Rubbing it in

Dry rubs add a bit of spice to ordinary meals

Published: Saturday, January 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 4, 2004 at 6:34 p.m.

A restaurant chain wanted a signature steak, something different and memorable.

Enlarge |

Flavorful herbs and sprices rubs ribs the right way.

Courtesy photo



Rubs have transcended the mundane.

Here are some uses that don't require meat or a barbecue grill.

- Mix with olive oil and lemon juice or your favorite vinegar for salad dressing.

- Steam asparagus or zucchini, sprinkle with rub, drizzle with olive oil.

- Rub on wedges of squash, potatoes or other vegetables, drizzle with oil and roast. Finish with a dash of balsamic vinegar.

- Mix with mayonnaise to accompany meat or smear on sandwiches.

- Blend with olive oil and use for dipping bread.

- Mix Mexican blends with guacamole.

- Sprinkle into chili oil and use as dipper for hot tortillas.

- Add a tablespoon or two to a cup of sour cream for a dip.

- Sprinkle on cottage cheese or yogurt.

- Mix an Asian-inspired rub with sesame oil, peanut oil, chives and a little vinegar for a salad dressing.

- Add Mexican-inspired rubs to chili or beans.

- Sprinkle sweet rub over pancakes and syrup.

- Coat peaches, mangos or bananas with sweet rub and grill.

- Stir Italian-inspired rub into pasta sauce.

- Add to basic vinaigrette.

- Toss a teaspoon or two into water when cooking rice or vegetables.

- Sprinkle onto buttered corn-on-the-cob.

- Add Mole rub to homemade salsa.

- Season peanuts with Cancun rub.

Or create your own wonder.

Check ingredients on the rub's label. Some have salt. Others do not. Use accordingly.

Check other spices and herbs in the blend. Would a rub containing sesame seeds, turmeric and garlic powder work sprinkled on buttered French bread and broiled? Would chili powder-brown sugar, cumin-cinnamon-red pepper blend with a thick pork chop? What flavors could be sprinkled on green salad? Blend with cheese spread? Kick up red-eye gravy? Entice the family to eat more vegetables?

So they called Seasoning Queen Ann D. Wilder in Baltimore.

Wilder remembered her veal roast basted with coffee. The flavor was different, memorable. Coffee poured from the idea mill in Wilder's brain into the Vanns company kitchen - then came out Espresso Rub. The rub soon joined the restaurant team and her company's line of rubs.

The constantly expanding universe of dry rubs, most commonly used on grilled meats, today tilts toward the exotic as more cooks discover how tasty, versatile and easy they can be.

''The beauty of the blends is you don't need a recipe - you just rub them on,'' said Dara Bunjon, Vanns marketing and public relations director.

Or simply toss into favorite foods, like a tablespoon of Espresso rub in a brownie mix, she suggested.

Traditionally, a rub is a blend of seasonings applied to food before cooking. Paste rubs contain oil, garlic or mustard.

''When I started making them in 1985, nobody had ever heard of rubs,'' Wilder said. Now she offers Green Tea Rub (especially tasty sprinkled on green beans), the only Mole' Rub on the market and others such as Beijing Rub, Mediterranean Rub and Whiskey Rub.

The California company Melissa's recently put its first rubs on the market -Latin, Asian and Vegetable. In Texas, Fischer-Wieser planned to debut Cut-Me-Off-Another-Slice Rub (for pork), Texas Two-Step, Serious Barbecue Rub and Cattlemen's Choice at the New York Fancy Food show in June and is developing more.

Other companies feed the fires of the rub trend, which extends far beyond the backyard grill.

Elements of Spice put creative names like Bed of Roses, Zest for Life and Zen Garden on its rubs. Palette developed Cinnamon Chili Spice Rub for meats, salmon and vegetables such as caramelized onions; Lavender Citrus Spice Rub, especially good on fresh tuna; and Porcini Spice Rub for meats, pasta, risotto, soups and mashed potatoes.

Ming's recommends its Citrus Herbal Tea Rub in chicken or seafood dishes and Teriyaki Tea Rub, blending black lychee tea and ginger, for beef, chicken or salmon. NOMU mixes cinnamon, vanilla, sugar, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and ginger in Sweet Rub. lists rubs that come with heat-level warnings.

