How to Apply a Dry Rub

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Use less sugar in your spice rub when cooking over an open flame.
Use less sugar in your spice rub when cooking over an open flame. (Image: donstock/iStock/Getty Images)

Think of spice rubs as dry marinades. Standard dry rubs typically contain 4 parts each salt and sugar, 3 parts pepper, such as cayenne or ground black, and 1 part transition spice -- a spice that marries the salt and sugar with the protein -- and 1 part spice of choice. The exact proportion of sugar varies with the protein; for example, pork does best with more sugar than does beef. What doesn't vary, however, is application; the goal of a spice-rub application is full coverage, and then some. The "then some" forms the prized crust well-spiced foods are known for.

Things You'll Need

  • Spice shaker
  • Shallow dish or large plate or tray
  • Plastic wrap
  • Paper towels

Take the protein out of the refrigerator and let the surface warm to room temperature, about 15 to 30 minutes, depending on size. Mix the spice rub a final time and transfer it to a spice shaker.

Trim off any extraneous or hanging fat from the protein. If applying the spice rub to skin-on poultry, loosen enough of the skin to pull it 1/2 inch away from the flesh. You can also puncture the skin several times with the tines of a fork.

If applying the spice rub to skin-on fish, make vertical slashes through the skin at 1/2- to 1-inch intervals.

Set the protein inside a shallow dish or on a larger plate or tray. Hold the spice shaker 3 or 4 inches away from the protein and sprinkle the spices over it in a uniform manner.

Turn the protein over and hold it as needed while shaking the spice shaker to cover the entire piece uniformly. For hard-to-reach areas, such as under the poultry skin, lift the skin away from the flesh while shaking the spice shaker. Apply the spice rub all over the protein a second time to achieve heavy coverage.

Position a piece of plastic wrap on the work surface; the plastic wrap should measure 3 or 4 times the width of the protein. Set the protein on one end of the length of plastic.

Wrap the plastic as tightly as possible around the protein. Position a second piece of plastic wrap on the work surface; this piece, too, should be 3 or 4 times larger than the protein.

Wrap the protein as tightly as possible a second time; this time, however, wrap the protein in a direction perpendicular to the first direction.

Set the wrapped protein in a shallow dish lined with a few paper towels and place it in the refrigerator. Let the protein stand in the refrigerator for 30 minutes per pound.

Unwrap the protein; let it stand at room temperature for about 1 hour before cooking.

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