The “Right Rub” is really subjective. I know there are those who think that homemade rubs are the best. They like to be able to create, to test and to try different things and I totally get that. I have made my own rubs and used friend’s recipes. I’ve never been disappointed by any of the rubs I’ve made or the recipes shared by friends. With that said, I have to admit that for the past couple of years I’ve only made my own rubs a couple of times. I know, I know, how can I call myself a real smoker if I buy the rub instead of making it? Well, the truth is I can read labels. It’s really that simple. Once you know which spices, sugars, salts etc… work with which foods, you can figure out which rub to buy. So when I see Emeril’s Rib rub and I read the label and see all the ingredients I would use myself and since I don’t see chemicals like glycerides, potassium sorbates, or other synthetics I know I am getting a quality product.
If I try to explain with the old saying “Why reinvent the wheel?” I think it would fall short because of the difficulty of this topic. What really makes this discussion so complex is that all rubs, whether homemade or store bought, are made with different quantities of their ingredients. One rub recipe may call for 1/2 tablespoon of paprika and another 1/4 teaspoon. The store bought ones tell us what is in them but not how much of each ingredient. Some even hide their secret ingredients by ending with “other spices”.
When I choose a rub for pork, I always want to make sure the sugar content is less than more. I do this because I use organic apple juice which has a lot of natural sugars to break down the fibers in pork as an injection. When I choose a rub for beef I have to consider whether or not I am going to inject the beef. If I inject it with an organic beef broth, even a low sodium one, I use a rub with less salt because I don’t want to end up with either a dry beef or a overly salty one. When a brine is called for and when the meat is dried the next day, choosing the right rub so as not to conflict with the flavors in the brine is also important.
Spices can make or break a rub. Too much spice and the flavor of the meat is overwhelmed. Not enough and the flavor you are hoping for never materializes. Combining spices are key to success, but pairing the right ones is as important as the amount. Making the right choices, blends, amounts etc.. are why most of the time I can get the success I want by using store/Internet bought rubs.
To those who have developed their own successful rubs I tip my hat. To those who aren’t sure what to do, I say do it all. To those like me who see the taste and result as the key to success, don’t let anyone shame you away from the rubs you can find at your local market or BBQ website. You might be surprised at what you get.