A Serious Foodie Primer on Dry Rubs, Marinades, Brining, and Finishing Sauces: Using Dry Rubs
Ask ten people about marinades, dry rubs, brine, and finishing sauces – and you’ll get at least five different answers and five blank stares. Even among professional chefs there is plenty of confusion on how and when to use a marinade – and why sometimes it would be better to use a dry rub or a brine. Then, should you sauce or not?
So, we thought you’d like to hear about some of the basic facts behind using each of these techniques so important for grilling and roasting. In this article, we run through the basics on dry rubs.
Dry rubs are simple, versatile, and cheap – even when purchased rather than made from scratch. Like marinades and brine, timing is everything.
The basic ingredients on most store-bought dry rubs will look about the same – salt, sugar, spices. Home made versions are very simple to prepare, but a commercial version may have ingredients that are harder to find, or you just don’t want hanging around in your cupboard.
If you want to DIY, then start with this base dry rub recipe, which we make in bulk to set up all other dry rubs:
Ingredients for Dry Rub Starter
- 2 cup Brown sugar
- 1 cup Paprika
- 1/4 cup fine salt
Directions: Combine all ingredients, and shake well. Place in a moisture resistant container – this can be stored for several months.
- Want an Italian dry rub? Add 1 tsp. each of garlic powder, onion powder, dried oregano, dried basil, and dried thyme to 1/2 cup of the basic rub.
- A Southwest rub might be nice on chicken or ribs: Add 1 tsp. of garlic powder, 1 tsp. of onion powder, 1 tsp. of dried oregano, 1/2 tsp. ground ginger, 1/2 tsp. freshly ground cumin, 1/2 tsp. ancho chili powder to 1/2 cup of the basic rub.
- How about something a bit more exotic – an Indian style rub? Add 1 tsp. ground coriander, 1 tsp. ground ginger, 1/4 garlic powder, ½ tsp. cardamom, and ¼ tsp. fresh ground cumin to 1/2 cup of the basic rub.
How to use:
For all dry rubs, make sure you pat the main ingredient to remove surface moisture (meat, fish, or vegetables).
Dry Rubs Are As Easy As 1, 2, 3: 1. Rub & Wait, 2. Cook, 3. (Optional) Add Sauce near the end of cooking.
Be very generous when applying a rub – and, as the name implies, rub the ingredients gently into the meat, fish, or vegetable.
Cover the dry-rubbed meat, fish, or vegetable, and place in the refrigerator for 1-4 hours for optimum effect.
If you see liquid below your meat, fish, or vegetable – don’t worry! This is exactly what needs to happen.
The great thing about dry rubs is that you can impart a lot of flavor without much work – and it will help to get a nice crisp crust.
You can easily mix and match dry rubs with your favorite finishing sauces – a bit of fresh tomato sauce on Italian dry rub grilled chicken, Hatch Chile Sauce from the Serious Foodie on fried fish fillets with Southwest dry rub, a nice Teriyaki sauce on Asian rubbed pork loin, etc.
How a Dry Rub Works
We mentioned that you will see some liquid below the meat, fish, or vegetable. Basically, the salts in the dry rub pull moisture out the meat, fish, or vegetable, allowing the remaining flavors of the rub to enter the ingredient. The rub will melt and the spices are carried into the meat, fish, or vegetable by their own natural juices while the surface remains moist enough to readily take in the flavor of the grill smoke, or the cooking sauce (if you are pan searing or sauteing).
If you want to demonstrate the functional difference between sauces and rubs, try this little trick: Get some BBQ sauce which is thick enough to stick to the meat while it’s cooking and pour a dab out on the counter. Now gently put a drop of water on top of BBQ sauce. Just sorta sits there, doesn’t it? Now pour a spoonful of rub on the same counter top, and gently place a drop of water on it. Sucks it right up, doesn’t it? Since meat, fish, or vegetable starts out as mostly water, dry rubs penetrate quickly.
You can use dry rubs in combination with sauces – but don’t try to brine and dry rub meat. It will end up tasting like a salt block.
In some instances, a dry rub alone works (without a finishing sauce) – as long as you use a very flavorful rub, and use a trick or two. If you are roasting a chicken, make sure you loosen the skin to place a bit of rub under the skin as well as rubbing top and bottom. If you are grilling, sprinkle a bit of the dry rub over the finished product right before serving to kick up the flavor a bit.