I'm Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh growing herbs is a passion I've had for more than 20 years now. The Backyard Patch is my own herb business started in 1995. I specialize in fresh, amazing, organic blended herbs. Those for cooking, tea and bath -- and they are all home-grown and hand-blended. In the last 20 years I have gained a knowledge of herbs and their flavors that I share here.
What really makes a rub a rub is how it is applied. I suppose that you could say sprinkling salt and pepper over a steak was like adding a rub, but this really isn't what we mean when we talk about rubs, particularly a traditional barbecue rub. A rub should coat the surface of the meat. You should work a rub 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 coated over 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 paste, thick.
Lemon peel and tarragon were used in oilive oil
As I said, a rub should be worked into meats completely. 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.
4 Spice Meat Rub from the Backyard Patch used on a pork tenderloin
I have a whole list of meat rubs for all marinades and rubs that I created for the Backyard Patch because I love the quick easy way you can rub a plain meat in herbs and spices and conjure tastes of far away yet still have a meal in my own back yard. I put together a special set of 5 grilling mixes that has free shipping too!
If you want to try your hand at making your own rubs, check out this guest post I did over at the Supporting Artists Blog. You can find several rub recipes to get your started.