13 Jan A&O The science of rubs
Rub Me, Smoke Me, Sauce Me, Eat Me!!!
At A&O we have been involved with BBQ as a business for the last 2-3 years but have been avid BBQ’ers for over 20 years. We lived and worked in South America from cattle crazed Argentina to the spicy life of Mexico and most placed in between including a lot of time in Texas and Louisiana in the oil patch. From our roots in these Southern American lands we came back to roost in Scotland and started Angus & Oink via an excursion to Saudi Arbia.
We started producing hot sauces that we had encountered around Latin America and the US but quickly realized that authentic seasonings were hard to come by too. El Paso, Encona and the likes simply were not authentic or robust in their depth of flavours.
So it’s easy to make a rub! Salt, sugar, aromatics are the basis of BBQ rubs. But use table salt, white sugar and stale herbs & spices, well you would be as well pour washing powder on your meat. The balance of flavour in important whether you are cooking at home for friends and family or competing with expensive cuts of meat to win a competition. Selecting the right ingredients is key. At A&O, we stock 8 different kinds of sugars and 6 different salts where we consider the burning point, the dissolution rate, the particle size and the chain reaction of the rub as it is applied to the meat and during the cooki. Consider the balance of the rub with the meat flavour through the cooking process and how it might taste and look on the end product. A tasty meal or turn in box is the goal and understanding what you want to achieve is important whether it be deep umami flavour and savory notes, good bark, colour, residual sweetness, saltiness.
We have worked with one of the UKs top spice importers since we began our seasoning journey and it is mind blowing the differences between shop bought cumin for example and cumin that is freshly ground. The same goes for any spice or aromatic ingredient. Natural oils are prone to evaporation even when packaged so our supply chain delivers the freshest possible ingredients for the blending process. The uplift in flavour a fresh spice gives compared to inferior, older spices is a game changer. Noting the provenance of spices is equally important – oregano for example can come from a variety of sources in leaf form or powdered. Is there any difference… surely Oregano is Oregano! But the difference is incredible from Chilean to Mexican, from Romanian to Italian. To ensure a consistent product you have to trust your supply chain to deliver pungent and fresh ingredients that deliver on flavour and source from the same locations time and time again.
Blending spice mixes is surely a simple case of mixing in a bowl? But we found this not to be the case when the scale of production is increased. Various sugars, spices and herbs are prone to clumping, affected by the oil and water content of other ingredients and reactions can occur – we’ve all seen the rub in our container go solid! There are many hygroscopic ingredients and choosing the right form of that ingredient can help fluidity of the rub and the longevity of the product. So using the right combination of ingredient that perform well in the sealed container, to the raw meat product and through the cook to the mouth is vital. Choosing the right inert container is also vital for freshness and you really don’t want the aromatic oils reacting with a plastic bag or metal box!
When we’re designing a rub for BBQ, and especially competition BBQ we focus on the end result and how the cook can use our product to achieve the best turn in box possible. Our range of Meat Co Lab products provide the building blocks for layering rubs. From Porky White Chick with its savory & chipotle heat balance to Sweet Bones & Butts with its colour and layered sugars. Well be moving onto Beef with a new product called Dirty Cow but our Moo Mami rub is such a complex rub with layers of umami, sweetness and natural savory flavours. When you look at a rib for example, you want the rib to beautifully coloured, have ample bark, perhaps a little heat. Chicken for example, a little sweetness, colour, maybe just a hint of heat. Beef ribs, depth of beefiness, savory, little sweetness or a depth of sweet from darker sugars. Different meats take different levels of salt too. We aim to bring the building blocks so BBQ cooks can layer and build their own flavour profiles with our range.
Looking at the rub applied to a meat product. The rubs need to have flow, an easy mistake to make is to use too many powdered ingredients, as such sourcing ingredients in granular form where appropriate can improve product flow over the meat surface. You don’t want large pieces of twig, onion, pepper on a competitive cook – although on a more rustic home cook these can be little nuggets of flavour with seeds like cumin, fennel etc. The rub should spread easily providing an even coat, it’s the basis of your bark. It should absorb into the meat as easily as possible and this is where some science comes into play. The triggered reactions of the layered sugars and salts should allow the moisture of the meat to soak the rub up. The first layer ideally soaking in within 15 mins. If you ever try and cook a rack of ribs or chicken with rub not soaked in before you put it in the cooker vs allowing the rub to permeate, you will see and feel the difference.
Cooking with rubs is also an experiment in science! We’ve developed the majority of our rubs for a low and slow process. Direct heat will burn sugar and you have to consider the burning point of various sugars, herbs, pepper when cooking. You don’t want to char the rub. Cooking low and slow below 325F will accentuate the character of sugars, develop rich and complex flavours while delivering mahogany colours. Above 350F lower grade sugars burn and release bitter and burnt tastes. We use darker more complex sugars to increase the complexity and also the burn point slightly. So watch the grill temperature, use techniques like reverse sear, indirect cooking and keep direct flame and high heat away from rubbed meat.
Lots of people experiment at home with rubs and we’re all for that! It’s great to try new things and flavours. The range of ingredients we now carry have been painstakingly sourced from soy sauce powder for our Moo Mami all natural Umami booster to pineapple fruit powder and honey granules. We take a lot of factors into the equation when developing a rub, drawing from experience and working with great BBQ teams like Miss Piggy’s BBQ team to ensure our products taste and as importantly function as required for that cook.