Stop me when you’ve heard this one on Food Network.
Chucklehead: “Lemme guess: the recipe for your spice rub is a secret, right! Passed down from generations?”
Yokel: “Dassright…I could tell ya, but I’d hafta killya.”
To that I call BS.
Take the case of the boston butt pictured above. We spend so much time trying to infuse meat with flavor, and a lot of that time is wasted by putting a bunch of stuff on the outside of a big roast, hoping that those flavors will permeate throughout the whole thing.
There are a few ways to get the flavor you want throughout the meat.
Brine. Make a stock with 3-5% salt solution with whatever flavors you want. Clove, herbs, garlic, onion, etc.
Smoking. Even this part is controversial because the smoke ring that you produce really only affects that outer 1/4 to 1/3 of your meat.
Sous vide. Removing air from the equation minimizes diffusion of the aromatics and forces that flavor internally.
Plank. See smoking, works great for fish.
So enough ranting. What are properties of a good rub? Just ask the honey baked ham folks, they have an entire industry dedicated to this. Theirs is a sugary glaze (a rub of sorts) that’s torched to make a salt caramel. If you want to make your own rub, though, where would you start? Looking at the ingredients one at a time:
1. Salt. The obvious one, isn’t it? No rub is complete without salt UNLESS you’ve already brined.
2. Sugar, either brown or white. If you want that salty sweet with maybe a little crunch (depending on how you finish it), this is what you’re looking for. I consider this step unnecessary, but it does taste good.
3. Paprika. Remember the post about blackened? That’s what paprika does. I like that charred, blackened look on the outside with a perfectly done center. And if you’re cooking indoors because of the weather, consider smoked paprika to make up for not getting to use your cooker.
4. Cumin. See #4. Yeah it does more, but, well see #4 again.
5. Coffee. ? Really? Yep. Looking at the picture, I had some left-over espresso that I don’t think has been used for years. This is going to give you a little bitterness that complements the sweet really well. You like coffee with cream, sugar, etc, right? Think of the pork as the fat component, and if you want to add sugar go ahead.
6. Something liquid. To make stuff stick. Oil works well, and if you want to make a paste out of this stuff, that works great, too.
7. Pepper. To taste if you like.
8. Garlic/onion powder. Secret ingredients in a lot of pit master’s mixtures. I’m +/-.
9. Cayenne. If your crowd can stand the heat.
10. Other secret ingredients: thyme, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, allspice, dried ginger, dried orange peel, etc.
The more you dilute your ingredients, the less you’ll be able to pick them out. I personally prefer highlighting one or two ingredients so you know you’re getting them. More isn’t more here. Your cooking and resting techniques matter a heck of a lot more than what you put on the outside. And if all you had was salt, and you cooked your meat properly, that would suffice.