Project Description

Make your own “Signature” BBQ Rub.

Here in Australia there is no big shelf of BBQ Sauces and Rubs in the supermarket, here the choice is to make your own or buy an imported (and therefore expensive) product. I was searching around on Ebay the other day, as you do, and came across some South African and US BBQ rubs and I have to say, some of the prices are staggering, particularly for the imported products! A 14oz shaker of Imported US BBQ Rub costs $35 on this side of the planet!

It started me thinking why more people don’t make their own; there are a million and one recipes out there!

I think it’s the number of ingredients in most rub recipes that dissuades most people; you end up with a small fortune invested in 15-20 ingredients, some of which you only need a small quantity of, and no guarantee that the rub you make from a recipe will be any good.

So I started looking for “Off the Shelf” supermarket products that could make a cheap, simple alternative to the commercial rubs available. I’m aiming for maximum versatility and minimum ingredients, a “Cheats” rub if you like.

I also think that the Australian taste (certainly my taste) prefers a less sweet rub; the joy of making your own is you can adjust the salt, chilli and sugar level to suit your own taste.

You can also “Cheat” the smoke ring intensity by adding a little (and I mean a little) curing salts to the rub.

This “basic rub” is fantastic! It’s so good I should it a name; a sweet, slightly smoky, deep flavoured Pork or Rib rub. It can be made with only two supermarket ingredients if you want; I’m going all out

Pay Dirt Rub

2 packs (80g or 2.8oz) Old El Paso fajita mix (I’m guessing this is going to be fairly standard the world over)

80g (2.8oz) “Raw” sugar 

50g (1.8oz) coffee sugar crystals

I’ve used two sugars in the rub so it “looks the part” and to give a granular texture, a granular texture helps you see that you have an even coat.

You could add a little fresh ground black pepper if you like.

This simple Rub is a great, quick and easy rub, it will serve you well, no complex recipe and best of all, you can get the ingredients in any supermarket and it is cheap to make!

If we break it down a typical Homemade Fajita mix would be something like this;

1 tablespoon cornflour (corn-starch)

2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon sugar

3/4 teaspoon crushed chicken stock cube

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon cumin

So you can see we have replaced all those ten ingredients with one by using the pre-made Fajita mix.

Pay Dirt rub variations:

If you like a little kick, add a half teaspoon of Chilli powder or Cayenne Pepper.

Add some Smoked paprika to increase the Smokey taste and the Red colour.

Add more unrefined Sugar and two crushed Oxo chicken stock (bullion) cubes for a “finishing” rub.

Dried Lemon Zest for a bit of fresh Zing, easy to make, just zest a lemon, (I use a micro plane) lay the zest out on a sheet of kitchen paper, the next day it will be dry enough to store in a jar.

Dried rosemary, dried oregano or crushed bay leaves are also good things.

DIY Rub

If you feel creative and want to make your own rub you can follow this simple guide, but be sure to measure and weigh meticulously, (I weigh rather than measure, it is easier to duplicate as the measurements are more accurate! (The weight of a Teaspoon of table salt is not the same amount as a teaspoon of rock salt).

I follow a process that adds the spice and pepper/chili last; this is so I don’t over power the more subtle flavours on the way through, at every stage I can taste and make sure I have got the tastes I want, before bringing the heat in.

So: Salt, Sweet, Herb, Spice, Umami, Heat, Fillers in that order

First to the Salt:

A lot of people prefer a Flaked or “Kosher” salt, the increased surface area helps it dissolve better.

Salt acts as a Dry Brine

Then the Sugar:

There are heaps of different kinds, Brown sugar has a tendency to clump due to its moisture content, I avoid the normal “White Death” table sugar, I want a sugar with taste!

So I’m looking for one made simply from dehydrating Cane Syrup, turbinado or demmerera are virtually the same thing, just a different name depending on where you are.

Coffee crystals have good flavour and are nice and rustic in the mix.

Raw and Brown Sugar are refined and have molasses added back

Have a taste of a few and see what you like.

Mix your preferred salt and sugar together till you have a balance of salt and sweet that you like, then move on.

Now you’ve got a Salty, Sweet harmonious balance so it’s on to the Herbs:

The Herbs can make it unique or aim it at a particular meat or ethnic style. Garlic, Onion, Celery, Mustard and Oregano are all good with Red meats, Coriander and Thyme lend themselves to Pork and  Dill for Fish and Poultry, but these are not Hard and Fast rules, bend them to your own desires, Rosemary works well with Poultry, but you wouldn’t immediately think of it.

You can make a weak Tea from the mix to see how your herbs will work in the final rub, the hot water releases the flavour, making a Tea can be a useful tool!

Almost there! Now to bring in some Spice:

So many spices, so little time! This is where you can go nuts and where you can get really confused, a good spice guide will help, but let your taste buds have a say as well, taste them before you use them in your rub, see what you like and add them slowly!

When designing a rub, I’ll add the same spice maybe 6 or 7 times, a few grams at a time till I have the taste or nuance I’m looking for, In my recipe notes I will list every addition, and my thoughts on why, this gives me something to come back to if I need to make changes, when I’m happy, I’ll do the math and add it all up into one single weight.

Taste as you go and do mini tests;

Sprinkle a little cumin in a bowl, add a little allspice and taste it, does it do what you want?

What happens if you add more allspice? or if you add cinnamon?

If you play like this on the way through, you’ll get a really good idea of what you need to do to build your signature rub!

Cumin, Ginger, Garlic and Paprika are a great place to start, but don’t stop there (or maybe that works for you) also look at some of the more exotic spices.

Again making a Tea can help you get the balance right.

Now the tricky Umami:

Think of these as flavour enhancers, things you add to build the appreciation of the flavour. When you are starting out you can ignore this, but as you start to get more serious, you will start to think about the Umami ingredients.

