What is a Meat Rub?
What really makes a rub a rub is how it is applied. Beyond just sprinkling salt and pepper over a steak, a rub should coat the surface of the meat. A good rub is worked evenly into the meat to get the flavor inside as much as possible.
Rubs come in two varieties, wet rubs and dry rubs. A dry rub is made of herbs and spices and can be either sprinkled over meat or actually rubbed in. A wet rub contains a liquid ingredient, usually oil and is the liquid or paste is used to coat the surface of the meat. Beyond this, practically anything goes. What you want in your rub is really a matter of personal taste. You want a good rub to add flavor and color but you don't want it to overpower the flavor of the meats you are rubbing.
Most dry rubs contain such things as paprika, chili powder, granulated garlic, cayenne, etc. To get these dry ingredients to stay on requires the natural moisture of the meat.
You want to enhance the flavor of the meat without overpowering it, so a good rub will be a mixing of strong spices with mild, complimentary ones to create an even distribution. If you're going for a hot spice combination, chose a blend with chili powder, cayenne or paprika. It will give the meat a good color and add the level of heat you want without making the meat too hot to eat.
The advantage of a wet rub (or paste) is that it sticks to the meat better. This is particularly important if you are cooking poultry with the skin on or some other smooth surfaced meats or meats that tend to be naturally dry. The other advantage of a wet rub is that it can help keep meat from drying out. This is especially true when using an oil-based rub. The oil acts as a moisture barrier, keeping the natural juices inside the meat. Oils in rubs can also keep meats from sticking to the grill. Remember that a wet rub should have the consistency of a thick paste.
If you are applying a rub to poultry try and get it in under the skin. Skin blocks flavors so putting a rub on the surface of skin won't do much for the meat. If is also good to apply your rub well before you plan to grill or smoke. A good hour will be enough in most cases, but large roasts, whole poultry, or briskets should be rubbed down the night before or at least several hours before hand. This allows the seasonings to mingle with the natural juices of the meat and sink in. Dusting a pork chop with a rub seconds before it hits the grill will result in a well flavored set of burners and a good supply of smoke from burning spices. It won't add a lot of flavor to the chops.
Herb Mixes from Backyard Patch Herbs include a number of savory and spicy herb rubs. Although formulated to be used dry, several can be mixed with oil to create a wet rub. For more details see our on-line catalog: meat rub – Backyard Patch Herbs