which provides depth of flavor. Paprika gives color and complexity to the rub. Hungarian and Spanish varieties have different qualities. Experiment and discover which you prefer. Dried garlic and onion comes in two varieties – either granulated or powder. Both work well. However, I think the powdered varieties have a processed taste. Spice and heat are introduced in the form of chili powders or dried peppers.

Barbecuing uses dry or wet rubs for primary flavor. A secondary layer is introduced during cooking via wet mops or sauces.

Ancho chili powder has a more robust flavor than commercial chili powders. The Chipotle, smoked jalapeño, is available in powdered form. Be judicious in your use. It packs a lot of heat and the smokiness, combined with wood chips, may be too heavy for some palates. The balance of flavor in dry rubs is brought about with dried herbs. Basil and Mexican oregano add distinct floral flavors, as do rosemary and thyme. Sage works well with pork and poultry, but a little goes a long way.

Wet rubs more often involve fresh herbs and fruit juices and/or oil. The mixture has the consistency of pesto. Wet rubs can also be used in grilling. Cilantro, parsley and basil make good bases for wet rubs. Fragrant components such as ginger, garlic, onions and shallots, blended or pureed, add zestiness to wet rubs. Lime juice works best with fish or chicken.

Orange and apple juices pair well with pork. Fresh jalapeños or habenero peppers bring the heat so use sparingly. The heat in the peppers is concentrated in the white ribs of the seed pod not in the seeds themselves. Remove this part to down play the inferno effect. No home remedy such as drinking milk, chewing bread or crying loudly like a schoolgirl lessens the pain to some folks that capsaicin, the compound in oil that contains the heat, brings. Know your audiences’ heat tolerance when adding peppers.

Wet and dry rubs allow us to personalize our barbecued dishes. Every man with a spatula and tongs has a secret rub or sauce in the summertime. Sauces and wet mops are often used in conjunction with dry rubs. Wet mops in old Southern smokehouses were mixed in buckets and applied to the sides of ribs or shoulders of pork. The purpose is to add moisture into the meat and prevent the outside from getting too crispy. Sauces vary regionally and according to personal taste. I use a tomato base with large doses of molasses and cider vinegar. Honey and mustard is also a favored component.

Barbecue lends itself to personalizing and improvisation in its preparation. Understanding the nature of the components and the cooking process will allow you to create your own dry and wet rubs and sauces. Here are some recipes to get you started. Amber Bock Beer®-Glazed Brisket, Red Curry Short Ribs and Orange and Lavender Wet-Rubbed Chicken.

Amber Bock Beer® Brisket

  • 1 8-pound brisket, trimmed
  • 2 white onions, julienned
  • 8 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 shiner Bock beers
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup corn oil
  • ¼ cup paprika
  • 3 tbsp black pepper
  • 3 tbsp chili powder
  • 3 jalapeños minced
  • 3 tbsp salt

Mix all ingredients. Marinate brisket 24 hours. Bake covered in 250-degree oven for 5 or 6 hours on low grill. Baste frequently with beer mop.

Beer Mop

  • 1 12-ounce beer
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 2 tbsp crushed red chili flakes
  • ½ cup cider vinegar

Mix well. Brush on brisket

Red Curry Short Ribs

  • 8 each beef short ribs
  • 3 tbsp red curry paste
  • ¼ cup dark sweet soy sauce
  • 3 green onions, minced
  • 3 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp sesame seed
  • 1 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 2 tbsp garlic
  • 3 hot chili peppers, minced
  • 2 tbsp minced lemongrass

Combine all ingredients. Marinate ribs for 24 hours. Cook on low grill for 3 hours, basting with marinade.

Lavender Orange Chicken

  • 1 large chicken, split
  • 2 oranges, juiced and zested
  • 3 tbsp lavender
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • 1 cup chopped parsley
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • ¼ cup dark sweet soy
  • 2 bunches scallions minced
  • 2 tsp cracked black pepper
  • Salt

Combine all ingredients. Marinate overnight. Cook on medium grill 35-40 minutes until done. Baste frequently with marinade.