A word on rubs and mops Pt. 1

I want to open the discussion of rubs and mops. Just to clarify, rubs are generally applied to food before the cooking process and mops are applied during and after the cooking process. Rubs can be either dry or wet and can be applied right before cooking or days prior to cooking the food. Mops are generally wet and thin and are a vehicle to bring moisture and additional flavor to the food during the cooking process. They can then be combined with the rubs afterward with some added drippings to create an accompanying dipping or finishing sauce.

When we think of rubs, we generally think about a dry spice mix that we apply to meat before cooking. I feel rubs are much more than that. Rubs can be meat tenderizers as well as flavor enhancers. They also contribute to that lovely outer crust we call the “bark.” Rubs can be wet or dry or a combination of both. They can be applied directly to the meat or the meat can be pre-treated prior to rubbing it down so it can absorb more of the rubs flavor. There are some commercial rubs available that are labeled “all purpose” rubs. They boast to be great for fish, vegetables, pork, chicken, beef, venison, crow, etc…. That would be great but everything would taste the same.

I think about the type of food I am preparing and the cultural flavor profile I am trying to achieve when making a rub. If I am making salmon, I wouldn’t use a rib rub for it and vise versa. Salmon pairs well with dill and garlic, but is considerably lean, so moisture is an issue. For a garlic dill salmon rub, I would use very little salt. The fish will expel moisture as it cooks and the texture will remain flaky while the taste of the rub compliments the fish nicely. So a simple salmon rub looks like this:

Rub for 2 salmon fillets with skin on ; 8 – 10 lbs. total weight

  • 3 Tbsp granulated garlic or garlic powder (fine is okay)
  • 4 Tbsp dill (fresh or dry)
  • 2 tsp white pepper (black is fine)
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • zest from 1 lemon

Combine all ingredients in a bowl with a wire whisk at least 12 hours before use.

Mop for salmon

  • 1 cup apple juice
  • zest and juice from 2 lemons
  • 2 Tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 garlic clove
  • pinch S&P

Combine all the ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes, cool, strain, put in a spray bottle set to mist.

So the garlic and dill are the stars while the salt and pepper help bring the flavors to the front. I would rub the salmon about 1/2 hour before smoking but no longer than 1 1/2 hrs. The fish needs to be at room temperature when hitting the grate, skin side down, and smoke it  at 190 degrees F with a mild wood like cherry or apple for about 1 hour. This is where the mop comes into play. every fifteen minutes or so, mist the salmon with the mop. when you pull the salmon, let it rest for at least 20 minutes before slicing.

Salmon and other types of seafood benefit from a subtle approach when it comes to infusing flavors. They cook fast and people like the flavor of the flesh so that must shine through. Take bolder meats like pork and beef, they love to be a vehicle for added flavors and there are plenty of rubs that will testify to it. Commercial BBQ sauces are also a testimony to this fact. They come in an endless combination of flavors and almost every one boasts that it is the best one for beef, pork, and chicken. Some are very well made and time tested winners, but most are just high fructose corn syrup with added flavorings to make a quick buck. Okay, a little rant there, hehe.

No “one rub fits all.” Pork and Brisket ready to hit the grates. Notice the difference in color that each rub creates on the uncooked meats. This will also reflect on the finished product.

Pork rubs are bold, loud and sweet. These rubs bring flavor, color, and texture to the meat through the use of strong spices and sugars. Typical pork rubs are red in color from the use of peppers. Chili, Paprika, and Cheyenne peppers are  the most common ones used in these rubs. The heat from these are typically counteracted with sugar. Brown, white, and raw sugars are used most often, but there are plenty of natural sugars at your disposal, so you can get creative here. Sugar also contributes to the bark through caramelrubs1ization and this also helps lock in the moisture of the meat throughout the cooking process. There are a wide variety of additional flavors to round out this rub like garlic, cumin, onion, etc…. This is a fatty cut of meat and takes a long time to cook so the use of salt is more forgiving and won’t dry it out. If this was loin or tenderloin, I would reduce the amount to a pinch of salt.

Basic pork rub for pulled pork does 10 lb. pork shoulder boston butt bone in:

  • 1 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
  • 3/4 cup paprika (Hungarian hot is nice)
  • 3 Tbsp salt (kosher or sea salt)
  • 2 Tbsp. garlic powder
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1 Tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp cumin

Combine all ingredients in a bowl with a whisk and break up any lumps at least 2 to 3 days prior to use. If to be used within 24 hours put a double boiler on low and break up the sugar with your fingers while it heats up until it is very hot to the touch. Let cool and break up any lumps before storing in the refrigerator.

Pork Mop

  • 2 cups of apple cider or juice
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • remaining rub

Combine all ingredients in a pot ans simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool and add to sprayer set to mist.

I find it beneficial to pre treat pork shoulder before rubbing. I wash it down with cold water then liberally soak it with cider vinegar for about 5 minutes. Dry it, don’t rinse, with paper towels and apply a liberal amount of rub to all sides. When applying the rub, massage it into the meat firmly. while you rub it in, it will go from a grainy texture to a smooth red paste. This is what you want, keep it up until the whole piece is well rubbed. Reserve the remaining rub for the mop. This will ride the smoker for roughly ten hours at 200 degrees F until the temp is at 175 degrees and the blade bone comes free with little effort. Mop every hour to keep the meat glistening.

Stay posted for part 2 where I will cover chicken and beef.


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