For those of you who live in regions that have grill season year-round, you are culinarily blessed! Grill season is upon us here in the mid-west. Breaking out the grill for the first meal of spring is practically a holiday.
First things first, to address the age old BBQ debate: dry rub v/s sauce!??! Well, for me, the answer is BOTH. And, actually there is a step prior to that: marinating. Yes, high quality meat should have a wonderful flavor in itself. However, this blog is about enhancing flavors with herbs and spices.
As I shared in my whiskey marinade post (Whiskey Marinade), a marinade is made by combining an oil, an acid and spices. Historically, people used marinades to both tenderize and flavor meat. More recently, however, it has been discovered that marinades don’t really have an effect on how tender the meat is. The cut and quality of the meat and how it is cooked determines how tender it will be. In fact, if certain meats are left in a marinade too long the tissue will break down and the meat will be grainy. Even after soaking several hours, marinades only soak into the outer layers of the meat, not clear through, so it is important that you use a high quality piece of meat to really get the best flavor. For a piece of meat such as the bone-in and skin-on chicken thighs I grilled today, I pierce the skin in several places to help ensure the marinade is absorbed.
You can use any combination of your favorite oil, acid and spices to make your marinade. I prefer a high quality olive oil, and am able to purchase them at a local gourmet olive oil and vinegar shop (www.theolivetwist.com ). The acid can be a vinegar, wine, liquor or even some juices. Some of my favorites are balsamic vinegar, a Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon, whiskey, tequila or lemon/lime juice. Which I use, depends on the type of meat and the flavor I’m trying to achieve. For example, for jerk chicken, I would use olive oil, lime juice, rum or tequila and Caribbean style spices such as all spice, cinnamon, cloves, garlic, nutmeg, habanaro chilies, and thyme. More often than not, my marinades are a combination of what I have on hand.
Next comes the rub. Before putting the meat on the grill, I rub it with a spice mixture. There are a variety of pre-mixed rubs available in many flavors, and if you have a couple that are favorites you could stock those in your spice cabinet. Ground spices, when stored properly, can retain flavor about a year. Certainly, fresh spices have a more potent flavor. When you purchase spices from a grocery store, you have no way of knowing how long it has been sitting. Purchase spices in smaller amounts, about what you think you can use in three months or so. When possible, purchase whole spices and grind them yourself. Store spices in airtight containers in a cool, dry place. Never store above a heat source or in the light because the color will fade and the quality will decline. You can easily concoct your own rub blend if you know which spices go well together and with what types of meat or vegetables. Here is a basic quick reference (this is only a partial list):
Finally, once the meat has grilled to near perfection, it’s time to add the sauce! Here is a quick and easy BBQ sauce recipe adapted from my mom’s recipe that has been a favorite of our family and friends for years. Now, here’s a problem…I have never measured the ingredients in this recipe, ever! It has always been an add and taste kind of thing, and when we make it, we make a lot! So, I am going to give you a recipe for about 4 cups of sauce and you can adapt to your taste and the amount you need.
1 t each spice: peppercorn, garlic salt, onion powderWhisk together. Store in a container in the refrigerator until needed.
After marinading for a couple of hours, place the meat on a baking sheet and rub with spice mixture. Grill until just under desired doneness. Brush sauce on meat and grill a couple more minutes until done. Toss your choice of vegetable in the same spices you put in your rub and grill in a grill pan. Using the same spices ties all the flavors of the meal together.
Experiment with new mixtures each time you grill. Grill season is just beginning and the combinations are endless!