Tuesday, September 22, 2009

HOW TO MAKE RUBS - Steven Raichlen recipes

"Rubs are the basic seasonings of a barbecue -- Simple mixes of salt, sugar and spices or herbs that add complex layers of flavor to your food"

These are the words that Steven Raichlen introduces his chapter on HOW TO MAKE RUBS.

This recipes can be found on page 440 of Steven Raichlen's amazing grill guide, HOW TO GRILL. The book includes five pages of detailed instructions, including lots of photographs and a simple easy to follow recipe. Click HERE to go to Amazon.com and read other people's reviews or to order. I just found out they have discounted the price, new copies are available for less than $10 and used copies for less than $6!

OK, on to the recipes. There are 9 different rub recipes. Some meant to be used with pork, fish and/or beef, as well as one that is more of a flavor accent, meant to be used after the product has been cooked. I have been making my own rubs for awhile now. They are easy to put together, and MUCH cheaper than buying a commercial brand. A rub is a great way to personalize your 'Cue, making that cut of meat your own.

OK, for those unfamiliar, a BBQ rub separates an average piece of meat just tossed on a grill from a work of art, with infused flavors exploding from the seasoned meat. In it's simplest form, if you put a little salt and pepper on a hamburger before you start grilling, you have used a rub. But if you add Brown Sugar, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder and cayenne pepper... Well, you can imagine the difference in taste! Here is the basic definition of a rub, provided by Andrew Bicknell, "Very simply it is a mixture of herbs and spices that are rubbed, by hand, into the meat before it is placed on the grill. The great thing about a rub is it can be made up of any combination of seasonings, allowing the chef the opportunity to pick and choose what goes best with the particular food choice he has made. Spicy, sweet, hot or mild it can be whatever you want it to be."

A dry rub is near and dear to my heart. BBQ is very personal, and each region of the country has different ways of making this treat. The folks in Kansas City (my home town) love to sauce their meat in a sweet sauce, both during the cooking process and after it is done cooking. The good folks in North Carolina argue east and west about the amount of vinegar in their sauce, while the better folks in Texas (tongue in cheek) let the meat speak for itself, specializing in dry rub, with sauce on the side (if at all) for the folks who must. I am much more to the tastes of Texans, with a love of rubs, and a preference for sauce on the side (if at all). I have a neighbor who is also a smoker and griller. He falls under the Carolina and Kansas City type cooker. It is always entertaining to taste our efforts and watch the other reactions. Of course, when you are talking BBQ... IT's ALL GOOD!

Home made rubs will last for several weeks to as much as six months. Making a big batch every three months or so will pay off in taste and in money. But before you make that HUGE amount of rub that lasts a season, best thing to do is to try several different recipes and see what you like. Having a signature rub is a great conversation starter when the ohhhhs and ahhhs start over your cooking.

I planned ahead, I made my shopping list and headed to my local farmer's market. They have a stall with nothing but spices! You can check that post out with salivating inducing photos by clicking HERE. Most any decent sized city will have a fresh spice store, or even a whole foods grocery will have a fresh spice section. One of the things I discovered this year is the difference between fresh spices and the ones you find in the "standard" grocery store. Spices, like me, lose their potency as time goes by. Generally the difference between a spice bought six months ago, and a spice bought today is noticeable in smell and in taste. As always, try to buy the freshest ingredients when cooking. This is also true for spices. We all go to great lengths for our meals. Adding a trip to the spice shop with a list every three months or so will have it's payoff in taste. Depending on you recipes, there are certain ingredients that you will use a great deal of in preparing rubs. Brown Sugar is in most rubs, and course salt (kosher or sea salt preferred) and peppercorns need to be on hand in bulk before you start.

