The best part about journeying through barbeque is the little variations that make the familiar smells, tastes, and textures unique to each and every pitmaster. I love the fact that each time I get the honor of trying barbecue from a new pitmaster and I am transported to a little bit of the heart of the
person who put the time, patience, effort, and love for others into the execution of a dish that sings of the traditions of years gone by but is still just as much a feeling of home today. It is important to keep the traditions of yesteryear alive while making them our own because, how else will we remember those of the past while moving in a positive direction for the future? One of the
ways you can do this is in barbecue is through the construction of your own unique blend of seasonings and spices that makeup your spice rub. Each addition or subtraction from the traditional is the
fingerprint that makes your BBQ stand apart from the array of choices that inundate you daily.
In this series of articles I will attempt to show you how to balance a spice rub around your favorite flavors and tastes while explaining to you why each part is important. As we grow our ratio to include the five major parts to a balanced rub (Seasoning, Flavor, Heat, Sweet, and Happiness) I will include a basic recipe to help you get your creativity flowing. I hope you find this to be as interesting and helpful as I found this in my attempt to find evenness in barbecue in a traditional manner.
PART 1: SEASONING
Collins English Dictionary defines seasoning as, “salt, pepper, or other spices that are added to food to improve its flavor.” For all intents and purposes we will only put two ingredients into our seasoning part, salt and pepper. Salt does three things we need for BBQ first it helps to amplify other flavors you may have in the other portions of your rub, secondly it helps to tenderize, and third it helps preserve. In the early days of America, smoking meat was a way to preserve food for winter or future consumption. There is historical record showing that people in Colonial Jamestown and Williamsburg would take the meat and pack it in wooden barrels of salt for weeks on end to help draw out the moisture and begin the preservation in the style of the Spanish or Italians. The difference is to cover the flavor of the gamey pigs, venison, or whatever game meat they were using, and to help set the cure from a non nitrate based salt, they would smoke the meat at very low temperatures after the salt cure. This is the basic premise for country ham and salt pork. Black pepper is our second ingredient. Black pepper should be added upfront because pepper actually somewhat melts at 250 to 265 degrees Fahrenheit releasing peperine, the chemical component that causes pungency, into the meat. This reaction also causes the pepper to mellow. Pitmasters like Aaron Franklin (Franklin BBQ, Austin Texas) and Myron Mixon (Jack’s Old South Competition BBQ team, Georgia) both point to a salt and pepper rub as the most basic and simplistic of rubs. As the salt in the rub comes to temperature and melts it slowly tenderizes the meat and pulls the melting black pepper into the surface. The smells and flavors we get as this reaction brings something super simple to new heights are out of this world amazing. With this the very basic rub that we will start with is a typical Central Texas style rub:
1 part kosher salt
1 part coarse black pepper
Every good rub includes this portion in some form. Some rubs are just this portion as is common in some parts of Georgia and Central Texas. This rub, also called a “Dalmatian Rub”, allows the meat to shine through and is very good on anything especially rich fatty meats like beef and hams to vegetables.
I encourage you to play around with this basic rub as you learn your meats as it allows you to really let the flavor of the meat shine and enables you to taste the smoke from different woods more prominently letting you to find your favorites here without causing you to wonder if it was the rub you really didn’t care for. Being able to work and produce good barbecue under the simplistic of conditions is a sign of a good pitmaster.