Unleash new flavors on the grill with dry rub as key ingredient

Here’s a simple way to spice up Dad’s grilling repertoire: Give him a rub.

Whether you throw one together yourself or buy one, dry rubs give meats an instant upgrade of intense flavor on nights when you just want to throw something on the grill. When there’s time for low and slow, rubs are an essential way to add depth and layers of flavor to barbecue.

“Whether dry (spice rubs) or wet (spice pastes), these mixtures work wonderfully well, since the high heat of the fire transforms them into hyper-flavorful crusts on the exterior of the food,” write Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby in “Grill It.”

At Michlitch’s Spokane Spice Co., owners and employees are always experimenting with flavor combinations. They recently released two new spice rubs created by spice master Don Vannoy with a base of coffee and unsweetened cocoa.

Start with high-quality, fresh spices and other ingredients, Vannoy says. And don’t be afraid to experiment.

One of his first attempts to create the new coffee and cocoa barbecue rubs led one employee to describe the flavor as tasting like “burnt cigarette butts.”

Vannoy perfected the recipe, in part, by swapping the coffee he’d used for Craven’s coffee instead. The new rubs include a spicy Coffee, Cocoa and Orange blend and a mild Cocoa and French Roast, which are great on beef, pork and chicken. A sample packet is $1 or five ounces for $5.99.

Spokane Spice also sells Blackened Red Seasoning for heat seekers, a Barbacoa that is great on beef and Lemonyest Rub for seafood and chicken.

Ground spices and dried herbs quickly lose the volatile oils that give them aroma and flavor when exposed to oxygen, light, heat and humidity. Ian Hemphill, author of “The Spice and Herb Bible” offers these suggestions for checking the pungency of spices: Smell or taste ground spices (careful with the chili powder) when you cook with them to see if they are still fresh. To test dried herbs, crush a few leaves in the palm of your hand and smell the aroma. If the smell is musty or reminds you of grass clippings, it’s time to throw them away.

There’s a misconception, Hemphill notes, that heating or roasting old spices will freshen them up. However, he says the heat may create some new roasted flavors, but it will drive off the remaining taste and fragrance.

Vicky Phillips, who oversees production and packaging at Spokane Spice, says cooks should also consider the grind of their spices when creating their own rubs. At Spokane Spice, she often works with people who are creating their own spice blends. For example, swapping coarse black pepper for the finest, powdery grind changes the way the rub adheres to meat, as well as the flavor and feel of the food in your mouth.

Roasting whole spices before grinding them for a rub is another great way to add depth to rubs and spice mixes.

In the new rubs from Spokane Spice, the brown sugar, sugar, coffee and cocoa caramelize in the heat to give meats a crust while cooking.

Sprinkling it on the meat is not enough. She suggests pressing 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of rub per pound onto the meat before grilling, or as much as the meat will hold.

“You want to put on quite a bit with a rub. You don’t want it to disappear during cooking. You want it to work with the meat juices to form a nice crust while cooking,” Phillips says.

Phillips says if she’s in the mood for something with sauce, she also likes to add a sample packet of the new coffee and cocoa rubs to a small bottle of barbecue sauce when she’s grilling.

Rubs should be put onto meats just before grilling. In Weber’s new cookbooks, “Chicken and Sides” and “Steak and Sides,” chef Jamie Purviance suggests adding rubs to cubed meat for kabobs about 15 minutes before grilling, steaks and boneless chicken breasts 15 to 30 minutes before grilling and roasts and whole chickens about 30 minutes to 1 1/2 hours before cooking.

“If you leave a rub on for a long time, the seasonings intermix with the juices in the meat and produce more pronounced flavors, as well as crust,” Purviance writes. “This is good to a point, but a rub with lots of salt and sugar will draw moisture out of the meat over time, making the meat tastier yes, but also drier.”

Classic Barbecue Spice Rub

From “Weber’s on the Grill: Steak and Sides” by Jamie Purviance

4 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons pure chili powder

2 teaspoons light brown sugar

2 teaspoons granulated garlic

2 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon celery seed

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Combine ingredients. Store in airtight containers away from light and heat.

Yield: About 1/4 cup

Salmon Rub

Features editor Rick Bonino shared the recipe for this rub, a copy cat of Tom Douglas’ Rub with Love for salmon.

