Marinades can be great for adding that extra flavor, but often don’t penetrate below the surface of the meat. A rub or injection is another great way of taking your grilled or smoked meats to the next level.
We totally understand that you're probably used to buying your rubs and seasoning at the store. Maybe you never considering making your own?
Here at Fire Food Chef we want to encourage you to explore new flavors and ideas on the grill.
Check out some of these recipes below and you will be amazed at how easy it is to make your own rubs and injectable flavoring into your food!
When you attend a BBQ competition, quite often the secret of those winning meats lies in the rub. There will be stall upon stall of people selling what they claim to be the best ever rub, already mixed in large, one-gallon jars. Some of them can be extremely good.
A rub is the term we use to describe any spice mixture that we rub into the meat before it hits the grill or the smoker. They can either be dry rub or sometimes a wet paste-like mixture, which enhances the flavor of the meats.
The flavor combinations you can achieve with a rub are unlimited. You can mix almost anything together to create different colors, aromas or flavors.
Some people just want a good rub which they can buy ready-made and start grilling sooner. They will often be sold as all-purpose rubs, but you will also find some specific to pork, beef, lamb or chicken, as well as specialty rubs.
Although you can buy many fine rubs online, if you have the time and resources it’s just as easy to make your own. When you make your own rubs at home, you know exactly what has gone into it and no unnecessary fillers have been added to bulk it up.
Salt can be the big problem with many commercially available rubs. It’s both cheap and also heavy, ideal for adding to the net weight of a product. A good quality rub will go light on the salt and sugars, with just enough to enhance the flavors of the other included ingredients.
Generally, there are six ingredients that you will find in almost every rub or recipe you come across. These include salt, sugar, pepper, paprika, onion powder and granulated or powdered garlic.
Bear in mind that while sugar may add sweetness to a rub, it will also burn at temperatures over 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Meat which is cooked over longer periods of time may turn bitter from the taste of burnt sugar. Although, quicker grilled meats will benefit from the caramelization.
Other ingredients added for flavor may include cumin for that earthiness, or chili powder for that heat. I prefer to use a smoked chili powder, like chipotle, for that extra smokiness,with a hint of cayenne for the deep red color.
Experiment with the flavors and consider what type of meat you are grilling. Sweeter rubs may work better on poultry and white meats, like pork. More pepper-spiced rubs will tend to enhance the flavor of beef better.
By the way, if you're looking for some grilling tips that you can really use, check out our BBQ 101 Guide!
Some people just let the natural moisture of the meat keep the rub in place. Others will recommend using some form of “glue,” like a brushing of yellow mustard or a glug of olive oil.
Injections can be a more controversial subject among grill enthusiasts. Some people will argue injections are not necessary and marinades can do just the same job.
However, marinades rarely penetrate below the surface of the meat and just result in a flavored coating to your grilled meats.
The idea of a good injection is to enhance the natural flavors of the meat while also preventing it from drying out. An injection will help carry all that deep flavor into the whole joint of meat.
Injections are best made at home, using fresh liquid ingredients—like juices or broths—with spices to add flavor. Just like with rubs, making it yourself, you know exactly what is going in to it.
Many store-bought injections will use vinegar, lemon juice or other meat tenderizers, which—if left too long—will turn your meats into mush.
A few of the more common ingredients include broth for an extra meaty flavor, brine for a little saltiness and good old beer. Worcestershire sauce is a versatile ingredient which can add meatiness to any injection.
Added flavor enhancers can also include pepper, garlic powder, sugars and phosphates. Always follow the recommended amounts of phosphates per kilo on the packaging—too much phosphate can be bad for your health.
Try to ensure all dry ingredients are fully dissolved or strained before placing the mixture in your injector.
No rude jokes, please! The first thing you are going to need is quality injector with a sharp point and holes along the side of the needle. When the liquid is dispensed, the side holes will ensure a more even coverage, with the needle just allowing the liquid deeper into the meat.
Try to invest in a stainless steel injector which won’t absorb the smells like a plastic bodied syringe might. You should aim for a minimum capacity of 2 ounces, and will also need a deep container for filling the injector without damaging the needle.
Normally, injecting a few hours before cooking will be sufficient to impart the flavor and moisture to the meat. Be careful not to inject overnight if the liquid includes pineapple juice with bromelain, which is a meat tenderiser.
This recipe makes about 3 cups.
When I was out cooking at BBQ competitions, this was our pit crew’s go-to rub for almost anything. It works particularly well on chicken, pork and seafood with a well-rounded flavor, that will bring a pop to anything you cook.
This rub is excellent when cooking a beer-can chicken on the smoker. Once you have thoroughly cleaned the chicken, both inside and outside, pat dry with some kitchen towels.
Generously apply the rub to the cavity of the chicken and the outer skin before placing a half full beer can in the butt of the chicken.
As the chicken roasts with a crispy flavorsome skin on the outside, the inner chicken is being steamed with the vapor of the beer. The result should be a fall-off-the-bone meat, with a deep flavor that runs through the entire chicken.
This recipe makes about 1 cup.
An earthy flavor with a hint of tang and plenty of heat, this rub’s origins lie firmly in Mexico. If you want to tone it down a little, just reduce the chili powder to one tablespoon—don’t leave it out completely, it’s a key part of the flavor.
The Mexican flavors would work well on pork carnitas, fish tacos or chicken fajitas. When used on beef ribs, you may want to reduce that sweetness, simply replace the sugar with a tablespoon of fresh ground black pepper.
This recipe makes about 2 cups.
Every pit master worth his salt should have a good, all-purpose dry rub in his arsenal of secret weapons. The best dry rubs should have a good balance of sweetness with heat and a touch of savory.
This rub will add flavor to any meat and is perfect as a rub for brisket. when combined with the injection we list below. Soon you’ll be making brisket like a pro. to rival any of those Texan cowboys.
This recipe makes 2½ cups (enough for one large brisket).
This injection will add a ton of flavor to that already flavorsome cut of brisket and help keep it moist during the long cook. The addition of beef broth and Worcestershire sauce will further enhance that beefy flavor of the brisket.
On the day of your smoke, remove the brisket from the refrigerator and, using a quality meat injector, add the injection to the brisket.
Start at the end farthest from the point and perpendicular to the grain of the meat, inject every two inches in a checkerboard pattern. Repeat for the point of the meat. Apply a rub after the injection, making sure you apply as much as the meat can take.
Wrap in cling film and store in the refrigerator until about an hour before you intend to place the brisket in your smoker. Apply some more rub and let the brisket sit at room temperature until you are ready to cook it.
This recipe makes about 3 cups (enough for two Boston Butts of pork shoulder).
Apple always goes well with pork, it’s a classic flavor combination. This injection will keep that pulled pork super moist during the long 16-hour smoke. You could even use it to add flavor to pork chops, just omit the phosphates if quick grilling any meats.
The day before you intend to smoke your pork, inject the injection under the skin of the shoulder, until the meat balloons out. Apply the rub the next day with a thin coating of yellow mustard helping the rub to stick to the meat.
Any left over injection can be placed in a spray bottle to mist the meat at intervals while cooking.
Hopefully, this has inspired you to try experimenting with your own homemade rubs and injections rather than relying on commercial versions.
Try sharing your blends with some colleagues and maybe swap your different mixes. Who knows, at that next BBQ competition, it might be you selling your own rubs or injections to other enthusiasts.