Are you into spices? A seasoning rub is a wonderful way to boost flavor when cooking meat, poultry, and game – especially on the grill. Rubs can be completely dry, or made into a wet rub or paste by adding liquids. Read on for some tips and techniques for adding spice to your cooking repertoire.
Dry or Wet Rub?
Using a dry rub or a wet (paste) rub is really just a matter of preference. Dry rubs require a little moisture from the surface of the meat to stick, but as the meat cooks and releases juices, a dry rub will create a wonderfully flavored crust. If you’re cooking meat that is somewhat dry to begin with, such as poultry, a wet rub may work better for you. Any dry rub can be converted into a wet rub by adding a bit of neutral tasting oil or other liquid – wine, fruit juices, a little stock, beer or bourbon – to create a thick paste.
Make it Fresh
When making a rub, whether wet or dry, it’s essential to use fresh ingredients. People hold onto spices and dried herbs for far too long – if you haven’t used it in over 1 year, toss it. Rubs can be made with any combination of spices, dried herbs, dried mushrooms, salts and or/sugars. The flavor of rubs will intensify during cooking and if you add sugar to the mix you’ll also get caramelization, which adds another layer of flavor as well. Just be mindful of burning.
Advice from a Spice Pro
We interviewed Thora Pomicter, founder of Teeny Tiny Spice and got some advice on building well-balanced blends.
Choose an herb or spice for your base flavor to build around. Choose something that is not going to overpower anything else you add right off the bat. For example, choose a mild chili pepper such as ancho or poblano rather than habanero. You could also choose an herb such as basil or parsley. Begin to layer your flavors from this foundation.
Use lesser quantities of the stronger spices as you build your blend so that they do not overpower (like clove or hot chili peppers). You want to achieve a balance of flavors, so even if you are making a very hot and spicy blend, you can create balance using elements of sweet (cinnamon, nutmeg), mild, bright (mint, lemon or orange peel), smoky (chipotle, smoked black peppercorns, smoked paprika), etc.
Play with contrasting elements to bring about a balance of flavors. Think about adding something like cinnamon to a hot chili blend, as the sweetness of cinnamon can balance out the heat and bring out the fruitiness of the peppers. Or for an herb blend, maybe add some lemon peel or mint to create a fresh pop of flavor. In our harissa blend, which is a more fiery hot pepper blend, we added some mint as a way of bringing a light freshness to the blend.
Rub It On
When using rubs, it’s best to roll up your sleeves and get in there – rubbing the mixture into and all over the meat with your hands, covering it completely. Use about one tablespoon for every pound of meat. You can apply a rub right before you cook or a few hours ahead of time for basic grilling – or up to 24 hours ahead if you’re hot-smoking.
Think Outside the Spice Rack
Don’t limit your rub ingredients to just spices and herbs – unsweetened cocoa powder or finely ground coffee beans are excellent additions and bring an unexpected depth of flavor.
Ground dried mushrooms are also delicious in rubs. They add a wonderful earthy, savory character. Put a few dried mushrooms of your choice in a spice grinder or food processor and grind until they become a fine powder. We particularly like earthy porcini mushrooms for this purpose.
When experimenting with rubs, be sure to write down the ingredients and ratios. This way when you find your perfect mix you’ll have a record of it.
What are your favorite spices for meat? Do you make unique spice rubs? Tell us about it!
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