Monday, July 1, 2013

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Basic Pork Rub: A Working Recipe

I am breaking myself — slowly — of the habit of making sauces, pickles, syrups, bitters, and the like...then not recording the steps and ingredients. Until this year, I was particularly lax labeling the jars and bottles in our cabinets. “This pork rub is excellent,” I once thought to myself. “There’s no way I’d forget how to make this.” Pfft. Best pork rub I ever made sits unlabeled in one of the spice cabinets, its contents a mystery. Oh, I know 90% of what’s in it between memory and taste...but that last 10% is what makes it so good.

Never mind the handwriting;
rub this on your ribs and smoke 'em
Until I can recreate what I did with that particular rub, there’s plenty remaining of an earlier iteration. The recipe gets tweaked often; sometimes, it will include toasted cumin, more mustard powder, different chiles, smoked paprika, or whatever. I learned from my mistake, though; I scribbled down the recipe and tucked it into the mix. When I get it exactly right, I’ll print it and affix to the jar.

Until then, this is the working recipe for a rub I make for pork ribs and shoulders destined for the smoker. The result is toothsome and tender with a crackling “bark” helped along by the brown sugar in the spice mix.

The powdered lemon peel is a California twist. It's not a common flavor in the Kansas City barbecue of my youth, but its sharp/musty zing plays well with the chiles and garlic here. Make your own either by drying and pulverizing pith-free lemon peel or grab a jar from Penzey's. Or simply omit it if the idea is too frou frou for you.
Basic Pork Rub 
¼ cup each: paprika and ground black pepper
3 Tbl each: light brown sugar and garlic powder
2 Tbl kosher salt
1 Tbl each: mustard powder, onion powder, and ancho chile powder
1½ tsp cayenne chile
1 tsp dried, powdered lemon peel 
Mix together in a jar, seal, shake until thoroughly mixed. Keep in a cool, dark, dry place.

To use the rub, scatter it generously over the surfaces of ribs or shoulder (trimmed, brined, cleaned, or however else you like to prepare them), then smoke as you usually would.
Goes well with:
  • Recipes for chef's salt from Hungarian chef Louis Szathmary and for Donnie's Spice Mix, a blend from Louisiana Chef Donald Link — which we use so often, I've simply labeled the jar  "Kitchen Spice" (as opposed to, I don't know, yard spice or car spice).


Lucas said...

Sometimes I feel my life is a search for that one perfect rub I made years ago with the same 6 ingredients that I use today. The smoke is the same yet the ingredients or technique differed in one subtle way. *note* The preceding might be a wee bit sentimental.

Matthew Rowley said...

I hear you. I've kept an ongoing journal of recipes that work in one way or another since 1996. I simply don't trust my own memory to get it exactly the same. Not that I don't do lots (and lots) of riffs on basic ideas, but when I get a particular recipe that nails whatever I'm trying to do, I transcribe the kitchen notes in the big black book. Our rubs might just be the kitchen equivalents of The One That Got Away...