A BBQ rub is a great way to add a kick of flavour to your food and can turn a normal piece of meat into a mouthwatering treat! The range of BBQ rubs that are available now is mind blowing and there are some great UK brands coming through to compete with the American classics. These rubs are a great place to start for any beginner but in this article I want to share some advice on how you can start making your own rubs and slowly develop your own signature blend!
What is a rub
Let’s start with the basics. A BBQ rub is a blend of herbs and spices that is applied to the outside of your meat to give it flavour. It is commonly applied as a dry seasoning however it can be mixed with a liquid to form a wet rub or marinade.
The blend can be as simple or as complex as your taste buds and imagination allow. The infamous Texas BBQ rub consists of coarse salt and ground black pepper. It doesn’t come more simple than that but used in the right way it works really well. Other rubs can have upwards of 15-20 different herbs and spice, delicately balanced to give a powerful kick of flavour. There really are no hard and fast rules when it comes to BBQ rub, it is all about your personal preference.
Matching different flavours with different meats.
Most BBQ cookbooks will include a section for rubs and sauces and will give tell you which rubs work well with certain meats. Trying out these recipes will not only help you practice how the herbs and spices are balanced but you will start to notice which ingredients are used with certain meats.
Good quality beef may require a rub with fewer ingredients so as to not overpower the flavour of the meat. You will often find that beef works well with more savoury flavours rather than sweet flavours.
Chicken on the other hand can handle more bold flavours as the meat itself has quite a neutral flavour. Your Chicken rub may have a good blend of sweet and savoury along with a little heat if you can handle it.
It’s worth saying at this point that your cooking method will affect which rub you choose. Hot and fast cooking will generally use less sugar as it can burn at a high heat and give your meat an acrid taste. Low and slow cooking can handle a little more sugar as it will slowly caramelise in the lower temperature.
Making your own BBQ Rub
After you have tried a few different recipes and you start to understand how some of the flavours work you can start to tweak the recipes to your own tastes. An easy way to get started is to simply adjust the quantities of the different herbs and spices in the original recipe which will completely change the overall flavour. You can then move on to adding or removing specific flavours to suit your tastes.
Keep in mind that this is all about trial and error. The best rubs in the world have taken a long time to develop, with small tweaks being made each time to refine the flavour profile.
Make these experimental rubs in small batches, keeping track of your measurements along the way. When you are happy with the overall flavour then you can increase the quantities and make a bigger batch for storing.
Starting from scratch
Making other people’s recipes and tweaking them will give you the understanding of different flavours, but how do you create your own BBQ rub from scratch? Well the process is exactly the same as the trial and error method above.
Start with a basic rub with some core flavours. Some of the rubs I have tried out in the past have started with the following ingredients:
Ground black pepper
Garlic powder or granules
Onion powder or granules
This mix has a little bit of each flavour group. Savoury from the onion and garlic, Sweet from the brown sugar and a little bit of heat from the cayenne pepper. It is a great starting point to work from.
The next step would be to try it out and decide what kind of flavour you are hoping to create for your BBQ rub. Let’s say you want to create a rub with more savoury flavours. You might want to remove the sugar and cayenne pepper completely and substitute them with some different herbs. Alternatively, a hot and spicy rub might remove the dial back some of the sugar, onion and garlic and add some more chilli powder or flakes.
Remember that there are no rules and it’s all about your personal taste. Testing the BBQ rub on something like chicken breast will give you a good indication of the flavours as the meat itself doesn’t have a strong flavour.
Another factor to consider it what meat is your rub for? A BBQ rub for beef will have a different flavour profile than a rub for pork. Once you have your general rub, start to tailor it towards each of the meat types.
Using a BBQ rub
Now that you have created your rub, there’s nothing left to do but to use it! There really is no right or wrong way to apply BBQ rub to your meat but I want to share how I like to use mine and how my process has changed a little since I first started.
In the early days I had the mindset that more rub equals more flavour so I would apply an incredibly thick layer over my meat. In reality, when I put the meat on the grill, I realised that most of what I had applied was left on the chopping board! This was a complete waste but I also noticed that the thick layer of rub was overpowering the flavour of the meat.
I started to use rub in a more subtle way and I think it works a lot better. Depending on what meat you are cooking, you may need to use a binder. This is simply a layer of something like oil or yellow mustard applied in a thin layer over the surface of the meat to help the rub stick.
I always use a shaker to apply the rub as evenly as possible in a thin layer then I let it sit for a few minutes to let the rub set. This is simply allowing the dry rub to absorb some of the moisture from the meat and stick to the surface. I will then flip the meat over and repeat the process on the other side.
I apply my rubs no more than an hour before I’m ready to cook. Rubs that have a high salt content will start to draw moisture out of your meat and dry it out.
Another great way I like to use BBQ rub is to add it to my braising liquids. When I wrap my meat, I mix a couple of spoonfuls of rub with some stock and pour it over the meat. It allows all the flavours of the rub to penetrate the meat while braising.
Give it a go!
Making your own BBQ Rub isn’t as complicated as it may seem. Make up a few tried and tested recipes to get an understanding of what flavours work well together and what meat they suit then progress from there. When you decide to try your own recipe, make small batches and test them out. With a few small tweaks each time you will soon have a killer rub that all your BBQ friends want the recipe for.
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