In places like Kansas City and North Carolina, when you ask for barbecue, you’re essentially asking for meat with sauce. Yes, the sauces will differ: traditional Kansas City is usually thick and tangy while North Carolina sauce is water-thin and tart, but in most cases, people in these areas will tell you that without the sauce, you can’t really call a meal “Barbeque.”
But there are many BBQ lovers who would beg to differ. For them, the true taste of barbeque comes not from the sauce, but rather the meat itself along with the spices applied before the fire is ever even lit. These spice mixtures are often called “dry rubs” and with the right rub, using even the best sauce constitutes a crime against taste.
Like most things, rubs are called by different names depending on what part of the country you may be in. What may be called “Cold Harbor Rub” in the Carolinas could be known as “Memphis Slim Rub” a bit west of there and by an entirely different name somewhere else. But with just a few basic spices and a little patience, anyone with a passion for BBQ can learn to mix up a mouth-watering batch of their very own BBQ spice rub.
Benefits of Rubbed Meat
Though wet marinades and sauces can be tasty, they often contribute to annoying flare-ups that end up charring your meat. Dry rubs don’t contain any oil, so your meat is more likely to turn out perfect and devoid of carcinogens.
Perhaps the greatest attribute a well-prepared plate of dry rub has to offer barbeque lovers is, of course, the taste. Some call it “clean”, while others use words like “natural” to describe the combination of flavors that can be created by using the right rub and proper cooking method.
Step-By-Step-Guide On How To Cook Meat With Dry Rubs
Step 1: Prepare The Rub
While there are as many different recipes for spice rubs as there are styles of sauces, most rubs have a few key ingredients in common.
Salt & Black Pepper: These foundational seasonings are in most rubs. But be careful, too much salt will leach water from the meat, drying it out.
Paprika, or Chili Powder: The well-known spice has a red tint, a somewhat pungent odor, and is a great way to add depth to the overall flavor of the rub with, or without adding too much heat.
White Sugar: The key to using sugar in any rub is to be certain you are using the proper amount; just enough to taste, but not enough to turn the entire rub into brown sugar. (Of course, brown sugar itself is a common BBQ sauce ingredient that’s also found in rubs.) Another reason to be wary of adding too much sugar is that sugar has a tendency to burn easily.
Dry Mustard Powder: yet another spice found in several BBQ sauces that is also a wonderful addition to almost any BBQ spice rub recipe. It’s yellow and semi-thick in texture. Careful, though; it can easily overwhelm the other spices being used in the rub if too much is mixed in.
Other common ingredients: oregano, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, chipotle powder, or kosher salt. Everyone has their own preference when it comes to dry ingredients. It seems like the best combinations have equal parts that are sweet, salty, and spicy. Just try experimenting by adding whatever you have at home that you think would go well together. Here’s our Memphis style rub recipe if you want a bit more guidance before you get started.
Step 2: Apply The Rub
Dry rubs can be prepared on the fly for instant grilling, but you’ll get the best results by preparing and applying a few hours in advance. This will give the rub time to penetrate the surface of the raw meat for optimum flavor potential.
When you’re applying the rub to chicken and other poultry, be sure you put the mixture under the skin to get the best results. Coat steaks with a generous amount of the rub, making sure it covers each side.
Some folks love to smother their BBQ in sauce; spice rubs can be used in much the same way, depending on individual taste. Keep in mind that when the piece of meat hits the grill, you will lose a portion of your spice rub during the cooking process, so learning to gauge how much rub will be left after the meat is fully cooked is as important as learning what the right amounts of each individual spice you use in your rub mixture are.
Step 3: Cook The Meat
Once you have applied the rub, it’s time to cook your meat. Just because you used dry rubs, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to grill it. Cooking the meat with a dry rub instead of a wet one isn’t any different, and there are many methods to cook dry-rubbed meat. You can, of course, grill it, but you can also smoke it, fry it on a pan, or even cook it in the oven. It’s totally up to you.
I recommend you cook your meat using different methods, so you can find the one that makes it the tastiest. Just make sure you don’t over or undercook it. If you have never used a particular method, it’s best to read some recipes to be certain you will do it right. Don’t be afraid to experiment!
To Wrap Up
The next time you have friends or family over for a relaxing evening by the grill, hide the sauce and try out your very own dry spice rub to get the natural flavor. You’re bound to raise a few eyebrows when you tell your guests that there will be no BBQ sauce available, but don’t worry; if you’ve done your homework, you should be able to put your money where your mouth is and walk away from a winner.