Tue Jun 19, 2007
Ok, let's talk rub. Yes, I know that most people will have to take your head upon divulging the secrets of their master rub onto your ears, but I'm hear to state a proclamation, you don't need them or their rub. What I've found after cooking a lot of barbecue at home is that, while the rub is extremely important, there's too much fussing over a little bit of secret spice that ends up being almost indiscernible in the end, unless you're tasting 2 different ribs, with 2 different rubs, at the same time. So stop sweating the small things in the rub and start thinking of the bigger picture if you really want your barbecue to shine.
I'm in no way taking any importance away from the rub, I'm actually professing the opposite, that the rub is so important that you want to make sure you have the best ingredients as a foundation, and this, I think, makes all the difference.
Let's start with a spice grinder. If you don't have one, I implore you to finish reading this paragraph, go out and buy one, and then come back to finish. In the retail market world you might have a hard time finding a "spice grinder," since they tend to be branded as "coffee grinders," but seeing as I don't drink coffee, I have no use for that tool, so it's just a spice grinder to me (word of caution: do not use the same grinder for spices and coffee). I cannot recommend the Kitchen Aid model enough. It has everything you need in a spice grinder: large detachable bowl, powerful motor, and it comes in names like "Onyx Black" and "Empire Red." You have your spice grinder now? Good, I can continue.
One of the staples in a rub is chili powder, and I find the biggest benefit in making my own over any other ingredient. If you're buying the preground chili powder found in the spice aisle, you're just throwing your hard earned cash away. That stuff is dull and old, having little taste of the chiles I've come to know and love. Getting around this is easy, just start with buying whole, dried chiles and skip the powder. I use a mix of 3 different types of chiles; the mild red New Mexicans or Californians, the slightly sweet ancho, and some of those little arbols for heat. 3 bags of chiles costs me around $5, and makes much, much more chili powder than what comes in those pricey little spice shakers...just in case I haven't convinced you yet.
Now it's time to make the most of those chiles. To do this, you have to roast them to bring out as much flavor as possible. I accomplish this by throwing the chiles on a baking sheet and into a 350 degree oven. You have to watch them closely, as they'll all be ready at different times and you really don't want to burn them, otherwise your chili powder, rub, and barbecue will all have that burnt flavor. The arbols are done first and quick, just a minute or two, followed by the New Mexicans, around 5 minutes (these tend the burn the fastest). The anchos take the longest and usually puff up when done, easily telling you they're ready. Even though I've given times, it's still best to go by your nose. There's a point where the fragrance of the peppers are the strongest (and boy do they make your kitchen smell great), which is also right before they start to burn, but you'll recognize the smell after doing this a few times.
After the chiles are done roasting, let them sit until they cool down and harden up. They'll grind best if the skin just cracks, instead of tears, when you start to rip them apart. You want to start by ripping off the top and emptying out the seeds inside. Then, over the nice, large grinder bowl, you can just crack the chiles in your fist. It helps to do this part while wearing gloves...I've done this one too many times bare handed, always leading to scorching eyes later in the day. I keep adding the chiles into the grinder one or two at time, then grind until they're a fine powder.
So now we have a bowl of pure chile gold. This mixture is great for making soups and sauces, but we're making barbecue, and although this is technically chili powder, it's not the chili powder that you'll find in most recipes out there. That chili powder refers to what you'd get in the store, which mixes in some other flavors, mostly cumin and garlic along with a bit of oregano. So our pure chili powder has to be tainted a bit, but it's all in the name of great barbecue.
Cumin is the other ingredient I will never buy preground. It's not that the store bought cumin isn't good, it's way more passable than chili powder, but toasting cumin gives it a bolder flavor that can't be bought. So I buy cumin seeds, roast them in a cast iron skillet over medium heat until fragrant, and then into the spice grinder. To finish the chili powder, just add in the cumin, garlic powder, oregano, and some paprika.
Now you have a chili powder that requires little of your time (about 20 min), is cheaper, and far superior than anything that you'll find in a store. Armed with this, I assure you that your rubs will take on a richer, more impressive flavor. So when cooking at home, I say forget trying to acquire some super secret recipe and stop messing with a little of this and that for a minute and give the base of your rub the attention it deserves, your efforts will be well rewarded.
AB's Chili Powder
Adapted from Alton Brown
3 ancho chiles
3 new mexican or californian chiles
3 dried arbol chiles
2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried mexican oregano
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Place chiles on a baking sheet and into a 350 degree oven. When fragrant, remove chiles and allow to cool. Seed chiles and break into small pieces into the bowl of a spice grinder. Grind chiles into a fine powder and move into an airtight container.
Place cumin seeds in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Toast until fragrant, and then pour into the bowl of a spice grinder. Grind cumin into a fine powder and move into the container with the chili powder.
Add the garlic powder, oregano, and paprika with the chili powder and gralic, cover, and shake to combine. Store for up to 6 months.
From Peace, Love, and Barbecue
1/2 cup paprika
1/4 cup kosher salt, finely ground
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons mustard powder
1/4 cup chili powder
1/4 cup ground cumin
2 tablespoons black pepper
1/4 cup granulated garlic
2 tablespoons cayenne
Mix all ingredients and store in an airtight container.