Making and Using Dry Rubs
One easy way to bring a lot of flavor to your grilled foods is with the use of dry rubs.  
You probably have everything you need in your pantry so there is no need to use
mediocre commercial seasoning salt or prepackaged expensive commercial rubs.  Dry
rubs are simply a mixture of any number of dried herbs and spices with some salt,
using the natural moisture of the food to adhere to the meat, poultry, fish or
vegetables you are grilling.

As long as you do not include sugar as one of the ingredients, dry rubs typically don’t
run the risk of burning on the grill as most marinades do.  Keep in mind, sugar starts
burning at 260 degrees Fahrenheit, which is significantly below most grilling
temperatures.  In addition to grilling, dry rubs are also great for bar-b-queing meats
that require long cooking times, such as ribs or pulled pork.

Excellent rubs are simply a balanced blend of strong and mild spices, salt and herbs
that enhance the flavor and color of the meat, but do NOT overwhelm the taste of the
meat.  Remember, we are trying to enhance, not change, the flavor of the food.  

Rubs can be applied just before cooking, but for better penetration into the meat,
apply the rub three to four hours before cooking, storing the food in the refrigerator in
a plastic food bag or other sealed container.  You can massage the rub directly into
the food, which might make your food relax a bit, or sprinkle it heavily onto the meat.  I
prefer the latter.

The number of different styles and types of rubs you can make is virtually limitless.  
Start by identifying those flavors you typically enjoy and list them on a sheet of paper.  
Consider the individual flavor profile elements like savory, herbal, sour and spicy, while
balancing the level of saltiness.  Let’s say you like Mexican food.  A good starting point
would be to use some chili powder for body, cumin, coriander and granulized garlic for
the savory elements, some cayenne pepper for heat, balanced with some sea salt to
pull everything together.  

Here are my guidelines for making your own dry rubs:

  1. Start with quality ingredients.
  2. Take good notes about the quantities of the ingredients you add.  After you
    taste the food, you might want to make a few adjustments in your next batch.  
    Professional grilling and BBQ teams develop their blends over the months or
    years, making little adjustments along the way.
  3. Taste each ingredient to determine its potency.  Some peppers (especially old
    peppers) and leafy herbs lack their originally potency.  Therefore, you may need
    to use more to get the punch or flavor you desire.   
  4. Store your rubs properly in airtight containers in a cool dry place.  If you don’t
    plan on using them within the next two or three months, store them in the
    freezer.  Depending on the herbs you use they should last 1 to 3 years.  Whole
    peppercorns, nutmegs and cinnamon sticks hold on to their flavor for ages.  
    Particularly potent whole spices such as cloves, cumin and cardamom will also
    last for a long, long time.  In contrast, basil and oregano lose their flavor in a
    matter of months so keep this in mind when developing your rubs.  You don’t
    want to make large bulk rubs only to toss them from lack of use.
  5. Record the date on the container storing the rub, and use FIFO.  No, FIFO is
    not what the seven dwarfs were singing.  FIFO means first-in-first-out, referring
    to the order in which you consume your rubs and spices.
  6. Use approximately 2 tablespoons of rub for each pound of meat.  This will vary
    depending on the strength of the flavor of your rub.
  7. Never reuse remaining rub after it has been in contact with meat.  Stated
    another way, when massaging the rub into the meat, do not place your hands or
    fingers back into the rub without first washing your hands.  Later, you might want
    to use your rub as a seasoning mix for a salad dressing or to kick-up your next
    potato salad, so don’t cross-contaminate it!  

Below is a good base recipe for a multitude of potential rubs.  Change it as you like; it
serves only as a starting place.

    1 tablespoons non-iodized salt
    1 - 2 teaspoon black pepper
    1 tablespoon garlic powder
    1 tablespoon onion powder
    1 teaspoon ground thyme
    1 teaspoon ground sage
    2 tablespoons paprika

Other ingredients you could consider might include, various dried chilies, freeze-dried
coffee, cinnamon, smoked paprika, celery seed, caraway seed, dried rosemary,
granulated ginger, and more.  Use your imagination, taking good notes.

Good luck and happy grilling,
Chef David
Copyright 2010, Thyme for a Chef, LLC.  All rights reserved.