BBQ Rubs and Sauces
June 12, 2008 5:08 AM   Subscribe

The barbecue season is upon us (at least in the northern hemisphere), and I'm now in a place that allows outdoor grilling, but I'm a neophyte when it comes to BBQ sauces and rubs.

What are your favorite excellent BBQ/grilling sauces? I want to try them all; tomato based, vinegar based, I think there are even some made with mustard. Hot and spicy is good. DIY homemade would probably be even more fun, but if you've found outstanding stuff in a bottle, that's OK too.

I think the pros say there is a difference between barbecue and grilling. See, I don't know this stuff. Apparently, BBQ is done with a closed lid and a rub, while grilling is open lid. Is that right? Do you have any great rub recipes for the smoky kind of closed lid slow cooking? Since I have a chance now, I want to try all this great outdoor cooking.
posted by netbros to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
I swear by Alton Brown's 8+3+1+1 rub formula. It lets me experiment with different flavors while making sure I hit all the basics. It's 8 parts brown sugar plus 3 parts kosher salt plus 1 part chili powder plus 1 part a mix of other stuff (onion powder, powdered ancho, cayenne, whatever suits your needs).

The nice part is that this is easily scalable, so you don't need to have a lot of extra rub left over. Hell, you can make several different rubs and treat multiple cuts of meat with'em for some variety in your BBQ!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:22 AM on June 12, 2008 [6 favorites]

I'm a "less is more" type guy for my sauces and rubs. A good cut of meat should taste like meat, not sauce.

BBQ is low & slow. Low heat, for a long time and, generally not directly over the heat source. Grilling is direct heat applied to the meat.

It's just like anything else in life... take a chance, if you screw it up, try something else the next time.
posted by Hugh2d2 at 5:30 AM on June 12, 2008

Sweet Baby Ray's, KC Masterpiece, Red Hot and Blue, and definitely pile on McCormick's Montreal Rub.
posted by kldickson at 5:31 AM on June 12, 2008

For pork, we like to glaze it with the following mix. Play with the amounts to get something you like.

1/4 c bourbon
1/4 c honey
1/8 c spicy brown mustard
30 ish dashes of Tabasco or other similar hot sauce
posted by onhazier at 5:33 AM on June 12, 2008

I would be careful with the McCormick's Montreal Rub, unless you like REALLY salty meat. I recommend it, just not so sure I would "pile" it on....personally I use it quite sparingly.
posted by Grither at 5:34 AM on June 12, 2008

Find some Head Country sauce by whatever means necessary. It's the best bottled sauce I've ever tried. Go for the hot variety if you like it spicy. And their rub's not bad, either. I use it when I don't feel like making my own. and I never feel like making my own sauce if there's Head Country available.

Well, I take that back, kinda. I make a mustard sauce that I found in one of Dr. BBQ's cookbooks. I highly recommend that book, by the way.

If you're making your own rub, robocop has put you on the right path. AB's method is a good start. I find it a little too sweet, myself. I usually decrease the amount of sugar somewhat. And don't underestimate the power of a simple salt and pepper rub. Maybe a little garlic, too.

If you want to get completely lost in the world of BBQ, I highly recommend these sites. I've learned a lot from both of them. Have fun!
posted by Shohn at 5:42 AM on June 12, 2008

Gates BBQ sauce, from Gates BBQ in KC. They ship the sauce.
posted by COD at 5:45 AM on June 12, 2008

Johnny Harris barbecue sauce, from Savannah, GA. They also ship the sauce. (Yellow label is the original one...all of them are awesome.)
posted by phunniemee at 6:04 AM on June 12, 2008

Best answer: This is long, but you asked!

To answer your second question, grilling is generally means cooking meat quickly, directly over hot coals (often with the fire and meat exposed to the air), and barbeque means cooking meat slowly with low, radiant heat (with the meat in some kind of enclosed space, either in a cooker or in a pit). Smoking is barbeque with wood smoke introduced into the cooking chamber to flavor the meat.

Grilling is a quick-cook process, so tender, smaller cuts of meat are usually used. You can use any rub or marinade you like, though anything with too much sugar will burn if used from the start (and not in an appetizing grill-blackened way, more like in a lump-o-charcoal way). Save sweet sauces and marinades to put on in the last five minutes of grilling. Similarly, avoid oil-heavy marinades and sauces, since they'll cause flare-ups and burning when they drip onto the coals.

Barbeque is a long, slow cooking method done with larger, often cheaper, tougher cuts. The long application of low heat eventually breaks down the collagen in the muscles, resulting in that classic slippery barbeque texture. You'll want to dig a pit, buy a smoker, or get a large grill that can accommodate coals/wood at one end and the meat at the other - and you'll need to keep the temperature around 200-225 for hours, so a gas grill or easily-refillable charcoal grill is your best bet.

