We still have quite a bit of summer weather left, and we have Labor Day coming up, so I thought that I reprint my totally awesome and a bit complicated dry rub recipe and pork butt technique for great “Memphis-style” pulled pork (complete with bits of black bark and a touch of heat). And now, to the original post:
I don’t give this out to just anyone.
First of all, this dry rub is perfect for pulled pork (Boston Butt or shoulder, or even whole pig), but it’s also good on pork tenderloin, ribs and chicken. You can even do a blackened steak with this and it’s good for brisket as well. Due to the high sugar content, it’s going to give you a black bark (the crunchy outside of the meat). But don’t worry – it might look “burned” but it will add to the flavor. In fact, a black bark is the key to an authentic Memphis BBQ.
If you are doing a Boston Butt or shoulder, here’s a secret – rub the meat with palm sugar first. Palm sugar is an ingredient used in Thai and Vietnamese cooking. Don’t use dried palm sugar, use the type in a jar that has a coating of oil over it, like this:
Wash your hands really well and then spoon some out and put it in your hand. Make sure you get some of the oil on it as well. The palm sugar itself will be a little hard and grainy, but it will start to melt from the heat of your hand and the oil. Give the pork a good coating. If you don’t have any palm sugar (this is something you should have in your pantry at all times), molasses, Karo, maple syrup (the real thing, not fake pancake syrup) or a light coat of honey will do. Actually, you don’t even have to use a carrier because the moistness of the meat will hold the rub, but a carrier will allow you to really pack the rub on and the thicker the rub, the better bark you will get.
Then coat the whole meat with the rub, making sure to get it good and covered, top, bottom and sides. The heavier you can coat it, the thicker and crunchier the bark will be. If you don’t want a lot of bark, then an light, even coat will do.
And now for the rub:
There are no quantities given. This is one of those things that you’ll eyeball. However, make sure you make brown sugar is the biggest ingredient. It forms the base of the rub. I’m going to list the ingredients in rough order of how much you’ll use. Feel free to tinker with it. As a guideline, if you use a cup of brown sugar, you’ll be adding a few tablespoons of the other ingredients, with the possible exception of chili powder, cumin and paprika. You want to be generous with those. they are the main flavoring and coloring ingredients.
You’ll start with brown sugar (you can use either light or dark or a combination of the two), cumin, chili powder and paprika (you’ll want to have liberal amounts of the spices – don’t be shy – you can always add more sugar if you go overboard). The cumin is best if you can get whole cumin seeds and toast them briefly in a hot skillet and then grind them up in a spice mill or coffee grinder that you have reserved for spices). Then you’ll add smaller amounts of dry mustard (also better if you can toast whole mustard seeds and grind them up), onion powder, freshly ground sea or kosher salt and freshly cracked peppercorn. Then you’ll take some dried oregano and dried basil and add them, making sure that you rub them between your fingers to break them up into a powder. You’ll add turmeric (be generous because this helps with the color). Then you add coriander. As with the cumin and mustard seeds, best to toast them and grind them – in fact, you can do them at the same time and grind them together. But if you can’t do that, dried coriander is fine. Then add dried thyme. If you can find the sweet thyme sold in bags for Middle Eastern cooking, you should use it. I like to add it without grinding it because it gives a little extra texture to the rub.
Make sure you mix it all very well. This helps dry out the brown sugar a little and gets all of the ingredients well incorporated. At this point, it should look brick red. If it’s too orange from the tumeric, add more chili powder. It should be grainy without any clumps. You might want to let it sit out for a day so that the brown sugar dries completely and then remix it, although this isn’t really necessary.
At this point, I like to take some dried chiles and grind them in the coffee grinder that I have dedicated for spices (you should definitely have one of these around the house, but never use a coffee grinder that you use for coffee). I like to add one chipotle, one habanero, two or three Thai bird peppers and a couple of Japanese chiles. You’ll get a few tablespoons which you’ll set aside. CAUTION: don’t breathe this powder or get it in your eyes. If you get any on your hands, wash them immediately before touching any part of your body. This is very hot. Then I like to break up an ancho chile pepper and a cascabel and grind them, which I add to the reserved ground chile. I then incorporate them into the rub. If you can’t stand spicy food, you can leave these out, or just do ancho chile and cascabel, which aren’t very hot, but keep in mind that if you’re doing pulled pork, the heat from the chiles is going to be mitigated by the long cooking time. Also, you’re free to substitute your favorite dried peppers.
Finally, the secret ingredient. No, I’m not going to post it publically. If you give me your email address in the comment section and ask me for it, I’ll send it to you. The rub will be just fine without it, but the secret ingredient sets it apart from other more conventional rubs.
You’ll want to end up with a very grainy, brick red, slightly orangy rub. You can play around with the proportions and there are other things such as adobo or lemon salt that you can add if you want. Feel free to experiment. If you want to avoid a black bark and get the kind of mahogony color that you see from other styles of BBQ or from the pros, leave out the brown sugar and don’t rub it with any sugar product at all. Just make the rub without sugar and put a light coat of it directly on the meat. It will stick due to the moisture that’s already there.
This rub is good for beefing up commercial BBQ sauces as well. Add a little at a time to taste. It’s also good for adding to apple juice and vinegar as a mop. When you mop a butt or a shoulder during cooking, you build up the bark and add to the depthness of flavor.
Enjoy the rub and I’ll be interested in any comments from users.
This is a stock picture of a rub. I like to make sure that I don’t have any clumps of brown sugar or big flakes of spices, except for the thyme that I get from the Middle Eastern market. I make sure that I pulverize any oregano and basil leaves into a powder by rubbing it between my fingers. However, this is close to the color that you want. Just make sure that you mix it up better so that you get very fine granules.
And this is the result:
Doesn’t that just make your mouth water? My chef at work gives this two thumbs up. and check out that awesome smoke ring!
Don’t forget – if you want the “secret ingredient”, then leave your email in the comments section and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. In the original post, I posted this unsolicited comment from someone who requested the secret ingredient:
“I used my brine and your rub on a pork shoulder, and everyone agreed it was the best BBQ they had eaten. So good most of us omitted BBQ sauce! Had no problem following your instructions, since I tend to improvise recipes quite a bit, anyway. Can’t believe what the :special ingredient: added to the flavor! Thanks so much for going to the effort to share such detailed instructions”.
I also asked him his opinion about using palm sugar:
“The use of any sugar makes for a crustier bark, since sugar burns at a low temperature. Therefore I generally avoid sugar until the meat is almost finished. This rub did not burn excessively and gave a bark that the entire group enjoyed. I will certainly use the palm sugar again when I prepare this rub”.
If you read this, you might think that the rub doesn’t “burn”. Well, actually it caramelizes to a black color so don’t be fooled – it *will* burn in a sense.
BUT – and this is a big BUT – it takes a long time for it to blacken. It will actually stay fairly mahagony colored until at least the last 2/3rd of the cooking time. I’m always hopeful that it will retain that color but it always turns black, at least for me. But, trust me – it won’t taste “burned”.
I hope that everyone tries this out, even if you don’t use the secret ingredient. You won’t be disappointed, especially if you like Memphis-style BBQ. I suspect that even aficionados of other regional styles will get into it as well.