At the BBQ competition level, dry rub ingredients are jealously guarded secrets. However, a dry rub is surprisingly simple to put together, and chances are you have the necessary ingredients in stock. A good dry rub is as important to BBQ as lighter fluid. It's ideal for meat or fish that is cooked without a liquid, intensifying the flavor and texture of rib eyes, pork chops and salmon steaks, for example. Compared to wet rubs, dry seasoning is better suited to meats that cook a long time under a lower heat, such as brisket and ribs. The advantage is that a dry rub can be made well ahead of time and stored for months.
For all the chest thumping that can accompany specialty dry rubs, in essence they are a simple combination of salts, sugars, heat and smoke flavors. "Southern Living" magazine recommends a rub with a higher salt content for beef, fish and game, while a sweeter rub dominated by sugar is suitable for pork. As a rule of thumb, use a tablespoon of rub for each pound of meat. Use brown sugar, which is able to stand higher temperatures than white sugar, and Kosher salt. Pepper choices add layers of heat. Paprika and cayenne add instant fire, while ground white and black pepper provide a lingering warmth and smokiness. Store a dry rub in a sealable bag.
Grilling without a rub allows the stronger -- and not always enticing -- meat aromas to take over, and produces a cut that can look pallid or gray. A hard-working dry rub removes the raw aromas and enhances the taste. Just as importantly, the rub infuses a rack of ribs or brisket with a deeper color, adds a crust and caramelizes over the fats. As the name implies, dry rubs have to be worked into the meat, not simply sprinkled on. On poultry, the rub should be massaged into the flesh beneath the skin. Add the rub just before grilling or better yet, let it infuse the meat for hours in the fridge.
Add an individual touch to a rub by experimenting with combinations of herbs, including dill, oregano, thyme or coriander. Introduce ground coffee beans into the rub to add smokiness and a touch of acid, with a hint of bitterness to counter the sugar. Steve Albini, legendary music producer and food blogger, adds sumac, a Middle Eastern spice that evokes lemon juice tartness. By contrast, when dealing with a meat cut that has been brined or Kosher-salted, remove salt from the rub ingredients to avoid overwhelming or spoiling the flavor.
Kansas City dry rub, with Spanish smoked paprika and garlic powder, adds a sweet, smoky flavor to pork or chicken. Memphis rub, on the other hand, drops the sugar but is heavy on paprika , salt and cayenne. Because Memphis ribs are traditionally served dry, without a sauce, the quality of rub is vital. Texas barbecue rub has a higher sugar content, perfect for slow-cooking cuts over a lower heat, such as brisket or leg of lamb. Asian dry rub substitutes basil and mint for sugar, and balances strong flavored meat or fish. Jamaican jerk dry rub is hot and spicy, but benefits from allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon, star anise and thyme for a distinctly Caribbean twist.
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