It is a very rainy day in New Jersey today so I won’t be smelling the enticing aroma of grills firing up all over the neighborhood as I come home from work…pity. I love that smell…you know I am partial to real wood, but any BBQ will do…the perfume of charcoal – the fire consuming the little black briquettes turning them ashy white…or the aroma of an often used gas grill coming alive, sending plumes of smoke with the remnants of the last meal cooked thereon as the grill heats up…the smells of summer. When I was a kid the big thing was to get some bottled salad dressing and soak that which was to be sacrificed to the gods of summer for several hours before cooking. It was good, but there was always one problem…flare-ups on the grill. You know those uncontrollable fires that consume and char the food. Not only does that taste bad, but there is evidence that those flare-ups give the food a carcinogenic glaze. One solution is to flavor your meat with a dry rub.
A dry rub is simply a mixture of dry seasonings like salt, pepper, paprika, spices ( cumin, coriander, cinnamon, fennel, fenugreek etc.), sugar, herbs or anything that is not a liquid. You could even use fresh garlic if you wish. There are several rubs available at the supermarket but I am sure you could make one out of items you already have in your cupboard. The simplest dry rub is salt and pepper; James Beard has a recipe for pork spare ribs where he rubs the ribs generously with salt and black pepper and then just roasts them in a 400°F for about 45 minutes and consume them, he claimed they were among his favorite things to eat. The next thing to add is sugar and the trio is fantastic on pork as well. I usually let them sit in the refrigerator for an hour with the rub to let the flavors penetrate the surface and pull out a little of the moisture, when roasted it forms a little crust which is fantastic. You can start from there and add your favorite herbs, spices and flavorings to suit the feast you are creating.
Dry Rubs have several advantages:
1. Since they don’t contain oil they will not contribute to flare-ups on the grill.
2. They add a lot of flavor in a short period of time.
3. Dry rubs tend to be less messy and easier to handle than liquid marinades.
4. If given enough time they will begin to draw out some of the excess water that we know has been added to much of our proteins and thereby concentrating the meat flavors.
5. It is easy to control exactly how much seasoning goes onto the meat, especially if you are concerned about a specific ingredient like salt or sugar.
When you think about it, dry rubs are a precursor to “cures” like the ones used on Prosciutto (just salt) or bacon (often salt and some type of sugar). the curing process takes a long time. So go rub some of your favorite seasonings on your meat and grill it. Here is a basic recipe which takes advantage of smoked paprika to give a grilled flavor even though we are going to have to cook inside today. Don’t be afraid to play with it and make your own “secret recipe”.
- 1 tsp sea salt or kosher salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp ground coriander
Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl, then sprinkle generously on your chosen meat. Let sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour, then grill.