Dry Rubs for Meat

A dry rub is nothing more than a mixture of herbs and spices that are rubbed onto a peice of meat before it is smoked, cured, or cooked.  They have two main purposes:

  • to add flavours and or spice heat to the meat
  • to tenderize the meat to some degree

The main purpose of a dry rub is to add flavours to the meat your are about to smoke or cook.  This is done by mixing a variety of herbs, spices, onions, and peppers into a powder that can then be rubbed onto and into the meat you’re working with.  Some of the most common ingredients are:

  • paprika
  • dried garlic (made into a powder)
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • dried onions (made into a powder)
  • dried sweet peppers
  • dried chilies  (not, chillis are not peppers, despite the resemblance)

Other common ingredients include

  • Thyme
  • basil
  • turmeric
  • Bay leaves
  • oregano
  • corriander seeds
  • cumin (seeds and powder)
  • rosemary
  • celery seeds
  • citrus zest (outer skin of lemons, oranges, limes etc.)

When it comes to making your own dry rubs, the best way is to start out with small batches.  Develop a simple recipe for a base rub that you can then modify by adding in other herbs and spices.  Different meats respond better to different flavours, you’ll need to mess around a bit to find the ones you like best.  Of course you can always start off with a commercial rub and then make your own to try and match it.

Don’t be shy about using fresh herbs in your rubs.  While they are not truly dry, they can add amazing levels of flavour when used properly.

Typically a dry rub is not really intended to tenderize the meat very much.  If you choose, you can add in a commecially made meat tenderizing powder, which incidentally are normally made from pineapples.  Pineapple juice works well too, as do some other acidic fruits (lime for example), but the added liquid means you aren’t really using a ‘dry’ rub.  Don’t let that stop you from trying it though.  Just add enough juice to make the dry rub into a paste and use that.

When you are making your rubs, keep in mind what kind of meat you will be using them with, and how you will be preparing that meat.  Certain ingredients like paprika and turmeric add a lot of colour, others like rosemary and garlic can add tons of flavour – so much that it could overwhelm more delicate meats like some kinds of fish.  The way you are cooking the meat will also change how the rub interacts with the meat.  A long slow visit to a smokehouse is not the same as a fast sear on a 500 degree barbque.

In the end what you will end up doing more than enything else is testing.  Be sure to write down your recipe

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