There are a lot of quality BBQ rubs available in the market from what you can find on the shelves of your local grocery store to competition rubs available from on-line retailers. The upside of using a commercially available rub is that the trial and error necessary to develop the recipe blend has already been done for you. The downsides is that you end up paying a significant premium over actual ingredient cost for that recipe. With a little basic knowledge, you can develop a competition quality BBQ rub at a fraction of the retail cost.
If you take a close look at the label, you will see that most of the commercially available BBQ rubs use common cooking ingredients. Almost every blend you can buy lists paprika, pepper, salt, sugar and other spices as the ingredients. The concept that I am sharing today is to start with a basic rub blend that you can fine tune to create a competition quality rub that not only compliments the type of meat you are cooking, but also caters to your own individual taste preference. Using this approach, you can control and tune the sweetness, the heat and flavors to fit your individual palette. Let's get started!
A lot of cooking styles start out with a flavor base of three ingredients. In French cuisine, it's called a mirepoix (carrots, celery and onion). Similar ingredients are known as soffritto in Italian cooking, sofrito in Mexican and the "holy trinity' Creole cooking. The Holy Trinity for BBQ and how I start out every rub I've ever made is with Paprika, Pepper and Salt. In BBQ, like in everyday cooking, the Paprika is used mostly for color. Salt and Pepper simply enhance and accentuate the flavor of the meat.
Base BBQ Rub (yield 1 cup)
1/3 Cup Sweet Hungarian Paprika
1/3 Cup Morton Salt (non-iodized)
1/3 Cup Ground Black Pepper
So now we have the foundation and all we have to do is build upon it to develop a flavor that complements the meat you are cooking and suits your individual tastes.
As you recall, there are five common ingredients on the label for most rubs. These ingredients really fall into four main categories: salts, peppers, sugars and spices (aromatics). In the Base BBQ Rub we have used salts (table salt) and peppers (paprika and ground pepper). The only 2 categories remaining that need to be incorporated into the rub are sugars and spices. You have a lot of options for sugars and spices and the meat you are cooking will dictate your choices. Let's start with beef.
For beef, I generally avoid sugar for a couple of reasons. First, I like to use the same rub to season beef whether I am grilling over direct heat or barbecuing with indirect heat. Sugar will blacken and even burn under direct heat which detracts from both the taste and appearance of the finished product. And secondly, I prefer savory to sweet when it comes enhancing and bringing out the flavors in a fine cut of beef. I also like big bold flavors and a bit of heat. Here is my standard recipe for a beef rub.
Beef Rub (yield 1/2 cup)
4 Tablespoons Base BBQ rub
2 Tablespoons Montreal Steak Seasoning
1 Tablespoon Chili Seasoning
1 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 Teaspoon Onion Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
Salt and Pepper are probably the best flavor enhancers for beef. Montreal Steak seasoning takes the Basic BBQ Rub to the next level with flavors you can actually see. Chili seasoning (I like Carrol Shelby and Chili Man) introduces a subtle heat and blends in savory spices like cumin and oregano which also go well with beef. Garlic and Onion go great with beef and are in just about every rub, seasoning or marinade made for it. And last but not least, a little cayenne ... just enough to make you take notice!
When grilling beef (steaks or burgers), you just want to sprinkle the rub on and then put it back in the fridge for a couple of hours to give the spices time to penetrate the meat. When your smoking a brisket, beef ribs or a rib roast, first rub the meat with a light coating of oil and then apply the rub very very generously. I generally apply the rub and then throw it right on the smoker. This blend of peppers, salt and spices will result in a tasty crust and help to develop a deep burgandy smoke ring. Wow! I am getting hungry! Now let's look at pork.
Pork is where we begin to incorporate sugars into the Base BBQ Rub. Here is my favorite Pork Rub recipe.
Pork Rub (yield 1 cup)
1/2 Cup Light Brown Sugar (firmly packed)
4 Tablespoons Base BBQ Rub
1 Tablespoon Chili Seasoning (Chilli Man's Hot)
1 Tablespoon Dry Mustard (Coleman's)
1 Tablespoon Seasoned Salt (Lawry's)
1 Tablespoon Celery Salt
1 Tablespoon Onion Salt
For pork, you are trying to get a good balance of heat and sweet with neither one overpowering the other. You also want to try to equally balance the amount of sugars and salt in your recipe. This recipe is fantastic for ribs, pulled pork, pork loin and pork steaks. Because of the sugar content, you want to BBQ pork using indirect heat. One note on pork steaks. I like to direct grill them over high heat for a minute or so on each side before smoking. This is enough time to get a nice sear and grill marks without causing any significant blackening or burning of the sugar. This is a hard recipe to beat!
Finally, let's take a look at how to tweak the Basic BBQ Rub for chicken. Chicken was my nemesis for years in competition BBQ. It took me a while to develop a rub that would appeal to the masses. With chicken, you want lean towards sweet and savory as the dominant flavor profile. Here is the blend that I use for chicken.
Chicken Rub (yield 1+ cup)
1/2 Cup Cane Sugar
4 Tablespoons Base BBQ Rub
2 Tablespoons Poultry Seasoning
1 Tablespoon Lemon Pepper Seasoning
1 Tablespoon Mrs. Dash Original
1 Tablespoon Garlic Salt
1 Tablespoon Onion Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne (optional for those who like some heat)
So there you have it! What I've given you today is a starting point with the Base BBQ Rub. We've really only scratched the surface of what is possible. With a little ingenuity and some trial and error you can create quality rubs at a fraction of the cost of retail and best of all you can tailor the rub to your individual palette. Here are just a few examples of other ingredients you can incorporate into your rubs.
Sugars - Dark Brown Sugar, Maple Sugar, Turbinado Sugar (sugar in the raw)
Salts - Kosher Salt, Sea Salt
Peppers - Chili Powder (Chipotle, Jalapeno, New Mexico), Crushed Red Pepper, White Pepper
Spices - Basil, Celery Seed, Cinnamon, Cumin, Ginger, MSG, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme
Want more heat, more sweet, more savory - tweak the recipes I have given you and make them your own!