Any mixture of ground spices used for seasoning any raw food can be classified as a “rub”. This mixture is usually applied heavily to meats which creates a flavored coating. Rubs can be used in a variety of ways. Rubbed food can be cooked right away or left to marinate. The flavor will be intensified if the food is rubbed, wrapped in plastic wrap and left in the refrigerator for several hours. Before cooking, bring the food to room temperature.
A rub is certainly one area where cooking allows for individuality. Adding sugar will cause a sweet crystallization and is especially good on pork. Adding herbs, crushed garlic, ginger, or turmeric, for example, will render a different flavor all together. Grilling is probably the most chosen of cooking methods in which a rub is used although baking and pan roasting are popular as well. When grilling, a dry rub is used whereas a wet rub might be better suited for baking where liquid is present. A good rub will be a balance of flavors which complement the food, not overpower it.
To get started, decide how much to make. Since your rub will develop over time, it might be better to start with a only a little. Be sure to record each mixture so that once you get it just right you have the formula. Remember that a rub will begin to lose its flavor after a few months. Choose a flavor, sweet, sour, or bitter and build on it. Experiment with different types of sugar and salts. Add paprika for color, peppers or chilies for zing. Try your blend on different types of meat and vegetables to see what works together.
Many people use a brine to add flavor as well as moisture but it contains a lot of salt (1 cup to 1 gallon of water). A marinade mix can be added to the brine and it will soak into the meat with the brine. But, beware of getting a double dose of salt! Make sure you omit the salt in your marinade or you’ll have meat that’s too salty to eat. Also note, any meat labeled “enhanced or basted” has been injected with a salt solution. Heavy meat needs to soak in the brine for about 1 hour per pound of meat, but lighter types, like shrimp, only need 30 minutes. If the meat is covered with a layer of salt when removed from the brine it needs to be rinsed to remove this. Otherwise it can go directly to the grill.
Depending on where you live, rubs can be wet or dry. In Memphis, Tennessee, for example, meat is seasoned with a dry rub and mopped with BBQ sauce when served. Kansas City, on the other hand, uses a wet rub on their meat before and during cooking.
While exact recipes are seldom given to the public, you can find many on-line that are similar in taste. Here is one very close to Rendezvous from Memphis. This will make about 2 cups, enough for 12 pounds of ribs, and can be stored for several months.
8 tablespoons paprika
4 tablespoons powdered garlic
4 tablespoons mild chili powder
3 tablespoons ground black pepper
3 tablespoons kosher salt
4 teaspoons whole yellow mustard seed
1 tablespoon crushed celery seed
1 tablespoon whole celery seed
1 tablespoon dried crushed oregano
1 tablespoon dried crushed thyme
1 tablespoon whole allspice seeds
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon whole coriander seed
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon Accent brand seasoning (be aware this contains monosodium glutamate)