Wilder, a former high school art teacher, was a hobby cook whose hobby outgrew available ingredients. She wanted spices and herbs fresh and perfectly mixed. Wilder blended tandoori seasoning to satisfy her taste buds. Others liked what they tasted and she left the schoolroom and entered the exotic spice trade.

Vanns' product list now includes more than 300 items, with 80 that are blends of herbs and spices. The latest include Tea Smoked Sea Salt, Tamarind Powder Smoked Spanish Paprika, Marash Pepper and a certified organic steak rub.

Wilder was born in South Carolina, where meat rubs are as old as barbecue itself.

Rubs originally developed to preserve meat, according to Cheryl and Bill Jamison in ''Smoke & Spice'' (Harvard Common Press, $16.95). Rubs became popular outside of barbecue circles when Paul Prudhomme created blackened redfish.

Their recipe for using a rub is:

For chicken and other poultry, spread rubs over and under the skin. If rubbing vegetables, coat with thin later of oil first. Don't be stingy. Rub a generous amount thoroughly and evenly over food. Then wrap food in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before cooking. Big cuts of meat can be held overnight.

Wilder cooks with rubs fondly.

''They're so easy,'' she said. ''You just slap them on meat and put it on the fire. It gives you a flavor crust and you still have the flavor of the chicken or beef.''

Marinades often mask the meat, she added.

To turn dry rubs into pastes, add a little oil, then coat the meat before cooking. The paste adds a crunchy crust to the meat.

Unusual rubs are available at fine food stores and on the Internet. These sites carry Vanns: (phone 800 521 1176), (800 367 4709), and (800 915 9788).

Have fun. There is little room to use rubs the wrong way.


3/4 cup paprika

1/4 cup freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup coarse kosher or sea salt

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons chili powder

2 tablespoons garlic powder

2 tablespoons onion powder

2 teaspoons cayenne

Mix spices thoroughly in a bowl. Store covered in a cool, dark pantry. This all-purpose rub is good on ribs, brisket, chicken and more.

Makes about 2 cups.

- From Smoke & Spice


4 tablespoons allspice

1 tablespoon ground dried thyme

1 tablespoon paprika

1 teaspoon ground red pepper

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Mix spices together and store in a covered container. Coat fish or chicken before grilling or roasting. Makes 1/3 cup seasoning.


2 tablespoons Ancho Pepper Rub (below)

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts

2 tablespoons olive oil

Mix rub and vegetable oil. Rub on chicken to evenly coat. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Add chicken; sear 1 minute on each side.

Transfer to 8x11-inch baking dish and roast for 20 minutes or until chicken is done.

Serve hot or cold with salsa.

- From McCormick


1 tablespoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons ancho chili pepper

2 tablespoons ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon oregano leaves

1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (Saigon if possible)

2 teaspoons coarse ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in small bowl. Store in refrigerator in tightly covered small jar.

Makes about 1/3 cup seasoning.


2 tablespoons canola oil

1 large onion, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

2 tablespoons Latin-flavored rub (developed with Vanns Cancun Rub)

2 pounds ground turkey

3 cups chicken stock

1/4 cup pearl barley

1/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

1 can (15-16 oz) cannelloni beans, rinsed and drained

1 can (15 oz) garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Chopped scallions

Grated Cheddar cheese

Sour cream

Heat oil in a heavy large pan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons rub and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add ground turkey and sauté until no longer pink, about 4 minutes.

Add 3 cups of chicken stock, barley and parsley to the turkey mixture. Cover and simmer until barley is almost tender, stirring occasionally, about 40 minutes.

Add cannelloni and garbanzo beans to chili. Simmer uncovered until barley is tender and chili is thick, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to simmer before serving.

Serve chili, passing green onions, cheese and sour cream separately.

Makes about 4 to 6 servings.

- Recipe by Dara Bunjon


1/3 cup dry mustard

1/3 cup sweet paprika

1/4 cup kosher or sea salt

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

Mix ingredients thoroughly. Store in an airtight jar away from heat and light. Keeps at least 6 months. Use 1 to 2 tablespoons per pound of meat. Good on ribs, steaks, chops and burgers.

Makes about 1 cup.

- From Steven Raichlen's BBQ USA (Workman)

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top