Friday, August 24, 2012

Rub This

So, I promised that my first blog post - or next blog post - well, this blog post - would be about my dry rub and BBQ sauce. I'm sure I'll ramble on much too long about the rub, so this post will probably only be about that. I'll talk about sauce in another one.

A dry rub is exactly what it sounds like. (OK. Don't go there. That's a whole different website. Which, come to think of it, would probably make much more money than this one. But, I digress. And so soon. Get used to it.) A dry rub is a combination of dry ingredients - granulated, powdered, crushed, etc. - which gets rubbed onto a protein (meat or fish) to add and enhance flavor. The dry ingredients are usually sugars, spices and herbs.

This is my rub on chicken waiting to be grilled.
Those are my mother's hands on the table.
This is Fred's house.

You can purchase a ready-made commercial dry rub at any grocery store, but it's pretty simple to make your own. Not only is it (probably) more cost efficient, but you will be using exactly the mix of ingredients you want to achieve exactly the flavor you want.

I make a rub especially for chicken - it can also be used for beef and pork - and I like it sweet and spicy.

Ay, there's the rub.

My base for this is brown sugar, kosher salt, paprika, garlic powder and onion powder. (This is just about the only time I will ever use garlic powder and onion powder. Most of the time, the fresh ingredients are preferable, but dry rubs are different.) I don't ever measure exact amounts for this, but after many trials and many batches, I have my ratios down pretty good. And I taste as I go along. (That's pretty much key for any cooking.) I go pretty heavy on the paprika and fairly light on the salt.

This rub doesn't usually need a lot of black pepper, and normally I would grind it fresh (I usually use my mortar and pestle for pepper), but I found some smoked black pepper at the store while I was shopping and thought it would be good in it. (It was.) Just used a little. And then, to really get the heat I like, I used a little cayenne. A little goes a long way. Adjust it to your own tolerance for heat. Start small, taste, and then add as needed. You can always make it more spicy, but it's pretty much impossible to make it less spicy once you've added too much. You'd have to increase the quantities of all your other ingredients, trying to get your ratios right, and ending up with a lot more rub than you'd probably need.

Woman 1: I have a strange medical condition. Every time I sneeze I have an orgasm.
Woman 2: What are you taking for it?
Woman 1: Pepper.

I always use cinnamon in this rub. It's such an all-purpose sweet and warm spice, and it adds a little kick.

Then, I play around with what I have on hand. I love ginger. I always have some on hand in almost every form. Ginger is another warm spice and adds kick. I found some whole allspice berries in my spice rack and ground a few in my coffee grinder. (If they picked up a little of the coffee notes, that's OK. And If my coffee picks up a little of the allspice, that's OK, too.) Sometimes, I use a little dry mustard. I didn't this time. But, I did find some cocoa chili powder and put that in. Cocoa in savory foods does not give them a sweet, chocolaty flavor, but adds a subtle depth (think mole sauce). The chili, of course, adds more kick.

I think that was about it for this rub. I like to put it all in a big glass jar and shake it until it's thoroughly mixed.

Now for the application. I like to lay my chicken parts in a single layer on a baking sheet and then sprinkle liberally (especially on the left wing...liberally? Left wing...? Oh, never mind)  with a spoon. Make sure each piece is well and evenly coated. Flip the pieces and do it again.

The common wisdom about a rub is that you should actually rub it into the meat, like a $60.00 massage, and then let it sit for a while. I do that more with beef or pork, especially ribs. I find that chicken doesn't need the massage as much, and I don't like to let the rub get too wet before grilling. I have my reasons.

Fred's new grill.

If you can control your heat at all - either by adjusting the grill surface closer or farther from the heat source for a charcoal grill, or using indirect heat on a charcoal grill, or adjusting the temperature on a gas grill - you do not want to grill it over the highest possible heat. This batch pictured above is on a gas grill, and we kept he settings between low and medium, somewhere approximately around 350 degrees. (But I don't even like to give temp readings for grills because it varies so much and so quickly.

A lower heat is better for a number of reasons, but mostly because the rub contains sugar which can burn quickly. (The drumsticks pictured above are actually still OK.) But, a nice low to medium heat, with the lid of the grill closed for much of the time, and a nice dry rub that hasn't gotten too wet, will cook the chicken all the way through and keep it tender and moist.

So, we made this chicken at my friend Fred's house, and Fred asked, "How long do you cook it?" I said, "Until it's done." I suppose one can assign a time frame to it, and most recipes do, or, possibly more accurately, use a meat thermometer (165 degrees F is good), but I hate to poke holes in the chicken. Here's something to know about grilling: when the meat is ready to be turned, the grill will give it up easily. In other words  you shouldn't have to fight with the grill, or use force to scrape the meat off. That will leave pieces of the meat sticking to the grill and your meat will lose moisture and dry out (see: I hate to poke holes in the chicken.)

Turn the chicken when it's ready. It will tell you. Use The Force (not brute force). Cover the grill. After a while, you can poke it with your finger if you want. The chicken, not the grill. Open the grill and poke the chicken. This serves no real purpose, but if you poke it with your finger and nod sagely, then people will think you know what you're doing and won't freak out because they think they're going to eat under cooked chicken, get sick and die. I hate that.

Actually, after you do it for a while and develop a sense for it, you can kind of tell the doneness of a piece of meat by poking it. This is a good method for steaks.

Anyway, I seem to have an innate ability to know the exact moment to take chicken off the grill for the perfect doneness, just like my uncanny ability to predict dog show winners. This is true, but is probably content for a whole different blog. In the last five or ten minutes before I remove the chicken from the grill, I baste it with BBQ sauce. I turn it once so each basted side gets some direct heat - just enough to caramelize the sugar a little bit. But, be very careful. The sauce will burn very quickly if you let it go one second too long. No pressure. Caramelized sugar is heaven. Burnt sugar is what they make Olympic shot puts out of. If you've ever tasted an Olympic shot put, you know what I mean. Don't ask.

Perfectly done BBQ chicken.
If you look closely, you can see the BBQ brush stokes.
A Van Gogh, he is.

Always rest your meat. (Insert rimshot here.) Two things happen: the meat keeps "cooking" for a while after is off of the heat source, and the juices redistribute.

I'll describe my sauce in painstaking detail in another post. In the meantime, is "doneness" not a real word? Because my spell check does not like it. It wants to make it "oneness," which would be perfect for Zen recipes: poke it with your finger to check the oneness. So, I guess it depends on what you're into.

Eat Well. Have fun. Be kind. Give Love.

1 comment:

  1. I've never used a rub before, so I may give it a try after reading this post (and I'll make sure to add pepper! ;) )