It's one of those weird American things that has a whole mythology built around it, with lots of regional variations. In general, there are a few main styles:

-Texas barbeque involves mostly beef, brisket and ribs, cooked with a mustardy, chili powdery dry rub. The sauce is tomato-based and spicy, not too sweet, and you put it on at the table.

-Kansas City barbeque is mostly distinguished by the sauce - tomato-based, thick, very sweet, spicy (think KC Masterpiece). Eat with a plain slice of white bread.

-Memphis barbeque is mainly pork, usually ribs or pulled butt. You can cook with sauce or without (wet or dry). I tend to think of Memphis sauce as being like a thinner KC sauce.

-Carolina barbeque is all about the pork - pulled pork butt (shoulder) and ribs, off the whole pit-roasted pig. The sauce is distinctive, too - thin, vinegar-based, peppery. There are variations within the region - some add tomato to the sauce, others mustard, others stick with a clearish sauce (my favorite).

You don't have to be a barbeque hardliner though. Generally, anything tastes good if you grill and serve it well, or smoke it long enough and pair it with a sauce that tastes good to you.
posted by peachfuzz at 6:14 AM on June 12, 2008 [5 favorites]

I am a big fan of Rudy's rubs and sauces. Certainly make your own, but these are a good standard against which to judge your own creations.
posted by caddis at 6:39 AM on June 12, 2008

BTW, Kansas City style barbeque is superior to all.
posted by Hugh2d2 at 6:44 AM on June 12, 2008

Much good information is here as well as here. The latter site is mainly about the Big Green Egg a pricey but very effective smoker and grill (and the only one that does both well in my experience). You don't mention what kind of grill you have, but techniques vary across different types. I like to make my own sauce rather than use storebought; the trick there is to cook it forever to allow it to thicken and the sugars in the sauce to carmelize some. I generally base it on one of several recipes on the two sites linked above but do a great deal of customizing.

A lot of good advice above, but peachfuzz pretty much summed up my view of barbecue. If you really want a feeling for the craft, I suggest this book, which was later made into a documentary. It only has a few recipes but great descriptions of different style of BBQ from aaround the country.
posted by TedW at 6:45 AM on June 12, 2008

BTW, Kansas City style barbeque is superior to all.

Here is where I should chime in "your favorite BBQ sucks", but I like it all so much that I just can't bring myself to do it.
posted by TedW at 6:47 AM on June 12, 2008

If it matters to you, it’s tough to find a bottled sauce that doesn’t have High Fructose Corn Syrup in it. Most of the major brands to, unfortunately. This stuff has no HFCS and is pretty good, though it's a bit thin for me. I think they now have a thicker variety.

Steve Rachlin's books are great. Decent recipes, lots of yummy pictures, and he really explains technique and tools. Also mentioned was Alton Brown, who should be given the medal of awesomeness for what he's done for the amateur cook.

It's all about heat control. A Weber Kettle grill can work well as a smoker, as long as you keep tabs on the heat. I removed the useless "cold / hot / too hot" thermometer on mine and installed a more accurate one with, get this, actual numbers on it. Learn to keep it going at a low temperature for a long time. I usually start with 1/2 a chimney of half charcoal / half wood chunks. I pour that into one side of the grill, put my ribs over the center of the grill and close the lid. Keep a spray bottle filled with apple cider nearby and give them a good spray every half our or so. Really soak 'em. Depending on the temperature they should be done in 3 - 4 hours.

Try different types of wood. Hickory and Misquite are both popular, and pretty much all you can find in most stores, but apple, cherry and maple work wonders on various types of meat.

Eat a lot of BBQ. Get to know what things you like. You'll never make good BBQ if you don't know what it's supposed to look and taste like.
posted by bondcliff at 6:49 AM on June 12, 2008

Read all you can. Eat all you can. Cook all you can. HOWEVER, above all, I am going to steal a rule from The Complete Joy of Homebrewing. RELAX! DON'T WORRY! Nothing will ruin barbecue faster than worrying!
posted by mkb at 7:07 AM on June 12, 2008

Before you get to sauces and rubs, it would be good to do a quick tour of regional BBQ theory to figure out what you'd like to make, because that will determine the sauce/rub stuff. Your basic regional styles are: North Carolina (hmm), Memphis (thieves), KC (liars), and Texas (freaks), all other states except South Carolina being poseurs. Columbia South Carolina deserves to be at the big table as the top style ever but plots and machinations keep it held down beneath its northern neighbor. Do you want to fight? I'll fight you. The variables between the primary styles are:

