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The “Secret Ingredient" Chefs Won’t Share

Here’s the Rub:

A RUB is a flavour boosting mixture of herbs and ground spices rubbed onto raw food prior to cooking.   Their are 2 types; dry and wet.  Dry rubs, which have no liquid added to them are the most common.  Wet rubs (also referred to as a paste) are essentially a dry rub with some type of liquid added.    Wet or dry, spiced rubs are fantastic when applied to meat, poultry, fish, and vegetables.  Rubs can be applied then cooked immediately or used to coat the food for a length of time to intensify the spiced flavours.

When to Use:

Spiced rubs are mainly used for grilling and smoking, but can also be used when roasting, creating a beautiful flavorful crust of the surface of meats.   The foundation of all great rubs is salt.  Salt is a magnifier for flavor and a must have when building any type of rub.  Another key ingredient is sugar.   When barbecuing, cooking temperatures are often lower than the burning point of sugar, so it is safe to use sugar generously in your rub mixture when grilling. Paprika and Chill are the next ingredients of choice.  They add colour, help promote a sauce like consistency on the surface. To finish any rub is a mixture of spices and herbs. It’s the addition of spices and herbs that gives the rub its depth of flavour.

The first Rub I ever used (and is still one of my favorite “go to” Rub Recipes) for Steak is,

Recipe: Bob’s Steak Rub

4 tsp Kosher Salt

3 tsp Sugar

2 tsp Paprika

½ tsp Cayenne Pepper

Benefits of Making Your Own:

    ⁃    Easy and simple to make

    ⁃    Use up spices you already own

    ⁃    You avoid adding chemical preservatives   such as MSG (Mono-sodium Glutamate) transferring onto your food.

    ⁃    Control the amount of salt in your blend

    ⁃    No artificial colours added

    ⁃    Much lower in calories and healthier than heavy sauces, marinade an vinaigrettes.

    ⁃    They can be made in advance and last for 


If you’re tight on time, coat your food and cook right away. Otherwise, coat your food entirely and allow to rest in the refrigerator allow the spices the time needed to develop a deeper intense flavour. 

Create Your Own Spiced Rubs:

Here’s a short list of ingredients you can use to create a unique spiced rub in your kitchen.  Start building your rub mixture using;

3 parts Paprika

1 part of any other ingredients you prefer.

Go with you gut and experiment using 6-10 ingredients.   

Rules of the Rub:

Heavy, bold flavours such chili, paprika and cumin play well with heartier foods such as steaks and salmon.  Front loading your Rub mixture with Paprika will give you a smokier flavour. If you’re looking to add some heat, Chile powder and cayenne will meet your needs.  The opposite is also true with lighter, milder proteins.  They pair well with spices with delicate, milder flavours such as oregano and thyme.

How Much Should You Use?

The right amount of rub to use when coating any piece of meat is easy. Use whatever will stick! For this reason, I recommend making extra and save what you haven’t used for a later meal.

Dry rubs store well in a sealed tight jar for up to 6 months. Be sure to keep them in a cool dry place and not in the cupboard above your stove!

Wet rubs should always be stored in a refrigerator. They typically hold their flavours for a few days up to a few weeks - depending on the ingredients you’ve used.

Pro Tip:

You can use a shaker to evenly distribute your dry rub over the entire surface of what your coating. I like to sprinkle a good amount of rub on a plate first so when I press the rub onto the surface of the meat, I’m also pressing the meat into the rub from underneath.

Wet rubs act more like a paste and can be rubbed all over the meat generously.

Dry Rub vs. Wet Rub:

This depends entirely on what you’re cooking.  Food cooked quickly on a high heat such as shrimp, benefit from a dry rub.  Whereas the low and slow cooking method used with ribs and bone-in chicken, thrive inside a wet rub.  These types of meats pull the moisture for the rub while creating a crust on the surface during the cooking process.

If a crispy crust is what you’re after, be certain to have your grilling surface really hot.  Lower your grill to the coals or crank up your gas while you sear the surface of your meat.  Once the desired crust and colour are achieved, you can move your food to a cooler spot on your grill or turn down your heat while you finings the cooking process to desired doneness.   Some vegetables, such as portabella mushrooms, refuse to let a dry rub stick them so a wet rub is needed instead.  

How to Create Your Own Wet Rub:

To your dry rub recipe, try adding any of the following liquids to your rub.  The consistency of your rub is up to you. As long as it will stick to the food item your pressing it against.

How to Grill Using a Wet Rub:

Coat your meat entirely with your wet rub. Then wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in refrigerator up to an hour before heading to your grill.  One great benefit of a Wet Rub is how it forms a dark outer layer while keeping in the moisture and soaking up the flavours from the grill.  

If you decided to use honey or sugar in your rub, be certain to keep your temperature low.  This encourages a nice caramelization on the surface as opposed to a sugary burnt curst.  

Watch Point:

Leaving a rub on your ribs overnight will allow for more penetration of flavors into the meat.  You do however, run one risk of slightly curing your ribs, which gives them a bit of a "hammy" flavour.

Next time you’re looking for a quick flavour booster, reach for your "Secret Ingredient"  You’ll be glad you did! 

If you would like to learn more about how to cook like a chef in your kitchen, download my free copy of

Yours in food,

Chef Bob

P.S. If you liked this post or know someone who would, please share using the media buttons below so they can learn to cook like a chef, just like you!

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