While generally, I do not reprint exact recipes from Steven's book, he does print the basic BBQ rub recipe on his own website, which you can reach by clicking HERE. If you ever only make one rub recipe and use it over and over, this is a great one to copy. Equal parts Brown Sugar (for sweetness, and the sugar caramelizes nicely for that dark bark look), Salt for taste (although this is one area I disagree with Steven on. Using a quality sea salt or kosher salt will make this rub MUCH too salty for my taste. BUT THAT IS THE ADVANTAGE OF MAKING YOUR OWN RUB). Salt also aids in the flavoring process, making the rest of the spices leach into the meat better. Finally, equal parts of paprika is added to add flavor and a nice red coloring to the rub. He tops the base (Br Sugar, Salt, Paprika) with smaller amounts of ground black pepper, garlic powder, dried onion flakes, celery seeds and finally ONLY 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. I prefer a bit more heat, but this is a good amount especially when you do not know the tastes of your guests. The heat is there, but no one would find this too hot.

Once you have the ingredients, it is easy...
Measure carefully, so your best rubs can be repeated, toss in a bowl.
Mix well. As Steven suggests in his instructions, it is best to mix by hand. Feel is the only way to break up the little lumps of brown sugar. Once the rub is mixed, store in one of those sealable Ziploc bags, and keep away from light and heat.

The recipe provided makes about 1 cup. That is plenty for a chicken, or 2 racks of ribs. If doing more or larger cuts of meat, just double the recipe (or more). Generally, 2 to 3 teaspoons per pound of meat.

I did make all 9 of the rubs in this chapter, and will be using them for their appropriate cuts of meat and blogging about them as I use them.

But for today, I used 4 pieces of Pork loin, and rubbed them with the basic rub, a Chinese Five spice rub, a Java rub and the Mucho Macho Pepper Rub.

All the rubs were mixed in the same way, except for the Chinese 5 spice rub. For it, Steven suggests toasting the 6 spices prior to grinding them. Oh yeah, I forgot, it is best to have a dedicated coffee grinder when you make rubs. It works best to bust up peppercorns, seeds and what nots into a more rub quality ingredient. You do NOT want to use the same grinder to make another pot of coffee after you make spices. Unless you are after that peppercorn flavored cup of Joe.

But I digress... Steven uses 6 ingredients to make a Chinese 5 Spice powder (it is 5 spice in name only, as most 5 spices contain at least 6 and sometimes 7 ingredients).

Cinnamon Stick, peppercorn, star anise and more are toasted in a dry saute pan prior to grinding. This makes your kitchen smell amazing! It also accents the flavors of the ingredients making a powerful taste even more powerful. This was a great step, and I am very happy I did this...
It was a dark, cloudy and rainy (off and on) day in Kansas. I had planned to fire up my smoker for this experiment, but instead was forced (well, no gun to my head, but I chose not to smoke in the rain) to cook these in my roaster. A less than desirable second choice, but good enough for this task. I marked each piece of meat with different numbers of toothpicks so I would know which I was eating. Low and slow, 225 degrees for 3 to 3 1/2 hours.
I poured a can of cheap beer in the bottom of the roaster to add moisture during the cooking process. They cooked up BEAUTIFUL!

I timed everything so that this would be ready for my wife (my head taste tester) got home from her inconvenient day job.

I was going to serve hoagie sandwiches for dinner. Just some tenderloin, lettuce and tomatoes (bounty from the Farmer's Market). But before the fruits of my labor came the work. I had a small piece of each tenderloin ready for comparing and contrasting...

The basic rub was just that. It offends no one, and has a great flavor. I did make this exactly as listed in the book, and the salt really shown through. If I were making this again, i would not use nearly as much salt. Probably only about a third. This is personal taste, and I gave up salt long ago. Salt is simply not my go to spice. Since my wife mostly eats only my cooking, her tastes have evolved into mine. She agreed that the salt was a distraction. BUT, that is to our tastes. I can easily see "normal" taste buds craving the salt that this rub provides. The cayenne pepper provided just a small amount of heat that was only barely there. Again, personal taste, I would add more heat. Even my gentle wife would have preferred more in her comments. It is exactly as described... A basic rub that can be altered to taste.

