Eating barbecue ribs that have been prepared without a dry rub is like going to the beach on a cloudy day. Things are not so cheerful, you know what's missing, but you get through it. Right near all barbecue professionals and passionate amateurs use some form of barbecue dry rub for ribs. For the major impact it makes on flavor and appearance, using a good rub is NOT a step you can afford to skip. Do NOT waste your time trying to get the most flavorful ribs if you think dry rubs are optional. (At least don't serve them around here...lol.)
Here's the Rub:
We don't want to open a 40-gallon barrel of worms, but when you decide to use a dry rub for ribs, you may find yourself being pulled into the sauce wars by accident. It is a tale of two cities. Those who prepare ribs in the style of Kansas City usually make sure they're served with a tomato and/or molasses-based thick, sweet sauce. Those who prepare ribs in the style of Memphis usually serve the ribs 'dry', meaning without sauce. These are not laws, but more like guiding principles. Yes, there are other factions in the sauce war saga, but let's please not get into it here.
What does this have to do with the dry rub?
With Kansas City-style ribs having a sweet and thick sauce, the dry rub is made with a base of sugar, like brown sugar. With Memphis-style ribs served 'dry', the rub is made of a base of spices and salt with very little sugar, if any. Do what you like. We like our dry rub on the sweet side.
Stop! The salt dries the meat, and the sugar burns on it!
Yes, yes, salt WOULD dry the meat if we caked it on and hung the ribs for months in a smokehouse. We have seen that the juices of the meat mix with the salt to carry the flavors of the sugar, spices, etc. into the ribs. Sugar by itself would do a similar thing. (Remember the great taste of salt or sugar cured ham?)
Sugar begins to burn at temperatures higher than what's good for slow-and-low cooking. What is more critical is that the heat source always be indirect. It has been suggested that you turn up the heat at the end of cooking to caramelize any sugar in your rub for ribs, but that method may prove hard to control. to top
A dry rub for ribs will:
- -enhance the appearance of ribs; paprika or chili powder usually is what makes the redder part.
- -help to seal in the juices and the flavor they contain.
- -compliment the ribs' flavor: sugar, salt, spice = yum!
- -create a delicious crust or 'bark' on the ribs, if you don't have too moist a smoker environment.
The basic dry rub and spices-A good base for most any rub (except Memphis style! see below) is equal parts of:
- 1) Brown sugar- (I prefer dark brown sugar for a richer taste.)
- 2) *Salt- (You may find coarse salt works better.)
- 3) Black pepper- (Try a more coarse grind.)
- 4) Paprika (Make sure it's fresh.)
*For those concerned about sodium or who may like a sweeter rub, make the salt amount half as much as the other three ingredients.
**There are many dry rubs that are not without their share of garlic and/or onion, but these may truly make up a secondary level of 'basic'.
You will find that almost any well-known rub recipe has some amount of these four ingredients, and that the main difference is what ingredient is increased or decreased in this base. To that, you can add almost any spice for any degree of extra taste experiences. You can seek out spices that are sweet, tart, tangy, pungent, spicy, exotic, or just plain weird.
A sampling of dry rub spices found all over includes: allspice, cinnamon, anise, chili pepper, paprika, cumin, mustard, sage, lemon pepper, nutmeg, thyme, ginger, celery salt, white pepper, cayenne, chili powder, oregano, basil, curry, rosemary, dill weed.to top
Dry Rub Kansas City Style-
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup paprika
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 3/4 tablespoon garlic powder
- 3/4 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon cayenne
Dry Rub Memphis Style-
- 4 teaspoons paprika
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
Dry Rub Spicy Style-
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon hot chili powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cayenne (red) pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
Tips: dry rub for ribs-
- -Use fresh ingredients. Old stuff has some level of oxidation and stale taste.
- -Buy whole spices and grind enough for one use.
- -It's called a RUB, use your hands to apply thoroughly and evenly.
- -Avoid contamination. Do NOT reuse any rub that may have contacted meat.
- -If you make more than enough rub, store it airtight and cool. (Try the freezer.)
- -Many store-bought rubs can have artificial additives and chemical flavorings. Try to avoid them.
- -Plan on using 1/4 to 1/3 cup of rub for each rack of ribs.
- -If you must have real crispy crust, remember that moist heat will not help make it.