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RUBBING IT IN: A spice rub on meats, fish is a great grillin’ idea

Last week we explored brines, and the week before we looked at marinades. If you missed the first two parts of this series, you can find them at

With summer in high gear, there is no better time to fire up the grill and invite friends and family over to enjoy good food and the great outdoors. No matter what you decide to grill, give your food a flavor boost by soaking, salting or rubbing it down.

Marinating, brining and rubs are great ways to enhance taste, tenderize and add moisture to various cuts of meat, poultry and seafood. Each method has its own influence on the food it touches however; the common thread of all three is flavor.

A rub is a combination of spices, seasonings and herbs liberally applied to coat the outside surface of meat before cooking. Rubs are a simple way to give food a nice exterior color and delicious crust. They can also help seal in juices; but the one thing a rub does not do is tenderize.

The fun part of making homemade rubs is that you can customize them to satisfy your own personal taste. Making a rub is easy and the variations are endless. Be bold — experiment. A rub recipe for pork chops may also taste great on poultry or fish.

I think the best rubs are combinations of mild and strong spices and herbs that enhance the flavor of the food without being overbearing. Salt is always a great starting place. It helps the rub penetrate the food and it brings together the flavors of the other ingredients.

Sugar also is a popular addition to rubs as it caramelizes when it is exposed to high heat. If adding a sugar, do so sparingly as they burn easily. When using seeds, nuts, dried herbs or spices, be sure to crush them first, as this releases their flavors. Also, if you are using a rub on something you are going to sear over high heat, be careful with pepper and chiles. These burn easily and can become bitter. Remember, there are no “real rules” when it comes to combining a rub. It is all a matter of personal preference.

There are two types of rubs — dry and wet. A dry rub is a combination of dry herbs and spices that adhere to meat, poultry and fish using the natural moisture of the food. A wet rub, also known as a paste, has a small amount of a wet ingredient added to the herbs and spices.

This rub tends to adhere to the food more easily than a dry rub. Some common ingredients used to make a wet rub or paste include oil, chopped garlic or onion, mustard, soy sauce, horseradish and yogurt.

Rubs can be applied to your food just before cooking, but I think rubs need time to work their magic. Time gives the spices a chance to permeate the food, which in turn gives it a more pronounced flavor. So if you have time, apply the rub and then place the item in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to overnight. If you are applying a rub to chicken with the skin on, place some of your rub mixture under the skin, also.

Dry rubs can be stored in an airtight container for up to six months and wet rubs generally keep a few weeks under refrigeration.

We had a fun-in-the-sun family gathering by the pool this past weekend. Michelle, my cousin, brought a variety of side dishes, which included her famous pretzel salad and banana pudding. Armando, my son-in-law, worked his “magic rub” on the burgers, while my brother, Michael, tended the brats and salmon on the grill. Instead of using an actual dry or wet rub on the salmon, I slathered it with a glaze made with brown sugar, honey, soy sauce, Dijon mustard, fresh ground pepper, ginger and olive oil. The day was fun and the food delicious!

Diann Greene, whose column appears weekly in Accent, can be e-mailed at


q 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika

q 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder

q 1 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

q 1 1/2 teaspoon dark brown sugar

q 3/4 teaspoon table salt

q 3/4 teaspoon dry oregano

q 3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

q 1 teaspoon white pepper

q 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

n Combine all ingredients.

n Rub mixture into meat and refrigerate for a couple hours to overnight.

n Store any leftover mixture in an airtight container.


q 2 teaspoons sweet paprika

q 2 teaspoons dried thyme

q 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

q 1 teaspoon garlic powder

q 1 teaspoon onion powder

q 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

q 1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper

q 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

n Combine all the ingredients.

n Store the mixture in an airtight container. Shake or stir before using.


q 1 pound ground beef (I use chuck)

q 4 teaspoons Ranch Rub

q 4 whole-wheat hamburger buns

q 1/4 cup prepared creamy ranch dressing

q Canned French-fried onions

q Lettuce and tomato slices

n Lightly shape ground beef into four patties. Press ranch rub into patties.

n Place on grill grate over medium heat. Grill the patties, uncovered, to your desired doneness.

n Serve with the ranch dressing, onions, lettuce and tomato.


q 1/2 cup sweet paprika

q 1/4 cup kosher salt, finely ground

q 1/2 cup sugar

q 2 tablespoons mustard powder

q 1/4 cup chili powder

q 1/4 cup ground cumin

q 2 tablespoons ground black pepper

q 1/4 cup granulated garlic

q 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper

n Mix all ingredients together and store in a tightly covered container.

n Note: This recipe makes a large amount. Adjust the amounts to suit your personal taste. I keep some in a shaker next to my grill and stove.

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