BBQ Sauces, Rubs and Marinades For Dummies
Boost the flavor of your barbecued meats by knowing how to use sauces, rubs, and marinades. But before you barbecue (or BBQ), familiarize yourself with safety tips to avoid accidents and know how to buy the most flavorful meat for your meal. And if you're new to barbecuing, smoking, or grilling, avoid some common rookie mistakes that can ruin your best efforts.
The Difference between BBQ Rubs, Marinades, and Sauces
Whether you call it barbecue, BBQ, or just 'cue, enhance the flavor of your oh-so-tender meats by mixing up a flavor-packed marinade, rub, or sauce. Although each seasoning method is used differently, they all give zing to any meat you grill or barbecue.
Seasoning with dry rubs
A rub is a dry marinade that you sprinkle or pat onto meat before you cook it. Rubs can contain just about anything, and they usually include some salt and sugar. You leave them on for a few minutes before you cook or as long as overnight. As meat cooks, the heat pulls open its pores, and the flavors of the rub seep right in.
Rubs help produce bark, a crisp and flavorful crust that also helps hold in meat's moisture.
Marinating: The power and the glory
Marinade, a light liquid that you soak meat in before you cook it, does as much good for the texture of meat as it does for the flavor. Most marinades are made up of an acid (vinegar, lemon juice, or some such) and an oil. The acid helps break down the fibers to tenderize the meat, and oil helps hold the acid against the meat so it can do the most good. The rest is flavor — whatever combination of seasonings you like.
Marinades tend to work fast, propelling a lot of flavor and good tenderizing effect into meat. They can be vehicles for intense tastes or subtle ones.
The big finish: Sauces
You can call pretty much anything liquid a sauce, and depending on who or where you are, your definition of true barbecue sauce may be very different. Different kinds of sauces are appropriate at different stages of the cooking process. You don't put a sugary sauce on food before it has been cooked through, for example, because the sugar burns easily.
BBQ Safety while You Smoke or Grill
Safety is paramount whenever you barbecue. Every year a surprising number of good times around the barbecue grill end up as scary times because of accidental burns or fires. Follow these tips for keeping your cooking on track.
Keep your grill, smoker, or chimney starter at least 10 feet away from your house, trees, and anything else that may catch fire.
Avoid loose-fitting clothing. You don't need to wear tight shirts and pants, but loose clothing is much more likely to catch fire than fitted clothing.
Keep a fire extinguisher within reach, or have a hose at the ready for addressing any accidental or out-of-control fires.
If you plan to cook on a wooden deck, thoroughly wet down the area before you start.
Make sure the young'uns keep their distance. Delineate the "no-kid zone" by making a chalk line about a 10-foot radius from the grill or smoker.
Don't use lighter fluid. Lighter fluid isn't ideal for barbecue flavor in the first place, and it's downright dangerous if you try to add it to already hot charcoal. It can catch fire, and that fire leads right back to the bottle in your hands.
Don't improvise lighter fluid. The stuff is nasty to begin with, but trying another flammable in its place when you're in a pinch is incredibly dangerous.
Be careful with alcohol. Yes, alcohol and outside cooking are no strangers — in many eyes, they're inseparable — but that delicious whiskey you're sipping is flammable. Keep that in mind.
*Be good to your grates. Clean grates don't catch fire. Gunked-up, grease-ified grates do.
BBQ Tips on Buying Meat for Grilling or Smoking
When you're buying meat for the barbecue, remember that if you start with good raw material then you're more likely to get a great finished product. Here are some tips for choosing wisely at the butcher counter:
More fat means more flavor. A well-marbled piece of meat is going to fare better on your grill or smoker than a leaner cut. And, especially for slow cooking, the "luxury cuts" like filet are exactly wrong. You want the cuts that come from the working areas of the animal and have more fat stores.
Fresher is better. Poke the meat you're considering (if it's wrapped, that is). You want it to feel firm and to bounce back after you move your finger away. If it doesn't, it's probably been on the shelf for too long.
Liquid is a bad sign. The red juices you see pooling in a package of meat mean that the meat got too warm. It won't taste as good or be as tender as meat that has been properly refrigerated.
Five Rookie Mistakes to Avoid when Barbecuing
Mistakes are bound to happen as you explore barbecue cooking, but they are a part of the BBQ adventure. Here are five rookie mistakes to avoid:
Being in a hurry. If you want fast, cook a grilled cheese. If you want barbecue, chill out. Slow is the essence of barbecue. Cooking at low temperatures for a goodly amount of time is what makes barbecue barbecue and makes the meat melt in your mouth.
Before you cook, put some thought into how much time you're going to need, how you want to season or sauce your product, and the sides you want to serve with it. Good planning makes you less likely to get distracted when your meat needs you most.
Taking meat from fridge to fire. Putting meat onto the grate right from the refrigerator adds a lot of cold air to your smoker, and that's likely to lead to condensation of creosote from the charcoal. The creosote floats up via the smoke and onto your meat, adding an undesirable flavor and texture. So let your meat sit at room temperature for about an hour before cooking. Most recipes count on your doing so and advise cooking times that are based on the meat starting at about room temperature.
Letting meat rest at room temperature for more than an hour is a bad idea. When it gets too warm, it also becomes susceptible to bacteria.
Adding sauce too early. Two mainstays of barbecue sauces, sugar and tomatoes, have low heat tolerance and cook faster than meat. Apply these types of sauces too early and you'll end up with a burnt, black, crackling coating before the meat is done. So wait until the meat is almost finished cooking before you add a sweet sauce with tomatoes. A minute or two on each side of the meat over a low to moderate flame is all the time the sauce needs to add taste and texture.
Poking holes into the meat. Don't use a fork to move the meat. You want to keep the precious juices inside the meat, so use tongs. Stab it, and you provide a sure route for the juices to ooze out, taking with them any hope you had for great barbecue.
Forgetting rest time: Slice into meat before giving it a chance to rest, and you lose almost half the juices. Meat juices go where the heat is lowest, so give them a chance at your cutting board and they run for it. Allow the meat to rest after you take it off the heat: The juices will be reabsorbed by the proteins that set them free in the first place. Cut into a well-rested piece of meat, and you find tender juiciness rather than a puddle around your desiccated pork chop.