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Sensational Spice Rubs

It's barbecue time again. Now that the warm weather has finally arrived, why not put some spice in your culinary repertoire with spice rubs. These blends of herbs, salts, and spices can't be topped for creating flavorful meats, fish, vegetables, and poultry. Owner of Eagle Point's The Last Bite Cooking School, Denise Marshall says that although you can buy rubs in the store, they're a lot more fun to make and share.

There are two kinds of spice rubs, wet and dry. Dry rubs integrate dry herbs and wet rubs (sometimes known as pastes) include moist ingredients like crushed garlic, ginger, fresh herbs, lemon zest, and soy, or Asian fish sauces. "They are more like marinades," says 20-year barbecue veteran BT Collins at Jacksonville's Back Porch BBQ. "They're also a great way to seal in flavors," he says.

Marshall likes to experiment with spices and encourages cooks to try new combinations. Although associated with meats, they're marvelous on poultry, vegetables, and fish. "I don't think there's a meat or fish you can't put a rub on," says Marshall. Popular spices for rubs include: allspice, anise, coriander, cumin, dry mustard, fennel and peppers.

Cajun, jerk and pepper blends are favorites for rubs, but there are no rules. "We make a simple rub for our prime rib. We just use Montreal steak seasoning, seasoning salt, and breadcrumbs. That's it," says Chef Preston Shreve at the McKee Bridge Restaurant on the Applegate River.

Once you've decided on your spices for your rub, toast them until fragrant. Toasting releases their oils and enhances their flavors. Mix the cooled spices with a mortar and pestle to avoid overmixing. With a gentle touch, food processors, coffee grinders or blenders work well. Before cooking, combine the spices and rub them into room-temperature meat. After about 15 minutes, the juices from the meat mix with the spices, forming a paste. Once the spices marry with the juices, your meat's ready to cook. "When I cook ribs, I put rubs on fairly thick. When it looks like I can handle them, I put them on the grill," says Collins.

If you're smoking or grilling your meat over indirect heat, consider making a wet rub. For a savory Thai-style chicken, rub with lemon grass, cilantro, ginger, garlic, lime zest, pepper, and salt. Give your lamb or pork West Indian flavor with a rub of cumin, coriander, curry, salt, pepper and sugar. Use sugar (or honey, brown sugar, and molasses) only when cooking over low heat, otherwise it'll burn. Fresh herbs, too, will turn black and taste burnt when subjected to high heat; dried herbs hold up better using direct heat.

"If you're looking to add flavor to tender meats, then spice rubs are the way to go," says Marshall. Unlike marinades, which soak in and tenderize the meat, rubs coat the outside. No time to marinade? Rubs are a tasty way to add bold flavors and seal in the juices. If you're cooking lean meats, vegetables or fish, coat them with a little olive oil before applying the rub to help the seasonings adhere.

Once you've discovered some great spice rub combinations, store them for up to six months. They're also great gifts. Airtight glass or ceramic jars are attractive ways to share your secret ingredient. If it's a special occasion, wrap your spice rub with potholders, barbecue utensils and sauce. Make sure to attach cooking tips and recipes. You never know when you'll be invited to a barbecue!

Sensational Spice Rubs