The Java Rub is similar to the basic rub, with the exception of ground coffee taking the place of much of the salt, paprika and brown sugar. I have long advocated using coffee in my rubs. The bittersweet taste adds a great taste to brisket and pork. Many competition BBQers use a coffee rub to great financial success. In comparing this to the basic, the meat had an earthier taste. IN NO WAY CAN YOU TASTE COFFEE GROUNDS. let me repeat, this does not taste like you are eating this morning's coffee grounds. The beans grind up nicely and mix as another spice in the rub. It crusts up nicely if you like a crust for texture (as I do). Again, little or no heat in this recipe, much less salt than in the basic. Of the two, this is preferred (by me and the Mrs.).

The Chinese Five Spice Rub is MUCH different than either of the first two. In fact, it is different from any type of rub I had ever made, or used. It was FABULOUS. Incredible flavors. This is not a taste for the weak. It does over power the meat, but not in a heat sense. I feel inadequate to describe what it taste like, but as a change of pace, this rub will be something your guests will be talking about. I had cut small pieces of meat for the tasting. This was the only one that my wife wanted to sample more of. Each different bite would add a new layer of taste. It was so different from what we were used to that it took a couple bites to get used to a new sensation. I highly recommend this, especially if you are an inside cook that cooks in the oven or a roaster. You will be surprised!

Finally, the Mucho Macho Pepper Rub is as advertised. There is a good "ouch" quotient of heat to this. There is no offsetting brown sugar added to the rub that I think would add to the taste without sacrificing the heat. A little mixture of hot and sweet is what I try to achieve in my rubs, and I felt that this was a recipe for heat for the sake of heat. It was not so hot that I could not eat it. In fact, my gentle wife who avoids the hottest of the hot stuff still enjoyed this. It is not something she preferred, but it certainly was not uneatable for her. Personally, it was very good, I just missed the Brown Sugar. I would try this again, with an additional 1/2 cup of brown sugar added.
Following the work came the reward.
Well earned!

I still have some fish specialty rubs, as well as beef rubs to review. I highly recommend this experiment. I learned a lot. Had I made these one at a time, I would still have some questions.

BUT... bottom line, rubs are easy and add a lot to your food. Learn what they do, why the tastes change and what you like. I am a better griller, smoker and cook because I did this.
My assistant, Eng agrees.


  1. I am a Korean/Asian/Chinese flavor fan.. sesame oil is integral to many dishes I make, with a Far East flavor... Your own neighborhood harbors the guy who embodies common sense, and good taste- Paul Kirk! Steve gets out there on the limb- he shoots for sky-high fly, but has crashed, and burned a few times. You know enough now, and have changed enough recipes to call them your own.. do it! Be a hero, don't stand at the feet of one! Such is my Opinion, humble as it may be...
    P.S.- If I ever act humble, it was an act! Food looked good, you can do this well..

  2. Thank you for stopping by my blog...hope you try some of my recipes and enjoy them! Happy Eating and blogging!

  3. Good heavens. This was an amazing effort!

  4. thats a lot of good info. I'm going to have to save this post to refer back to. thank you :)

  5. Great comprehensive post! This is an area that I really praise the Big Bob Gibson's BBQ Book for. Chris Lilly gives the framework for developing your own rub based on some fundamentals and walks you through a scenario but lets you create your own. It was very educational for me.

    You are so right about making batches of your own rub. Saves a ton of money and can make it fresher. I also like to control the size of the ingredients in my rub. I like more of a coarse grind so I grind my own garlic powder, onion powder, etc. But then again, you have that awesome market:)

  6. Wow! Awesome post, man. I learned a lot, too. My grilling season is about to go kaput on me! We've already had frost and it's almost time to pack up the BBQ. It's sad.

  7. Awesome! That was alot of info wrapped into one post...I love it. All of the rubs sound amazing and I may have to start bottling a few of my own rubs...I need a signature. Hmmm...I'm going to be working on this :D

  8. They all look wonderful, but I'm especially loving the Chinese five-spice one. Oh, and I'm loving Eng too! :-) Can we see pictures of Cheng?