Barbecue Rubs

Spice up your steak and add cheer to your chicken

Summer is grilling season, but even barbecue can get boring after a while. To keep yourself from falling into a culinary rut, try adding a barbecue rub.

Meat rubs are a great way to add flavor to a grill favorite without a lot of hassle. You can buy pre-mixed rubs in the spice aisle at your local grocery store, or you can get creative and try mixing your own rub from a variety of fresh herbs and spices. For those who want the best of both worlds, barbecue rub recipes — available in cookbooks and online — allow you to mix your own rub with fresh ingredients while ensuring a final product that tastes great.

Most rubs are applied just before the meat is barbecued, but they can be applied well beforehand, too, just as long as the pre-rubbed meat is kept refrigerated prior to cooking.

Steak Rubs

Unlike a marinade, a steak rub is not meant to tenderize the meat; it simply adds flavor. Because steak is a heavier meat, it can handle stronger flavors, such as pepper, garlic and traditional barbecue. For something a little spicier, try a rub with cumin or chili powder.

Steak rubs, like all meat rubs, are meant to be rubbed into the meat, and this application technique still yields the best results. However, you can also sprinkle dry rubs over the meat, coating all sides as evenly as possible, though the rub may not adhere as well in this case. A better alternative to rubbing might be to add a bit of liquid to the rub (olive oil, vinegar, cider vinegar and wine are popular choices) to create a paste that can then be applied with a basting brush or other barbecue utensil.

Be careful when using sugary ingredients in a steak rub; sugar burns when cooked, so too much may create an unpleasant crust on the meat. Use sweet ingredients in moderation — a little can help cut the spice, but good steak rubs tend to be more bold or spicy than sweet.

Chicken Rubs

As with steak rubs, chicken rubs are meant only to add flavor, not to tenderize. Heavier flavors like barbecue, pepper, garlic, cumin and chili powder can all be used on chicken as well, but keep in mind that chicken is a lighter meat, so you won't need as much of these spices to get the same kick as you would from a steak rub.

Chicken is also a great meat for lighter, sweeter spices and seasonings. Honey, lemon juice and fruit juice make good additives to turn your rub into a paste, and less pungent herbs like basil and oregano will have more punch here than in a steak rub.

Once again, be cautious of the sugar content in your rub; while a slightly candied or blackened effect can enhance a chicken entrée, a thick layer of charred sugar will almost certainly ruin it.

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