For many of us, outdoor grilling is practiced rain, snow or shine. But when the summer months come around, barbecue is king. We become bombarded with all sorts of ads about new barbecue equipment, fancy grills and cocktail concept.
And of course, there is July 4. Is there anyone who does not grill on July 4? Some of our friends, like the Craytons across the street, who go so far as to dig a pit and fill it with hot rocks to cook a whole pig. This is ironic, because 75% of their immediate family is vegetarian, but that leaves more for the rest of us debased carnivores. I appreciate the effort, and the outcome; but I can say that there is not a chance in hell that I would ever adopt that practice. But Kevin and Joe—you guys rock.
At our home, we probably grill at least three days a week. I will admit that part of the reason, in addition to loving the taste of seared meat and vegetables, is that all I need to do is the prep. My sweet husband has had a fascination with fire since infancy, and this gives him a chance to share in domestic chores while indulging his primordial urges. I have several good stories about how fire has gotten the better of Mr. Richards, and plan one day to put them into a book called, “I Know What I Am Doing.” It just gets longer and longer.
Once again, I digress. The other appealing thing about grilling is that if you are prepared with the right rubs, the main dish can be prepared almost instantaneously, ahead of time, so that you can lavish your creative attention on spectacular (but also easy) side dishes to round out the meal, or have another cocktail.
There are many pre-made rubs on the market, many of which are good. There are also pre-made marinades, most of which I think are awful and cloying, with a chemical aftertaste. The one exception is Lum’s Char Sui marinade, which is based on recipe developed by my dear friend Gordon’s family. The recipe was sold to a corporation and is now secret; and you can only get the marinade in Hawaii as far as I know. Or if you are really nice to Gordon and Gayle. But you can never have the recipe.
But rubs. Homemade rubs are spice blends that easy to do in bulk, all while still giving oneself the illusion that the outcome is the result of your own creative genius. And illusions are an important part of self-esteem. Here are some rub recipes that you can mix up so they are at the ready whenever the urge for fire sneaks upon you.
This is a rub that you can rub directly onto your chicken or pork, or you can mix it with some Greek yogurt to tenderize the meat for a few hours.
Combine into a lidded jar: ¼ cup smoked paprika with 2 tablespoons each of garlic powder and cinnamon, 2 teaspoons each of black pepper, coarse sea salt and ground cumin and 1 teaspoon each of ground cloves and sumac. If you want it hot, throw in 1 teaspoon of alleppo pepper. Then shake it, shake it, shake it. That’s all.
If you decide to mix the rub into yogurt, I would also throw in about ¼ cup of chopped mint.
This is more of your all-American Southern style rub, shamelessly adapted from a recipe I found on the internet, although I did come up with the name myself. This also starts with a jar with a lid.
Just combine: ¼ cub smoked paprika with 2 tablespoons each of salt black pepper, white sugar, brown sugar, ground cumin, and 1 teaspoon of hot pepper powder. I like chipotle, but you could use anything. And shake.
This is super good on chicken and uses Chinese 5-spice blend as its primary flavor, which is a mixture of cinnamon, cloves, fennel, anise and Szechuan pepper. You can make that yourself if you wish, but I usually buy it in a cellophane package at Uwajimaya. It’s good in a lot of things.
Just get another jar and add ½ cup of brown sugar, and 3 tablespoons each of salt, five spice powder and black pepper, plus 1 teaspoon each of onion and garlic powder.
As is the case with the above Turkish rub, you can either use rub the mixture directly onto your protein, or you can mix some into Greek yogurt and use it as a marinade, in which case I would also add the juice of a lemon and a clove or two of minced garlic.
But the basic rub is a combination of 6 tablespoons of paprika, 2 tablespoons each of coriander, cumin and sea-salt, 1 tablespoon each of black pepper, white sugar, tumeric and ground ginger, 1 teaspoon each of cinnamon and ground saffron, and few pinches of cayenne.
I have found that a small mesh strainer is very useful in making sure that the rub is evenly distributed over your protein of choice.