We’re big fans of spice rubs here at ATBBQ. They’re one of the simplest ways to add flavor, color and texture to your food. You’ll find them used by our chef in our teaching kitchen and in the home kitchens of our staff members.
We put together this rubs guide to help you get the most flavor the next time you cook.
What is a rub?
A dry rub is a mix of salt, herbs and spices that create a desired flavor profile and is applied to the surface of the meat.
A dry rub can be as simple as kosher salt, pepper and garlic for a Texas-style brisket rub or as complex as an Italian seasoning full of spices, dried herbs and aromatics for a Tuscan-style prime rib rub.
Types of Dry Rubs
Rubs can be flavor specific, protein specific, or even region specific. For example, many barbecue rubs will have a base of salt, sugar (often raw sugar or brown sugar), and paprika for its sweet, distinct flavor and color, and may also include dry spices like mustard powder and cayenne pepper for a kick. More savory rubs will often have a base of salt, black pepper and garlic powder for its bold flavor, and may also include onion powder and chili powder for depth of flavor.
How do you use a rub?
Using dry rubs is easy. Simply sprinkle the rub over the entire surface of your food using a shaker, a spice grinder, or your hand.
Cover the surface area of the food with the dry rub. A thin layer of rub is perfect for seafood or chicken wings. For thicker pieces of meat like brisket, ribs or pork shoulder, cover the entire surface generously with the dry rub. Make sure you coat all sides of the meat, then rub the seasonings into the meat.
Some cooks like to start with a thin layer of binder, like yellow mustard, olive oil or Worcestershire sauce, spread onto the meat before applying a dry rub. It isn't a necessary step but it helps make sure the dry ingredients are spread evenly and adhere well.
What Happens to My Food When I Use a Rub?
You'll get the best flavor from your cooking process if you let the rub sit on the raw meat for at least 30 minutes. During this time, the moisture from the meat absorbs into the rub and binds the rub to the meat.
The longer the rub sits on the surface of the meat prior to cooking, the more the salt can penetrate and break down protein walls inside the meat. This allows your food to retain more moisture during cooking and makes the meat more tender.
As the meat cooks, bark forms when sugars caramelize, and browning occurs via the Maillard Reaction. Fat renders and passes through the layers of herbs and spices, which amplifies flavor. All of these processes work together to create a complex, wonderful flavor and aroma.
You can also add more of your dry rub after cooking your food for additional seasoning if desired.
It is often recommended that lighter proteins like seafood, chicken, or pork use brighter flavors while more dense meats like beef use more bold flavors. But that's personal preference. Don't be afraid to break the rules. Rubs give you the chance to be creative!
Is using a rub worth the effort
You will never see our team turn down a good dry rub. Rubs are a simple way to add flavor.
Dry rubs allow us the opportunity to create flavor combinations that we do not have the spices and herbs in the cabinet to create at home. They also let us experience flavors we may not think of ourselves. Most of all, dry rub mixes allow us to easily try something new without spending a lot of money on individual spices.
More Ways to Use Dry Rubs
Try dry rubs in your other cooking. Along with seasoning meat, we like adding rubs to macaroni and cheese, blending them into bread doughs, or seasoning egg or potato dishes. They're great for punching up the flavor of a barbecue sauce or mixing into butter or soft cheese for a spread. The spices and herbs in dry rubs present possibilities that are limited only by your creativity.
So don't be afraid to try new rubs when you cook, you never know when you might find a new favorite flavor combination. You don’t have to follow any rules; if you like a flavor, give it a try on your favorite dishes. The combinations and uses of dry rubs are nearly endless.