3 tablespoons brown sugar

3 tablespoons smoked paprika

1 tablespoon salt

2 teaspoons thyme

Black pepper, to taste

Rub on salmon before grilling.

Yield: Varies

Sugar and Spice Rub

From “300 Big and Bold Barbecue and Grilling Recipes” by Karen Adler and Judith Fertig. The barbecue queens suggest sprinkling this rub onto fruit before grilling.

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon ground cloves

1 tablespoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

In a glass jar, with a tight fitting lid, combine brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, hot pepper flakes and salt. Cover and shake to blend. Store in a cool dry place for up to 3 months.

Yield: About 3/4 cup

Easy Memphis-Style Barbecued Pork Spareribs

From “Grill It,” by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby. “This is for those of you who don’t have the patience or the space to make slow-barbecued ribs. Although they only spend a few minutes on the grill (after several hours in the oven) this version is still mighty delicious. In fact, once they’re oven-cooked, you can refrigerate them for up to two days before finishing them off on the grill. They are ‘Memphis-style’ because, like the pitmasters of that rib-centric city, we don’t put sauce on the meat. Instead we coat them with our Traditional Barbecue Rub before they get cooked, then pass the sauce separately along with the cooked ribs. That way, the ribs have a nice, crisp, dry crust on the outside, which you can coat with as much sauce as you like.”

For the meat:

2 racks pork spareribs, up to 3 pounds each

For the sauce:

1 cup ketchup

1/3 cup cider vinegar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup orange juice

2 tablespoons prepared brown mustard

1/2 teaspoon “liquid smoke,” optional

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

For the Traditional Barbecue Rub:

1/3 cup kosher salt

1/3 cup freshly cracked black pepper

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons ground paprika

2 tablespoons ground chili powder

2 tablespoons ground cumin

2 tablespoons ground coriander

2 tablespoons ground cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon ground ginger

In a small bowl, combine all the rub ingredients and mix well. (If you want to multiply the quantities, this mixture will keep, covered and stored in a cool, dry place for months; it’s great with any pork cut, or with chicken.)

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Coat the ribs thoroughly with the barbecue rub, set them on baking sheets and roast until the meat is tender and pulls easily from the bone (about 3 hours), Remove the ribs from the oven.

While the ribs are cooking combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl, mix well and set aside.

When the ribs are nearly done, light a small fire in your grill. You want a very low charcoal fire with the grill rack set as high as possible. When the ribs are done, put them on the grill for as long as your patience allows, at least until a light crust has formed, which can take from 10 to 20 minutes per side, depending on your fire. Of course, the longer the ribs cook, the better. Brush them with sauce during the last minute of cooking.

Cut the racks into individual ribs and serve, passing the remaining sauce on the side.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Cumin-Seasoned Steaks with Spicy Grilled Corn Salsa

Recipe from the Washington State Beef Commission, www.wabeef.org

1 pound beef top sirloin steak, cut 3/4-inch thick

Avocado Cream (recipe follows)

8 small corn tortillas (6 to 7-inch diameter), warmed

Lime wedges (optional)

Spicy Grilled Corn Salsa:

2 medium ears fresh sweet corn, in husks

1/2 cup seeded and chopped tomatoes

1 medium jalapeño pepper, finely chopped

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

For the rub:

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper

Pull back husks from corn, leaving husks attached.

Remove and discard corn silk. Bring husks back up around corn; tie in place with kitchen string or strips of corn husk.

Soak corn in cold water 30 minutes or up to several hours.

Meanwhile prepare Avocado Cream; set aside.

Combine rub ingredients; press evenly onto beef steaks; set aside.

Remove corn from water.

Place over medium, ash-covered coals; grill, uncovered, 20 to 30 minutes (over medium heat on preheated gas grill, covered, 15 to 25 minutes) or until tender, turning occasionally. Place steaks over medium, ash-covered coals. Grill, uncovered, 13 to 16 minutes (over medium heat on preheated gas grill, covered, 8 to 13 minutes) for medium rare (145 degrees on an instant-read thermometer) to medium (160 degrees) doneness, turning occasionally.

