Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Why You Should make Your Own RUBS - Thanks Steven Raichlen

Hey look... Boneless Chicken breasts on a grill... But wait, they each look different... what's going on???

It's a continuation of my talk about RUBS. Those that are paying attention know that I recently spent an entire day making nine different rubs. If you didn't read the post, or don't remember the post, HOW TO MAKE RUBS - Steven Raichlen recipes, Click HERE and read it first (or refresh your memory). I will be building on that information, and I don't want to repeat myself (and do another hideously long post).

OK, now that you know what I made (9 rubs), here's a review of 4 of them...

These 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.

Steven is kind enough to suggest different rubs for different meats. I already compared the rubs that were best with pork in the other post I assume you all read. These four are best with chicken...

Mucho Macho Pepper Rub... Just like it sounds. LOTS of pepper. Lots of heat.

Mediterranean Herb Rub... French herbs de Provence meets Kansas City BBQ rub.

Chinese 5 Spice Rub... An Asian influenced rub that I have fallen in love with.

Cajun Rub... Born in the Bayou and immortalized as pan blackened red fish (but works great on the grill with chicken too)!

Real quick, a rub is essential to many types of BBQ, grilling and food cooked on a grill or smoker. It is a combination of spices that flavor your meat. A simple rub everyone has used is a little salt and pepper put on your burgers before cooking. They get much more complicated. One thing a rub is NOT is always hot, spicy, painful. It can be mild, sweet (usually has brown sugar as an ingredient) and pleasant tasting. It can be painful, but usually it is somewhere in the middle.

Rubs are commercially available, but real grill masters make their own. Having a signature rub is something to brag about. It is easy and it is INCREDIBLY CHEAP to make your own.

And, by making your own, and by making several different kinds in a single day, you learn what you like (and occasionally what you don't like).

OK, enough background that was already covered in my previous post... here's what I did with my chicken...

Each piece got a different rub. I only had 3 pieces of chicken, so I cut one in half. It was pretty easy to decide which two got the short shrift. I had already made the Mediterranean rub once before. I knew what to expect. Also, My gentle wife was helping to taste test. I knew for a fact that she would not enjoy the Mucho Macho Pepper rub. But the Cajun and the 5 Spice got whole pieces.

Here's some tips on grilling boneless skinless chicken breasts... First is don't over cook em. Everybody is worried about raw poultry, and i certainly do not want to poison my wife (most days). I have watched friends who grill cook their chicken for 10 minutes per side.

No No No No No

Honest, high direct heat and they are finished after 3 or 4 minutes per side. NEVER more tan 10 minutes total. If you cut into them and the juices run clear, the meat is done. If there is a little pink, they need to go back on the grill for a bit more. Of course long time readers of my blog know that you should never cut into a piece of meat to see if it is done. Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temp is 160 degrees. Learn what that feels like. Not hard as a hockey puck, but firm (but yielding). After you cook 20 or so breasts, you can tell by feel when it is done.

When you cut into the meat, you want a little juice. That shows a moist tender piece of meat. The color is from the rub. Internally, this chicken is cooked.

Everything cooked fine. I continued to learn what the good stuff is and what I needed to work on...

As expected, I tolerated the Mucho macho Pepper rub. My wife hated it (but trooper that she is, she tried it). Even for me, it was a little too hot. BUT, I filed that taste away, and I have a special purpose for this rub... Stay tuned to next week's Brisket Chili made with beef spiced with this rub.

The Mediterranean rub was also what I expected... grass. I gave this a fair chance on beef once before, and now chicken. It has too many herbs and without some liquid it just taste like the meat is rubbed with grass. the texture is awful. 0 for 2, with just fish left. i doubt if you hear much more about this mistake.

I am a grill man, and this is a grill specialty blog, but the Cajun rub will be perfect for stove top blackened chicken, fish and beef. It was also very good for the grill (but I want blackened catfish soon). This was my delicate wife's favorite. Not too spicy, but certainly enough heat to make me happy.

But, I continue to sing the praises of the Chinese 5 spice rub. I made my batch of this 2 weeks ago. Along with a bunch of others... this one, I have already had to make a second batch of. I was on a grilling forum a few days ago, and we were discussing low salt alternatives (I am old). I don't know the chemistry, but there is no salt in this rub. There may be some spice equally damaging, but for now, this is my go to rub. No salt but absolutely the best taste of all the rubs I made. My wife whole heartily agrees.

These little experiments teach me a lot. I am able to narrow done a signature spice (not yet, but close). Also, with the help of my wife, i am able to find a rub that "average" folks like. I entertain a lot. I want good memories of my food. It is OK to offer something spiced to my tastes, as long as I offer the same meat with something milder for "average" folks. there is no best, no single perfect rub. It is all good, all has it's special purpose. Different rubs for different purposes...

Cajun spice is going to be great on Catfish on the skillet

Mucho Macho Pepper rub is going to make terrific chili

Chinese 5 spice rub is a fabulous "go-to" rub for just about anything

and Mediterranean rub sucks (but I had to try it twice to be definitive about that)

Serve it with some of my wife's home made Mac and Cheese


  1. I'm one of those dummies who cook chicken breast 10 minuted per side. Thanks for the "high heat reduce time" hint. If I can get it right I might grill chicken more often. I am anxious to try the 5-spice rub. Doesn't it have cinnamon, allspice..etc?

  2. Yesterday I grilled the BBQ Chicken halves from Steve's book and I did it just like he said with a mop and a rub. The rub was not the basic one in the recipe, but one I have been using for a few years and it came out of our local paper, but is in fact Steve's. (Not in this book) Anyway, I never used a mop before, and I have to say that made a difference. I am not sure if it was the reason for the moistness of the chicken, but it was the best BBQ chicken I ever ate. I did use the listed BBQ sauce and I like it too. I am loving this book!

  3. The grilled chicken, with the mac and cheese, looks like a perfect dinner! I like that you experiment to find what you and your wife like best.
    Just wanted to let you know that the Hatch chile round-up has been posted. Thanks for sharing your recipe. :)

  4. They all look great! I love herbs de provence, so I'm sad to see that you were disappointed by the Mediterranean rub.

  5. I think you are ready to teach Steve a thing or two..

  6. Great post, homemade rubs are a good time. The chicken looks wicked good, I've always had a hard time grilling it.

  7. I do a mix. Sometimes I use commercial rubs, I absolutely love Billy Bones Comp rub and his XXX Cherry for pork spare ribs. But I have my own cajun beef rub, pork chop rub, and make Perfect Poultry Rub (Jamison's Smoke and Spice book). I've yet to find the elusive perfect butt rub. All of them have been good, but still looking for "the one".

  8. I have always been a little timid about using rubs on my meat as I'm a pretty plain eater, not a lot of thrills or frills, I fear, grins. Five Spice sounds super though. Will certainly give that a try some day because of your recommendation.

  9. Your rubs look excellent. Thanks for the reviews so that I can choose wisely. I love that your chicken is perfectly cooked and juicy. Dry chicken sucks.

  10. Is the 5 spice rub the same as 5 spice powder? Cos if it is, it's used in loads of asian recipes! Your grills look fabulous. I am guessing my fave would be the pepper one :) I love spicy anything!