To give you an idea of how Umami works, Anchovy will add to the saltiness but it brings an earthy “roundness” to the pallet, Seaweeds act as a natural MSG.

Some of the best ingredients are fermented and bring a unique flavour hit, Worcestershire, Soy, and Miso are great examples of this.

Pepper/chilli Heat:

I do this last for one simple reason, it’s easy to overpower the mix and not taste any of the spice and herb, so I add heat last and bit by bit! Again there is a huge variety, and some have real flavour differences, this is where you start to personalise the rub and apply the heat.

For pepper, I tend to stick with plain old Black peppercorns, but I will use pink ones for a more “floral” note sometimes. I have a friend who soaks Black peppercorns in Chipotle for a few days then dries them in his smoker…now that’ll add some kick!

Try a couple of different kinds, get a feel for what you like, but I will say, use whole peppercorns and grind them down for freshness, god knows how long that black dust in the supermarket has been hanging around!

For Chilli, make sure you use one you can get again, there is a lot of difference between the different chilli offerings, and when you write the recipe, be specific about the brand/type.

Fillers:

Fillers are things with little or no flavour; they are there to serve a purpose, “Filling” out the mix so it spreads further, or thickens and adheres to the meat better, it could be included for colour or to help stop the mix clumping in storage.

Typically, recipe ingredients are listed from the largest quantity to the smallest, I always reorganise them into the seven “taste” categories to give a better idea of what is happening in the recipe, and to see where I might change the recipe to suit my evil plan.

Now let’s go back to that typical Homemade Fajita mix and reorganise the ingredients to match our Rub development pattern:

Homemade Fajita Mix

Salt:

1 teaspoon salt

Sugar:

1 teaspoon sugar

Herb:

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Spice:

1 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon cumin

Umami:

3/4 teaspoon crushed chicken stock cube

Heat:

2 teaspoons chili powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Fillers:

1 tablespoon cornflour (corn-starch)

Written like this it doesn’t seem so daunting and it is easy to see how it is built.

You can see that developing your own Signature Rub is not that scary a process if you follow a simple system and make notes as you go.

Do I make my own rub? Yes I do!  And I have some quite stunning rubs, brines and injections, some are dead simple, some are quite complex and take time to make, but only a fraction of the time they took to develop.

Having your own unique rub is a great thing, inherently pleasing and good for the soul!

I encourage everyone to give it a go, start simple and let your taste lead you!

The one thing I will say is, weigh everything and take meticulous notes, if you do find a winning combination, you’ll want to be able to duplicate it!

Alright, now let’s change it up a level or two!

There are some really quite unusual rubs out there, so let’s take a couple of the Apple rubs as inspiration and build our own.

For the Apple flavour get some really dry apple chips, if you can’t find them get dried apple and dry it further in your oven (you could even smoke dry it in your smoker if you are keen!). Buzz the apple chips into a powder in a spice grinder; the drier this is the better, you don’t want your rub clumping up on you! A warning though: dried apple dust will suck moisture from the atmosphere and in a flash is clumps up, make it and mix it into the rub immediately.

Follow me through this process and you’ll get a good idea of how to approach the development process. I’ll start with a basic rub based on what I think might be good and build it out to where I want it in stages.

Apple Rub Development:

First Mix:

Salt:

3 Tablespoons flaked salt

Sweet:

6 Tablespoons ground dried apple

3 Tablespoons Brown Sugar

3 Tablespoons turbinado (demerara) sugar

Herb:

1 Teaspoon garlic powder

Spice:

1 Teaspoon ground black pepper

1 Teaspoon sweet smoked paprika

Umami:

None

Heat:

None (at the moment)

Fillers and Flavours

None

Ok, so now we have a reasonably solid if basic Apple Rub. Think about how you want to kick it up to spectacular!

For me, I’d like to build the Apple up and increase the herb notes and I want some heat!

The Salt/Sweet balance is good, but I’m going to add just a little Coffee Crystal to the mix, more for the chunky look than anything else, although it will counterpoint the heat when I add that.

The Apple will respond well to the kind of flavours you het in Apple pie, so: Allspice, Cinnamon and Ginger sound like a good thing, and the Herb notes could do with a little Coriander or Thyme.

Onion powder would add an earthy tone and of course more Apple so it really stands out as an Apple Rub!

So let’s start to add a bit at a time (don’t forget to taste at each step).

First Additions:

Salt:

None

Sweet:

6 Tablespoons ground dried apple

1 Tablespoon coffee crystals

Herb:

1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

Spice:

1/4 teaspoon whole allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Umami:

None

Heat:

1 teaspoon chilli powder

Fillers:

None

Now this is starting to get there, for me however, a bit more heat would be good, so I’m going to up the chilli! I didn’t add any Onion powder, so I might do that and I’m thinking a little more Cinnamon, but I’ll cook with it first.

The flavours will mellow when you cook with the rub, so after I’ve made the basic adjustments, I’ll always cook with it before making any more refinements. The easiest way is to coat a couple of chicken wings and make a little snack!

Hopefully now you’re thinking that developing a rub is not that daunting after all, now it’s time to try it for yourself!

Get your favourite commercial rub, spread some on a saucer and have a taste, read the label and see if you can work out what is in it.

Write some notes, do you want it sweeter, or hotter maybe?

Get your ingredients together and start trying to match the tastes, use the steps we have been using, start by working out the Salt/Sugar balance, then Herb, Spice, and Heat, Taste at every step and put in less than you think, it’s easy to add more but impossible to take it away if you’ve added too much!

I won’t say it is easy to develop your own signature rub, but it is worth the effort, after all, there is Huge street cred in saying “that’s my own secret rub”.