Simple Dry Rubs

Dry rubs don’t need to be really complicated or fancy to do the job you need them to do.  Since their main job is to add flavour to whatever it is you are going to smoke or barbeque, all you really need to do is choose a few simple flavours as the base of your rub and build from there.

Most North American barbeque style meat rubs have the following three ingredients as their base:

  1. Paprika  – smoked, sweet red peppers.  They have a ton of colour and flavour, but very little if any spicy heat
  2. Garlic powder – Stick to using garlic powder, and NOT garlic salt.  Add salt separately
  3. Salt – Use to your own taste.  Keep in mind that the salt flavour intensifies over time, so a little can go a long way.  Sea salt and rock salt can be very good in rubs as they act a little like sandpaper when you are rubbing the spices in which helps them penetrate the meat a little more.

From here you can add other simple ingredients to your dry rubs to take the basic flavours in different directions.  Of course you can also mix & match from the dry rub ingredients below to make your own delicious creations!

Southwestern flavours used in meat rubs:

  • Add black pepper, dried chipotle or Ancho peppers for heat and taste
  • Ground Cumin or corriander seeds for earthiness

Asian Flavours for meat rubs

  • Ginger
  • chives
  • allspice

Carribean (jerks for example, although they are not usually dry rubs)

  • allspice
  • nutmeg
  • cinnamon
  • lime zest

Mediterranean flavours for rubs

  • dried basil
  • dried tarragon
  • dried thyme
  • dried rosemary
  • bay leaf, finely crushed

Indian rubs

  • cardamom
  • garam masala (basic mixed spice used in Indian cooking)
  • star anise
  • turmeric – adds bright yellow colour and some earthy flavours to your meats.
  • celery seeds
  • ginger

There aren’t really any rules about dry rubs which is why they can be so simple to make and play around with.  They only real thing to keep in mind is the type of meat that you will be using the rub on.  Lighter more delicate meats (like fish or some poultry) can be overwhelmed by some of the spices I’ve just talked about.  That doesn’t mean you can’t use them, simply that you need to use them carefully.  Ginger for example can be very powerful, but used properly with some fish it can be really good.

Also keep in mind that for the most part, the longer a dry rub is on the meat, the stronger the flavour will be after you smoke the meat or cook it on the barbeque.

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How Long to Smoke Meat

I get asked this question quite often, but  it is a really hard to answer in a simple way.  The simplest answer is that it reallly depends on what meat you are smoking, and for what purpose.  As a very broad generalization, there are two main reasons for smoking meat:

  1. to add smoke flavour to the meat
  2. to cook and cure the meat to preserve it

If all you are doing is adding flavour to the meat, the smoking time can be very short, as little as a few minutes.  I often add a handfull of hickory or mesquite chips to my barbeque when I’m cooking hamburgers or steaks just to add a little smoky flavour.  However, if you are looking to preserve meat, fish, or sausages by smoking it, the process can take hours or even days.

Other factors that influence overall smoking time include:

  • type of meat you are smoking – some meats like poultry and white fleshed fish take on flavours quite quickly, other meats like beef, bison, or wild game are more robust and can take more smoke to reach your desired level of flavour
  • the thickness or mass of the meat – a thin strip of beef jerky will smoke much faster than a 10 pound brisket or ham
  • how much heat is involved – heat not only cooks the meat, but also renders out fat which takes on a lot of the smoke flavour.  Cold (or colder) meat smoking means that more time will be required
  • how much smoke is involved – are you producing huge billows of smoke?  A thin stream?  There are times and reasons for both, and both will impact how long you need to smoke the meat.
  • your smokehouse – the size and design of your smoker or smokehouse will also affect smoking times.  More or less ventilation, overall circulation of air will change the time needed for smoking meat.
  • the ‘strength’ of the smoke’s flavour – some wood simply produces less intense flavour than others.  Fruit woods are often more subtle, while hardwoods like hickory, oak, and mesquite can produce quite strong flavours.

For really basic smoking where you just looking to add some flavour to your meats, and your are planning to fully cook them as well, just go ahead with trial and error.  You will be surprised at just how easy it can be to do some simple meat smoking.

Smoking meat is a very safe and effective way or preserving, but it must be done properly to be sure the meat is safe.  So, for more advanced smoking where you are looking to cure/cook the meat with the smoking process, the best thing to do is to follow known recipes for whatever it is you are trying to smoke, and then make adjustments as you become more skilled and experienced.

The one book that you simply must have in your meat smoking library is: Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing.  It is really cheap ($25 or so for a hardcover) and is simply the most complete resource on meat smoking, and sausage making you will be able to find anywhere.  Use it as your reference and go from there.

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