Summer Rubs

A rub is the dry version of a marinade. Instead of plonking your meat in a bath of wine, herbs and oil, a dry rub is a sugary, salty blend that browns up and caramelizes on the outside when grilled. Left to sit for an hour or so, a dry rub is a fun way to spice up a simple cut of meat destined for the grill.

The best reason for making your own rubs is because it allows you to monitor and control flavors in a more exact way. Want more pepper? Stir it in. Want more paprika; just add more. There are all manner of premade rubs on the grocery shelf, but assembling your own rub is easy and allows you to be flexible with the flavors you’d like to showcase.

Most rubs begin with a base sugar. Brown sugar is my favorite since it has more flavor than refined white sugar. Then branch out with your spices. Use only freshly dried and ground spices and herbs for the best flavor. In other words, if your opened jar of oregano or cayenne is older than 6 months, it’s probably not as flavorful as you expect it to be. Toss it and buy another. If you don’t use a spice regularly, try to buy it in a smaller amount so you can use it up before it loses its punch.

You can use any of these rubs on just about any beef, pork, chicken or fish but the beef rubs could be a little heavy on the fish. Also, it’s common to rub a steak or roast with a rub and let it sit for a longer period of time before cooking, unlike fish which absorbs the flavors faster and are easily overwhelmed by heavy flavors.


Beef Rub

Beef-Rub-Blog-Interior

Start to finish: 10 minutes
Hands on time: 10 minutes

The coffee in this rub may not be familiar but it gives beef a deep dark roasted flavor like nothing else can. I like to use an extra dark roast like French or Italian in a really fine espresso grind.

3 tablespoons finely ground coffee
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated garlic
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon cumin

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and rub all over steaks, roasts or just about anything that used to have four legs. Wrap up in plastic and let rest for at least one hour and up to 24 hours. It will be messy, but delicious. Then fire up your grill and cook like you would normally. The sugar in the rub will make for a more caramelly crust so watch it closely and if it begins to overbrown, reduce the heat a little or move it to a cooler spot on the grill so it has a chance to cook all the way to the middle.

Tip: This is a basic recipe but if you want to gild the lily add a teaspoon of chipotle chili pepper to the mix for added smokiness and heat. You could also add a teaspoon of ground coriander, ground mustard or dried herbs such as oregano, thyme or rosemary.

Makes about 2/3 cup


Chicken Rub

Chicken-Rub-Blog-Inside

Start to finish: 10 minutes
Hands on time: 10 minutes

Chicken parts and pieces benefit from a rub even if you don’t have time to let it sit and soak in. You get the benefit of even crispier skin (always tasty) from the sugar and extra flavor from the salty spices.

3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander or crushed coriander seeds
Zest of two oranges

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and rub all over whole chickens, parts or pieces or just about anything that used to have two legs and two wings. Wrap up in plastic and let rest for at least one hour and up to 24 hours. It will be messy, but delicious. Then fire up your grill and cook like you would normally. The sugar in the rub will make for a more caramelly crust so watch it closely and if the outside begins to overbrown, reduce the heat a little or move it to a cooler spot on the grill so it has a chance to cook all the way to the middle.

Tip: This is a basic recipe but if you want to gild the lily add a teaspoon of chipotle chili pepper to the mix for added smokiness and heat. You could also add a teaspoon of ground mustard, chili powder or dried herbs such as oregano, tarragon, thyme or rosemary.

Makes a little more than 1/2 cup


Salmon Rub

Salmon-Rub-Blog-Inside

Start to finish: 10 minutes
Hands on time: 10 minutes

In the Pacific Northwest where salmon is king, they often rub salmon filets down with a flavorful rub before roasting or grilling. The sweet, ruby meat loves this classic fennel and dill topping.

3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, crushed
1 tablespoon dried dill
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Zest of two lemons

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and rub all over salmon or ruby trout filets or just about anything that used to have fins. Wrap up in plastic and let rest for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour. It will be messy, but delicious. Then fire up your grill and cook like you would normally. The sugar in the rub will make for a more caramelly crust so watch it closely and if the outside begins to overbrown, reduce the heat a little or move it to a cooler spot on the grill so it has a chance to cook all the way to the middle.

Tip: This is a basic recipe but if you want to gild the lily add a teaspoon of chipotle chili pepper to the mix for added smokiness and heat. You could also add a teaspoon of ground mustard, chili powder or other dried herbs such as oregano, tarragon, thyme or rosemary.

Makes a little more than 1/2 cup

Carla Snyder
Posted by: Carla Snyder
Carla has spent the past 30 years in the food world as a caterer, artisan baker, cooking school teacher, food writer and author of 6 cook books including the James Beard nominated Big Book of Appetizers. Her passion is sharing fresh, cooked-from-scratch weeknight meals that cut prep time and practically eliminate that nightly sink full of dishes. Look for Carla on Facebook, Twitter (carlacooks), Pinterest and at ravenouskitchen.com where she blogs about everything from cooking for two to easy weekend entertaining for a crowd.

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