To prepare Spicy Grilled Corn Salsa, remove and discard husks when cool enough to handle. Cut corn kernels from cobs; place in medium bowl. Add tomatoes and jalapeño. Stir in cilantro, lime juice and salt; set aside.

Carve steaks into thin slices. Season with salt, as desired. Serve beef in tortillas; top with Spicy Grilled Corn Salsa and Avocado Cream. Garnish with lime wedges, if desired.

Avocado Cream: Combine 1/3 cup coarsely mashed avocado, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro, 1 tablespoon reduced fat sour cream, 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice and 1/8 teaspoon salt in small bowl.

Yield: 4 servings

Nutrition information per serving: 366 calories, 11 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 32 grams protein, 36 grams carbohydrate, 51 milligrams cholesterol, 6 grams dietary fiber, 304 milligrams sodium.

Loaf Pan Chicken

From “Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book” by Chris Lilly. He writes: “Have you ever tried a beer-can chicken recipe? That’s when a whole chicken is perched atop a beer can and set on the grill, so the beer steams from the can and keeps the sitting bird from drying out. The results are tender and moist, but sometimes the flavor is washed out; and if the chicken falls over it can be a mess.

“Loaf pan chicken is a dummy-proof alternative to beer-can chicken. You simply set the bird in a loaf pan and place it, pan and all on the grill. The loaf pan captures all the juices and increases the humidity surrounding the chicken. The result is tender and moist meat every time, and best of all, the flavor is full and undiluted.”

3/4 cup applesauce

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 whole chicken (3 1/2 pounds)

For the rub:

1 tablespoon turbinado sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons paprika

1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons garlic salt

3/4 teaspoon celery salt

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

Build a fire (wood or a combination of charcoal and wood) for indirect cooking by situating the coals only on one side of the cooker, leaving the other side void.

In a small bowl, stir together the applesauce and Worcestershire. Holding the chicken over a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan, pour the mixture over the chicken, making sure the chicken is thoroughly coated both inside and out. Let the excess liquid drip into the loaf pan.

In another small bowl, combine the dry rub ingredients and mix well. Coat the entire chicken, both inside and out, with the dry rub. Place the chicken into the loaf pan, breast side up.

When the grill temperature reaches approximately 300 degrees, place the loaf pan on the grill grate away from the coals, close the cover, and cook for 2 hours, or until the internal temperature of the chicken thigh reaches 175 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant-read thermometer. Let the chicken cool a bit in the pan before cutting into serving pieces.

Note: Lilly suggests hickory, apple or apricot wood.

Yield: 4 servings

Suggested Wood: Hickory, Apple, Apricot

Grilled Espresso Steaks

Recipe from the Washington State Beef Commission, www.wabeef.org

4 beef tri-tip steaks, cut 1 inch thick (about 6 ounces each, see note)


Green onions, lemon wedges, freshly grated lemon peel (optional)

Espresso Rub:

2 tablespoons finely ground espresso coffee beans (see note)

1 tablespoon garlic pepper

2 teaspoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon ancho chili powder (see note)

Combine espresso rub ingredients in small bowl; press generously onto beef steaks. Discard any remaining seasoning mixture.

Place steaks in glass dish. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour.

Place steaks on grid over medium, ash-covered coals. Grill, uncovered, 13 to 17 minutes for medium rare (145 degrees) to medium (160 degrees) doneness, turning occasionally.

Carve steaks into slices. Season with salt, as desired. Garnish with green onions, lemon wedges and lemon peel, if desired

Notes: Four beef top blade steaks (flat iron) or beef shoulder center steaks (ranch steak), cut 1 inch thick (about 8 ounces each), may be substituted for beef chuck eye steaks. Grill beef top blade steaks, covered, 10 to 14 minutes and shoulder center steaks (ranch steak), should be grilled 11 to 14 minutes, for medium rare to medium doneness, turning occasionally.

Finely ground regular ground coffee may be substituted for espresso.

Ancho chili powder is available in the spice or ethnic section of the supermarket or in specialty food markets. Regular chili powder may be substituted.

Yield: 4 servings

Nutrition information per serving using tri-tip: 252 calories, 11 grams fat (4 grams saturated), 34 grams protein, 3 grams carbohydrate, 91 milligrams cholesterol, less than 1 gram dietary fiber, 403 milligrams sodium.

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