Yes, we’ve all heard the adage, “You get what you pay for”; and it’s true—the quality of a Mercedes Benz will be far different than that of a Chevy Aveo. You would pay far more for real hard-wood floors than simulated, wood-grain linoleum—and, oh what a difference! It all boils down to quality.
Now, when it comes to foods, the same type of comparison would hold true since anyone would agree that a perfectly grilled New York Strip steak has just a tad more to offer in terms of taste, juiciness and texture than a pound of fried bologna. What about ingredients that would go into dry-rub recipes for BBQ meats? Are all dry-rubs created equally?? Nope; I’m afraid they aren’t! You could, quite literally, have two people use the same ingredients for a dry-rub recipe, and in the end, one concoction would taste noticeably better than the other even though the types of ingredients would have been the same. You might say, “Well, how can that be?”—I’m glad you asked! There several ‘secret’ factors that make all the difference in the world when it comes to how flavorful a dry-rub will end up becoming. Let’s take a quick peek at what those ‘secrets’ are:
1: Make It Stick!
There will be times when a dry-rub won’t adhere well to certain meats—very frustrating, especially considering only a small amount of dry-rub that adheres will equate to only a small amount of added flavor. To gain all the flavor of a dry-rub, you need it to completely stick; and here’s a little trick that really works: coat drier meats with a generous layer of regular yellow mustard. Don’t worry about the mustard adding any unwanted ‘mustardy’ flavor since it will ‘cook out’ and become unnoticeable. Sprinkle your dry-rub over the meat and the mustard’s moisture will grab each little grain of spice!
2: Choose Fresh—It’s Best!
Again, you will get what you pay for! You can buy a variety of spices at dollar-an-item stores and think you’re getting one great buy—with salt maybe; but with other spices, not so much! With that being said, however, coarse Kosher-salt is preferred for the best dry-rub recipes and it’s what top BBQ competitors use.
Know this: cheap spices will not provide optimum flavor. You want your spices to be impeccably fresh which also means if your spices have been in your cabinet for over 4 years, they have lost their zing! Though spices do not actually spoil, they DO lose their flavor within time, but the good news is the shelf-life of spices is quite long:
*** whole-spices last about 4 years
*** ground-spices last about 3 to 4 years
*** dried, leafy herbs last about 1 to 3 years
Bottom line: before you create a sensational dry-rub that you want to be proud of, check the expiration date on your spices’ containers and purchase new spices, accordingly; and if your pocket-book can take the heat, you’ll want to buy not only the freshest spices but the best-quality spices—and yes, they are expensive!
3: Get Into The Grind!
If ‘freshness’ is REALLY what you’re looking for, grinding your own spices is THE way to go! I will guarantee you, you will begin to feel a real sense of culinary delight once you begin grind your own spices since the mere process adds a sense of ‘ownership’ to the dry-rub recipe you will be creating. If you are an ‘I-made-it-from-scratch’ kind of person, then grinding is for you. It can be compared to buying pre-ground coffee vs. pouring your own beans into a coffee-bean grinder and smelling each flavorful bean burst with aroma.
You can purchase inexpensive electric spice/coffee grinders that will grind very quickly and/or use a mortar & pestle for smaller batches! One sniff of pulverized fresh, dry chili pods and you’ll become a ‘grind convert’ forever.
Whether electric grinder or mortar & pestle, all spices will benefit from a slight toasting before grinding—it brings out their flavors! Simply heat a cast-iron pan over low-medium heat, add the spices and give the pan some continuous shaking to prevent scorching. Toast for 2 to 3 minutes and your entire kitchen will be filled with the spices’ natural oils!
And one more thing: for larger cuts of meat such as a large roast, grind your spices as ‘coarse’ since the coarser pieces impart more flavor during longer cook times.
4: Do What The Pro’s Do!
Competitors who use dry-rubs for their coveted recipes almost always begin with two very basic ingredients: salt and sugar. They, also, use a tried-and-true ratio of ingredients that has proven itself, over time, to work like a charm, without exception! It’s called the ‘8:3:1:1 Rub’ ratio; and here’s a prime example:
8 Tablespoons tightly-packed, light-brown sugar
3 Tablespoons kosher salt
1 Tablespoon no-salt chili powder
½ teaspoon ground, black-pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne-pepper
½ teaspoon crushed thyme
½ teaspoon onion powder
This amounts to 8 parts of sweetener, 3 parts salt, 1 part chili powder; and the last ‘1’ means that all ‘1/2 teaspoon’ ingredients must equal ‘1’: ½ black pepper + ½ cayenne pepper = 1, ½ thyme + ½ onion powder = 1. You could add two more ½ teaspoon ingredients to equal yet another ‘1’, etc. If you stick with this ratio, you can’t go wrong! This competitors’ ratio is a winner every time!
5: Allow Those Spices To Do Their Job!
When it comes to quality, you never want to speed up the process of marinating; and if there were a key word here it would be ‘absorption’. A dry-rub simply must be adequately absorbed into the fibers of the meat; and that takes time. You don’t need to literally rub the rub into the meat since the spices, when liberally applied to moist, thawed meat, will do their magic all on their own! The trick is to plan ahead and apply the rub to your meats 24 hours before they hit the hot grill! If you’re going to go through all this effort, don’t skimp on the time the rub actually needs to become embedded into the meat. And if fowl is for dinner, make sure the rub is placed under the skin and not on top! You want the flavors to seep into the muscle, not the skin. After 24 hours, the spices will have had a chance to mix with the meats’ natural juices for optimal marinating and blending of flavors!
6: Wrap, Store and ‘Warm-Up’:
Once the rub is applied, completely cover the meat in plastic-wrap and store in a sealed container in fridge. Once the meat is removed from the refrigerator, keep the plastic wrap in place and allow the meat to sit at room temperature for 45 minutes—this is called a ‘warm-up; and it simply allows the meat to lose some of its coldness. This is important since a very-cold steak, for example, will not cook evenly.
Your dry-rub can be as tasty as any dry-rub the competitors create and your meats will overflow with flavor!