Spice-Rub Blending 101

by | Monday, June 17, 2013 | 0 comment(s)

I’ve been thinking a lot about spice blends for grilling recently--well, since I had a conversation about it with local food editor Meredith Goad.  We discussed spice blending theory as much as dry-rub recipes.  She wanted to give her readers some ideas about putting spices together from ingredients already in their pantry. Of course I thought of a million things to tell her AFTER I talked with her...

Here are some of my thoughts based on 15 years of blending experience:

Spice-Rub blending 101

1.  Keep your blend as simple as possible, you never want the blend to muddy the flavor of what you’re putting it on.
2.  A good blend hits the front, middle, and back of the mouth.
3.  Start with one overall flavor that you’d like to work with--say chipotle; then build the blend out from there.  Think about various recipes that use chipotle: Are there any common ingredients? Is there something they seem to avoid?
4.  Typically, I decide whether I want broad sweet tones (Chinese tends toward sweet hot) or high sour tones (Tex-Mex tends toward sour hot).  Once you make this choice you really narrow the blend.  For instance, when I created Sweet Smoky Fire I wanted it sweet enough to caramelize on a steak so I used maple sugar in combination with turbinado sugar for a rich mellow sweetness.  On the other hand, one of Portland Spice Company’s most popular items was a dip called That Chipotle Dip. I was looking for a condiment to be served with tortilla chips or burritos, so for this blend I went on the sour side, using lemon/lime to accent the chipotle.  I think for beginners it’s important not to crisscross the sour-sweet line--refer to rule 1.

5.  Now fill the blend out.

  • How hot do you want it? Chipotle marries well with other chilis like ancho (mild), chimayo (mild/medium), & de arbol (medium).  Or, make it very hot by mixing in habanero.      
  • How fat do you want it?  Sometimes chilis can have a bit of a thin or watery mouth feel to me, so I try to create balance.  I think cumin tends to add meatiness to a blend; garlic, and thyme are other ingredients that can richen it.
  • What kind of texture do you want? I like a lot of texture; I like to chomp right down on different flavors and to taste the different elements of a blend.  To add texture try mixing coarsely chopped chipotles with a ground chipotle; or add minced garlic, or onion flakes, or lemon zest, or a coarse sugar.  Or you may want one smooth continuous texture; in this case grind all the ingredients together or use pre-ground spices.
  • Salt.  Always be careful not to over-salt a blend (remember salt draws moisture out of meat while it’s being cooked).  Many of the cheaper commercial blends are primarily salt (because it’s cheap), and it ruins the food. Use a high quality flaked Kosher salt, Maine Sea Salt, Maldon Salt, etc. Again, I like texture, so I tend to use a flaked Kosher salt.  You can even skip the salt in the blend and add it when you’re serving. Be generous when you put a spice rub on meat.  Before you grill let the spices rest on the meat until they look wet.

Try this simple spice rub--don’t be afraid to play around with it.

 (At Portland Spice Company we called it Gale’s Texas Rub named for a friend who donated a version of the recipe to PSC):

  • 1 part chili powder (what you use in chili or a combination of ground chili peppers)
  • 1 part garlic granules (or powdered)
  • 1 part ground cumin
  • 1 part turbinado sugar
  • ½ part flaked kosher salt



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