Knowing how to season food properly is the first step toward culinary freedom – you aren’t reliant on pre-made spice mixtures but on your own palate and know-how. And you’d be surprised just how easy making a dry rub seasoning is once you understand the influence different spices have on foods, both in flavor and chemistry.
First and foremost, salt. Salt is the foundation of any good rub and should make up about half of your mix. Not only does salt add flavor, it also pulls moisture from the outer part of the meat, allowing you to sear and develop a good crust, holding the rest of the moisture in and making the meat more juicy. Give salt a 10-part measurement (i.e., if 1 part = 1 tablespoon, then I start with 10 tablespoons of salt).
Next, sugar. Sweetness creates balance, but don’t overdo it or the meat could end up slimy and sticky. I usually suggest 3 parts brown sugar to the 10 parts salt. You can use white sugar, but if you do I suggest only 2 parts.
After that, you want 6-8 parts total of everything else, arriving at the half salt/half “the rest” ratio. Here are a few pointers:
Be generous with:
These are ingredients it’s really hard to use too much of, regardless of the rub you’re making.
• Garlic powder
• Onion powder
Be sparing with:
These are ingredients that add depth and interest to your rub, but should be used with restraint – too much and they quickly take over.
Know your herbs:
You can use just about any dried herb you want, but keep in mind that dried herbs taste differently than fresh. Smell them first to gauge if it’s the flavor you’re looking for.
Know your peppers:
Every type of pepper does something different so know what the impact of adding these will be.
• Chili powder – mild heat, southwest flavor.
• Ancho chili powder – medium heat, slightly sweet raisin-like flavor.
• Chipotle chili powder – high spice, smokey flavor – the smokiness may tempt you to add a lot of this, but it can quickly make your rub too spicy if you aren’t careful. If you’re looking for smokiness, use a little of this and opt for smoked paprika instead of regular.
• Cayenne – not as distinct in flavor – mainly used to add heat.
• Black pepper – medium heat, used almost universally in tandem with chili powders above.
Choose these ingredients based on the regional flavor profile you want to create
• Cumin – Mexican, BBQ, Indian, Thai – use generously for Mexican and BBQ, a bit more sparingly for Indian and Thai.
• Powdered ginger – Asian – use with restraint.
• Ground mustard – BBQ – use moderately.
This list is, of course, not all encompassing, but should give you an idea of how to approach putting flavors together. But if you’re looking for a quick, fool-proof BBQ spice rub, check mine out below. It’s never let me down, regardless of the meat I put it on.
This basic grilling rub can be used on any meat or vegetable.
- 10 parts salt
- 3 parts brown sugar
- 1 part garlic powder
- 1 part paprika
- 1 part cumin
- 1 part ground mustard
- 1/2 part onion powder
- 1/2 part allspice
- 1/4 part cinnamon
- 1/4 part chipotle chili powder
- 1/4 part Mexican oregano
- 1/4 part black pepper
- Mix all ingredients together and store in low-moisture container.
- Use liberally on smoked or grilled meats of any kind.