Big Bad Beef Rub
"I adapted your brisket rub recipe this summmer to and my customers love it (8,000 pounds served in the past 6 months)! My brisket even won 'best beef' in the Sonoma County Harvest Fair this year (2010)." Larry Vito of BBQ Smokehouse in Sebastapol, CA
In Texas many barbecue joints use just plain old salt and pepper, called Dalmatian rub. But beef brisket can and BBQ beef ribs handle, and benefit from, a more potent mix. The rub creates a rich, flavorful, crunchy crust, called the bark or Mrs. Brown.
Beef rub is different than pork rub. Pork loves sweetness, but beef does not. The best pork rubs have of more sugar in them, like Meathead's Memphis Dust. Black pepper, on the other hand, works great with beef.
You can make this recipe days or weeks in advance. It makes more than you need for even a large brisket, so you can just put it in a clean jar or zipper bag.
As background for this recipe, please read my article on the Science of Rubs.
A beef brisket flat with heavy rub, before (above) and after (below) cooking.
Makes. About half a cup
Preparation time. About 10 minutes
3 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon granulated white sugar
1 tablespoon onion powder
2 teaspoons mustard powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons chili or ancho powder
1 teaspoon chipotle or cayenne powder
About the black pepper. Lately I've been grinding my black pepper and then sifting it. I use the coarse stuff, and put the fine stuff in a pepper shaker.
About the chile powders. I'm looking for complexity with two different flavors and two different levels of heat. Most American chili powders and ancho powders do not have a lot of heat, but good flavor. In fact, ancho is usually in a lot of American chili powders. Go with ancho if you can find it. It has a nice raisiny character. With chipotle or cayenne I'm after a kiss of heat. Chipotle has better flavor though.
Where's the salt? On 5/23/2014 I revised this recipe by removing the salt. Read why in my article on the Science of Rubs.
1) Mix the ingredients together in a bowl. Store the rub in a tightly sealed bottle in a dark place. It will slowly start to decline in quality but should be fine up to a year later. Taste it first.
2) About the salt. Most foods, especially meats, need a bit of salt and this rub has no salt. Salt magnifies flavors and helps proteins retain moisture. When applied at home you normally use much less than in processed foods. So normally the first step is to salt the meat then apply the rub. But some meat is pre-salted. Meat that is labeled "enhanced" or "flavor enhanced" or "self-basting" or "basted" has been injected with a brine at the packing plant. Kosher meat has also been treated with salt at the plant. If you have meat that is already salted, then just apply the rub, no more salt.
If your meat has not been pre-salted, you should do it yourself. Unlike herbs and spices, the tiny NaCl molecule gets absorbed rapidly and penetrates deep with time. It also has electrical properties that help it move in. If possible salt the meat the night before. Read more about how salt interacts with meat in my article on wet brines. How much salt? About the same amount you would apply at the table. How much is that? Shoot for about 1/2 teaspoon per pound of meat and apply it heavier on thick spots. When possible, I like to apply the salt the day before, but even an hour or two is enough to get it moving inward, and the AmazingRibs.com science advisor Dr. Greg Blonder has shown that when the meat heats, the salt moves deeper and faster.
You can apply the rub in advance, some people like to apply it the night before, but the fact is, most molecules in the rub are too large to penetrate more than a fraction of an inch, just like marinades. And they don't have the electrical properties that salt has. The rub is mostly a surface treeatment for flavor and bark. So you can apply the rub just before cooking if you wish. Moisture and oils will mix with the spices and herbs, heat will work its magic on them, and all will be wonderful. I like to put down a thin layer of oil before the rub because many of the flavors in the rub are oil soluble. Spread the rub generously on beef brisket, not so thick on other, thinner cuts.
Also, be aware that the drippings from a salted meat for use in a gravy or jus will probably not need salting, so be sure to taste before you add salt. Remember, you can always add salt, but you can't take it away.