What’s a Barbeque Rub?
As a true-blue Australian whose afternoons are spent slinging shrimps on the barbie, you may find it offensive that some bloke on the Internet is trying to tell you what a barbeque rub is. But before you throw your beer can at the screen, hang in there for just a minute. Read till the end, and you may end up learning a bit more than you already know about barbeque rubs.
A barbeque rub is a mixture of seasoning and flavouring ingredients that is applied to the surface of meat or poultry before barbequing. Rubs can be both wet and dry. Just like brines, barbeque rubs consist of two main flavours — salty and sweet. You can make a zillion variations, but salty and sweet are the foundation of every barbeque rub.
When Should You Use Barbeque Rubs?
Some Australian blokes are so much in love with their barbeque rubs that they insist on putting it on everything. Now, no one can deny the magical ability of barbeque rubs to transform even the cheapest cuts of meat into mouth-wateringly delicious dishes. But that doesn’t mean that you can use it for everything.
The perennial confusion regarding the use of barbeque rubs cannot be dispelled without clarifying the difference between barbeque-ing and grilling. That’s right mate, you can’t use the terms barbequing and grilling interchangeably.
Barbequing is cooking foods slowly on low heat, usually at 107 degrees Celsius or lower. Want to cook beef brisket or pork shoulder? Barbequing is the answer. Basically, if you are going to cook cuts of meat that are tougher, you need to cook them slowly on low heat for a very long time to get them good and tender. In other words, you need to barbeque those babies.
Grilling is what you normally do in your backyard for dinner. Grilling is cooking fast on high heat — at 260 degrees Celsius or higher. Meats like pork chops, hot dogs and steaks are perfect candidates for grilling. So grilling is not Barbie. Got it, mate?
Now we can deal with why can’t use barbeque rubs for everything. One of the primary components of rubs is sugar, which starts to burn at 130 degrees Celsius. So what happens if you put barbeque rub on something and grill it? You are left with an inedible, blackened, charred mess.
So, use barbeque rubs for low-heat barbequing and smoking, not grilling. For grilling, stick to simple seasonings like ground black pepper and Kosher salt.
There’s a lot of confusion about the amount of rub you need to use. But as the relationship between the surface area of a piece of meat to its weight is a bit wonky, there is no formula to calculate how much rub you need for a certain amount of meat. But don’t let that confuse you. All you need to do is to ensure that you cover the entire surface of the meat with the rub. Also, keep in mind that there is no point in using too much rub because the excess will simply fall off.
What Goes into Barbeque Rubs?
Apart from salt and sugar, other rub ingredients usually include onion and garlic powders, oregano, cumin, chilli powder and paprika. The last two ingredients — chilli powder and paprika, contribute colour as well as flavour. That’s important because your barbeque rub needs to add colour to the meat as Maillard reaction won’t occur at the low temperatures used during barbequing. Maillard reaction happens at 154 degrees Celsius or higher, and that is what gives your meats the colour we associate with the crispy coating on meat.
If stored properly in a cool, dry place, dry rubs stay good for a few months. So you can make some extra and store it. But don’t try that with wet rubs unless you want the Missus to give you an earful.
Wet vs Dry Rubs
The choice of dry vs wet rubs is primarily dependent on the flavours you want. If you want the flavours of a liquid ingredient like citrus juice or Worcestershire sauce, you need to use a wet rub.
When you are using a wet rub, the liquid applied to the meat’s surface will evaporate very quickly after being exposed to heat. But even after the liquid evaporates, its flavours will still remain. So you may consider the liquid just as a medium for imparting the flavour.
But don’t mistake oil-based rubs for wet rubs! Although oil is liquid, it doesn’t evaporate. Moreover, other ingredients don’t dissolve in oil. So when you use an oil-based rub — a paste of dry ingredients moistened with oil, you’re using the oil just as a glue to help the dry ingredients stick to the surface of the meat.
Another thing you need to keep in mind is that the difference between wet and dry barbeque is not dependent on whether you are using a wet or dry rub. The terms wet and dry barbeque are related to the use of sauce either during barbequing, serving, or both.
Jazz Up Your Rubs with Sweetness
As you already know, one of the quintessential ingredients of barbeque rubs is sugar. But if you want to push the envelope, you can make a fair dinkum ripper wet rub by replacing the sugar with molasses. Apart from adding sweetness and its unique flavour to the rub, molasses acts as a glue for the ingredients. If you’ve ever dipped your fingers into a jar of molasses, you know how sticky that stuff can be.
Another option you can try is to use brown sugar — a mixture of white sugar and molasses. As brown sugar is only slightly moist, the rub is still dry by definition, but it becomes sticky enough to bind the ingredients to the surface of the meat. You can also try turbinado sugar and maple sugar in place of white sugar.
However you choose to add some zest to your barbeque rub, don’t forget that great rub recipes never go out of style. Once you find one you like, you won’t have to experiment again unless you’re feeling bold. Enjoy!