This weekend we will be holding the second official Ubuntu Florida LoCo Team BBQ, which for me means that preparation has to start early. All good barbecue starts with the dry rub, a combination of spices, sugar and salt that give the meat it’s slightly hot, slightly sweet, and oh so delicious flavor. So Thursday night after UDS, I set to work making a batch for the coming weekend. Here, for your viewing (and if you’re lucky, tasting) pleasure are the steps.
First you need to get everything ready. You will need two bowls, one for trash, one for the peppers, a cutting board, a sharp smooth-bladed knife, and food-grade gloves. The gloves are important, because if the chili oil gets on your fingers, you won’t be able to touch your face for days.
I use three kinds of chilies on my rub: guajillo, ancho and arbol. All of these can usually be found in ethnic groceries, and occasionally in the ethnic foods isle of a regular grocery store. I usually get mine from the same meat market I buy bulk meat from. You can adjust the heat of your rub by the ratio of the different chilis. The guajillo is moderately spicey, and slightly sweet. The ancho is mild but adds a great savory flavor. The arbol are the main heat source, so use them sparingly unless you really like it hot. The process is the same for all of them, cut the stems off, split them open and clean out the seeds, then cut them into short, narrow strips.
Now you have a bowl full of chili strips, you will also need a bag of whole cumin. This is usually sold right alongside the chilies. The next step is to toast them both to bring out more of their flavor.
Cast iron is great for this, it distributes the heat evenly and stays hot even after you take it off the heat. It’s a good idea to do this outside if you can, since the fumes from the cooking peppers can sting your eyes and nose, so ventilation is important.
Next add your cumin. For about 2 cups of peppers, I added about 2 tablespoons of cumin. They will fall through the peppers to the bottom of the pan, so be careful not to burn them, or they won’t taste good anymore. Once they start turning a deeper brown, it’s time to turn off the heat and let everything sit for a few minutes.
Finally we are ready to start putting it all together. First we need to reduce our chilies and cumin down to a chili powder. To do this you’ll need a spice grinder, coffee grinder, or any kind of food processor. I like my little blender here, just don’t overload it by trying to do all the chilies at once.
Once all your chilies and cumin have been ground, you can mix in a little paprika and have a very usable chili powder, good for all kinds of foods from taco to, yes, chili! But we’re not making those, we’re making barbecue, and chili powder is only part of what we need.
Your basic dry rub is essentially equal parts chili powder and sugar. There’s a great debate about whether or not you should use white sugar or brown sugar. For my tastes, brown sugar gives a sweeter, bolder taste, though I’ve also used raw cane sugar and been quite happy with that. After the sugar and chili powder is where everybody adds their unique flavors, and of course salt and pepper to taste. Traditional ingredients, which I use, are ground mustard, garlic powder and onion powder. For my own unique twist, I also add a bit of cinnamon and a spoonful of espresso-ground coffee. It may sound like odd ingredients, but trust me, you can’t argue with the results.
And there you have it, one bowl full of homemade dry rub. Store it in an air-tight container for use later, or start applying it to meat right away. If you can let it sit at least overnight, all the flavors will start to meld together, which makes it even better. Since I made this Thursday, that meant I could let it rest for 24 hours before I needed to use it.
Coming up next: The Meat!