Meat: Pork (heaven) vs. beef (what?). Chicken is for little girls. Mutton is a failed commie plot that never made it out of Kentucky.
Cut: whole hog vs. ribs vs. shoulder butt vs. ham vs. other (sausage? Texas just tries to cause problems)
Slicing: sliced vs. chunked vs. pulled. Clear-thinking people rightly choose pulled pork.
Heat: lump coal vs briquettes vs wood. Gas is for cars.
Method: BBQing vs. hot or cold smoking
Device: pit vs. grill vs. smoker
Rub: Wet vs. dry vs. none
Sauce Timing: while cooking vs. only after cooking
Sauce styles: Eastern NC vinegar/pepper vs. Western NC tomato vs. SC mustard (handed down by the gods) vs. Kansas City thick/sweet vs. bastard tomato/mustard hybrids (served in hell and Georgia) vs. none
Sides: many, and fun to explore

The important thing is to be ready to defend the honor of your chosen style (South Carolina) against all infidels. Trash talking and bowing up should suffice, but be ready for fisticuffs if somebody refuses to be reasonable.

Eat barbecue wherever you go. But be sure to tell them why your favorite place is better.
posted by Askr at 7:16 AM on June 12, 2008 [4 favorites]

One amazingly simple item to throw into your repertory:

salt, pepper, olive oil

That's it. Use it on chicken or pork in particular. Not way too much oil on the meat, or you'll be dealing with flareups. This works great for me if I just want moist, browned "grilled chicken" without the skin, but with some fattiness.

This is in addition to other excellent suggestions in here.
posted by gimonca at 7:18 AM on June 12, 2008

I've started using a hotplate with a Dutch oven and woodchips inside the bottom of my Brinkman smoker. Just perfect. All the smoke I want as long as I want and a constant 200 degrees indefinitely.
posted by sourwookie at 7:34 AM on June 12, 2008

LOL @ Askr!!

Seriously though, if you're going to try your hand at real BBQ I'd suggest starting with pork butt (aka pork shoulder, Boston Butt, etc.). You almost can't mess it up. About the only thing you can do is under cook it. The longer you leave it on the more tender it gets. Once you're comfortable doing that, try some ribs, chicken, whatever. Once you're REALLY comfortable with all that, try brisket. Brisket is by far the toughest to get right. FWIW, I don't have a dog in the regional BBQ fight. I love it all!
posted by jluce50 at 7:50 AM on June 12, 2008

I'll let you find the different recipes yourself but my one bit of advice for rookies - don't marinade your meat in, or put the sweet sticky traditional BBQ sauces on the meat to early. High sugar or molasses content BBQ Sauces will burn on the grill they're much better used just at the very end of cooking.

Usually you want some sort of oil based marinade or a dry rub to start (you can marinade overnight in a dry rub). As you cook you usually want to baste with a vinegar or mustard based basting sauce, then finish with your ketchup or sweet BBQ sauce.
posted by bitdamaged at 7:51 AM on June 12, 2008

My personal method is the smoke/bbq/grill compromise - cook the meat directly over the coals, but close the lid and barely leave the vents open. It cooks fairly quickly, but you get a great smokey flavor. Wood chunks instead of charcoal can really enhance this. This works with anything you'd normally grill open-air: steaks, chicken, pork chops, even hamburgers/hotdogs/brats.
posted by owtytrof at 8:09 AM on June 12, 2008

I live in KC (BBQ heaven). Forget KC Masterpiece. The real deal is Arthur Bryant's, WoodYard, and Oklahoma Joe's. Any serious connoisseur should try all those sauces.
posted by keith0718 at 8:21 AM on June 12, 2008

I'm sure that COD is a very nice BBQ'er, as are all the others who are suggesting a variety of KC-based sauces. Forget every brand recommendation they give you, and remember one name: Maull's. They will mail a case to you. We go through about one case per BBQ season.

Mix a bit of Sri Racha and maybe a tbsp. of good soy sauce into the sauce if you really want to enjoy your ribs.

Remember: beef goes directly over slightly higher head, pork and chicken go off to the side over slightly lower heat. Keep the lid off your beef, unless you're smoking. Keep the lid on your pork or chicken.

The nicest thing about using real wood charcoal is the smell/flavor. The second nicest thing? When the fire gets weak, just put one or two nice-sized chunks directly on top to kick it up again.

That is all.
posted by deejay jaydee at 9:42 AM on June 12, 2008

Askr, while I agree with much of what you say, you are dead wrong on the mutton.
Mutton is common in African-American barbecue and is fucking divine. Not pork, but worthy of it's own throne in barbecue heaven.
posted by Seamus at 10:00 AM on June 12, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the informative responses.
posted by netbros at 7:55 PM on June 12, 2008

All of you are rank amateurs if you have never cooked a goat. The meat is very sweet, stringy and can be a little gamy (like mutton[which is what most meat sold as lamb here really is]); young goats are best as they get pretty greasy as the get older. If done right it is amazingly good and unique.
posted by TedW at 8:41 PM on June 15, 2008

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