One Simple Step that Will Transform Meat, Poultry and Seafood Dishes

Spice rubs are simple mixtures of salt, sugar, spices, and dried herbs used to season meat, poultry, or seafood before cooking. Homemade rubs are easy to put together, and often more flavorful and economical than the commercial varieties. Once you apply a rub, you can cook foods right away or wait a while; either way, the rub will add a burst of flavor. Start with this basic recipe, then adjust it to your own taste.

All-Purpose Spice Rub

Makes 1 1/4 cups (enough to season 5 to 10 pounds of meat, poultry, or seafood)

1/3 cup coarse salt
1/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/4 cup paprika
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons dried thyme leaves
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper (optional)

1. In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients, using your hands to break up the sugar.

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Now, Try Your Own

Experiment with your favorite spices and dried herbs; just keep the quantities of coarse salt and light-brown sugar the same as in the all-purpose recipe. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Southwestern Rub: Replace some of the paprika with cumin, coriander, and chili powder.

Indian Rub: Replace the oregano and thyme with turmeric, curry powder, ground ginger, and cardamom.

Mediterranean Rub: Replace some or all the oregano and/or thyme with dried tarragon, marjoram, rosemary, dill, or basil. Omit the cayenne pepper.

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Down to Basics

For each pound of meat, poultry, or seafood: First, coat with 2 to 3 teaspoons vegetable oil, then 1 to 2 tablespoons spice rub. After applying the rub, you can either grill foods immediately or let them sit and develop more flavor. If preparing ahead of time (up to 24 hours), you can apply the rub to chicken and turkey parts, steaks, pork chops, lamb chops, ribs, brisket, or pork shoulder. (The larger the cut, the more it will benefit from a long coating time.) Cover and refrigerate; bring to room temperature before grilling. Fish and shrimp are best grilled within an hour of rubbing. To prevent foods from sticking, oil grates well, and don't move the food for the first minute or so of cooking; this will allow a solid crust to form. Rubs are not just for grilling. They're also great for roasting and broiling.

Note: Before handling raw meat, measure out the amount of rub you'll need, and set it aside; this way, you'll avoid contaminating the unused rub.

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