Rubs come in two forms, either
dry or wet. A dry rub, sometimes called
barbecue spice, is a combination of ground spices and herbs. To use a dry
rub, spread thickly over the meat and rub into the surface. Wet rubs or
pastes are literally dry rubs that are bound by a liquid, usually oil.
Because they cannot be applied as thickly, they are milder in flavor than
the dry versions, which makes them good on delicate fish or poultry. The
exceptions are the Jamaican jerk pastes which are fiery and strongly
flavored even when thinly spread. Besides adding flavor, wet rubs also help
keep the meat moist during long cooking periods. Meat is also usually
treated with a rub, paste or marinade before it is smoked. These all add
flavor, and, in some cases, assist in tenderizing the meat. When using a rub
on chicken, be sure to rub it on and under the skin. Allow the rub to soak
into the meat, almost forming a crust, before cooking.
Rub ingredients vary depending
on the meats for which they are intended.
Most rubs contain paprika, black pepper, ground chile, and garlic powder.
Salt and sugar are common, although some feel that salt dries the meat by
drawing out moisture, and that sugar can burn during cooking.
A marinade is a seasoned
liquid that contains a tenderizing acidic
ingredient such as vinegar, wine, soy sauce, or citrus juice. Marinade
seasonings can be a combination of herbs, spices, and even vegetables, but
they generally reflect the tastes of the region in which they were made.
Regardless of the ingredient
combination, all marinades are used by soaking
meat in them to add flavor and to tenderize before cooking. Always follow
the directions carefully since some foods, especially fish and shrimp, can
become mushy if left in too long. Always be sure to marinate in a
non-reactive pan or a plastic bag.
There are regional differences
and preferences regarding types of sauces and
sauce bases. Southern sauces are typically vinegar and pepper-based, while
South Carolinians prefer mustard. In the Midwest and Texas as well as
farther west, the sauces are most often tomato-based and spicy. In the far
West, fresh herbs and citrus fruits are used.
Additionally, there are Asian
barbecue sauces, and some that use alcohol
like Jim Beam bourbon or Zinfandel wine for flavoring. Specialty sauces
include one designed specifically for game, and another white barbecue sauce
for fish and poultry. The chiles in some of these sauces vary from mild
jalapenos to fiery habaneros and African bird peppers, as found in Mad Dog
BBQ Sauce. However, the tomato and ketchup-based types still outsell all
One thing almost all these
sauces have in common is a sweetener, which can
be sugar (white or brown,) honey, molasses, or even maple syrup. Because
sugars tend to burn easily, sauces should only be used during the last hour
of cooking. This is especially true with tomato-based sauces which will
blacken long before the meat is done.
All of these sauces provide
an easy way to prepare tasty dishes in a
relatively short period of time. While it's difficult to find the time to
prepare and simmer your own sauces these days, you can quickly turn a
commercial product into your own signature sauce by adding ingredients such
as chiles, hot pepper sauces, ginger, or even fruits.
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