Rub meat or fish before cooking with a carefully crafted spice mix.
An old English expression, "What's the rub?" meant 'what is the trouble'. But in barbecue-speak a rub is the mixture of spices that is slathered over the meat before cooking. And for many backyard chef that's where the trouble starts. Nothing defines a barbeque aficionado so much as his own unique rub.
There are dozens of basic rub recipes around. Many will start with a simple 1/4 cup of salt, 1/4 cup of white sugar, and maybe some paprika. Not a bad beginning.
Instead of plain white sugar, many will substitute a brown sugar. That certainly adds a little more flavor, but it can lead to a crusty, scorched exterior. Cook slowly and monitor the meat to prevent that. Then go one step further...
As a natural product, sugar comes in many variations. A delightful form of raw sugar is turbinado. Made from spinning sugar in a centrifuge, it is packed with flavor and makes for a great variation on the standard recipe.
But there are rubs that go well beyond these common ingredients.
Adding a bit of cayenne will bring a southwestern zing to a fine piece of barbequed chicken. The key is not to go overboard. Delicate flavoring enhances the taste of meat. Shaking spices on by the pound will drown a good cut and make the spice the centerpiece. If you have to mask the dull flavor of your cut by dousing it, select another.
A simple black pepper often forms part of a basic rub. But substituting a white pepper will add a bit of visual interest and a slightly unusual taste to a fine steak. Experiment to arrive at the proper taste, but start slow and build up. Those delicate hints will have mouths watering, where a ton of pepper will have them on fire.
Many enjoy the taste of a flavorful onion powder. Here again the backyard chef is fortunate because there are several species of onion that can provide choices. Popular commercial onion powders are fairly bland. Try a dried, ground version of Southport Red for a nice pungent variation.
Even the salt can undergo a transformation in your rub. Instead of ordinary Morton's table salt, try some sea salt. Richer in iodine, with a mixture of sodium and potassium and minerals, they're a healthy addition to the diet while providing a unique flavor.
For a fine rib rub, Memphis style, combine paprika (4 tsp), cayenne (1 tsp), onion powder (2 tsp), salt (2 tsp) and pepper (2 tsp) all together. That's a rub that will get you out of any trouble you got into earlier in the week.