What is a Rub?
A Rub is a spice and/or herb blend that’s used to coat meats prior to cooking. Rubs can be completely dry or can incorporate some liquids. This is called a wet rub or paste. Rubs are typically used in barbecue and grilling because they stick to the meat whether it’s on a gas grill or in a smoker. A common rub base is paprika and/or chili powder to add color and mild flavor.
Personally, I like to combine a generous amount of dry rub on the outside of the meat, with an injectable marinade to add flavor to the interior, especially with large cuts like pork shoulders.
Mixing Your Own Rub
Homemade dry rubs are cheap, simple to make, and usually taste better than store-bought varieties, plus they can be easily tailored to your personal tastes or dietary restrictions. Once you nail down the basics, you can create an endless variety of dry rubs.
A good dry rub should include five elements: A base, a salty element, a sweet element, a spicy element, and a signature element.
Base: I like smoked paprika for a solid rub base, but many folks use a hot or sweet paprika as well. You can customize your paprika base by adding chili powder or cumin.
Salty: This would be salt. Avoid iodized table salt in your rub (in fact, avoid that stuff in anything you plan to eat…) common options are Kosher or sea salt (coarse or medium), seasoned salt, Hickory or smoked salt, or for pastes and wet rubs, you can try soy sauce or Thai fish sauce for your salt element.
Sweet: Again, an almost endless list of options: white or brown sugar, honey, molasses, or maple syrup (wet), ginger, cinnamon, etc.
Spicy: Black, white, and red ground peppers, red pepper flake, or for serious spice, try a little (a little!) ghost pepper powder.
Signature: Finally, make it your own with a dash or two of something you like, spices like coriander, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, mustard, rosemary, and thyme. Even garam masala or curry power, anything goes!
Make it a cup at a time, and tweak your recipe until it’s perfect!
Here’s my rub recipe (from our cookbook, “MEAT FIRE GOOD”):
- ¼ C smoked paprika
- ¼ C coarse sea salt
- ¼ C light brown sugar
- 2 Tbs garlic powder
- 2 Tbs onion powder
- 2 Tbs Italian seasonings (spicy, if you can find them)
- 2 Tbs coarse black pepper
- 1 Tbs hickory salt
- 1 tsp cayenne powder
- Apply the rub generously to the inside of a butterflied pork shoulder, roll it, tie it, and apply more rub to the outside. You MUST allow the rubbed shoulder to rest in the fridge at least overnight so that the rub will help form that wonderful “bark” while roasting.
- Finally, after it’s done cooking and you’ve pulled, chopped, or shredded the meat, give it one last sprinkle for an intense, spicy flavor.