On his way to becoming a champion pitmaster, Chris Lilly didn’t just develop a spice rub; he developed a system. It’s a four-step process you can adapt to any meat and any taste. It’s like a BBQ crib sheet! You’re sure to pass the class.
Step 1: Salt and Sugar
Sweet and salty are the basic flavors. Start with a one-to-one ratio and adjust according to the kind of meat you’re cooking. A large cut that’s going to cook for hours will retain more moisture if you up the salt. (A high-sugar rub can end up burning if you cook it too long.) Lilly uses a 3:2 (salt:sugar) ratio for pork butt or shoulder and 1:1 for ribs. For beef, 4:1 or even no sugar. You can also use different kinds of salt (onion, garlic or celery) and sugar (brown or turbinado).
Step 2: Heat
Different peppers add different kinds of heat to your base. Crushed red pepper hits you right away, black pepper is smoother, and white pepper is like an afterburner. Lilly often combines all three. The key is in the quantity. If you’re starting with a cup of sugar-salt base, try 1/2 teaspoon of each kind of pepper and move up from there.
Step 3: Transition
Sugar, salt and heat work best when they work together, and chili powder and paprika blend those distinct flavors into a more complex whole. “They also add color,” says Lilly, “something you shouldn’t underestimate.” Use 1/4 to 1/3 cup of either spice per cup of salt-sugar base.
Step 4: Signature Spice
Here’s where you make it your own. Use a flavor you love that complements the meat you’re cooking. For lamb, Lilly likes rosemary and garlic. Pork works well with cumin and coriander. For chicken, try garlic and celery seed with a little thyme. Lots of herbs work with fish; try oregano, basil or thyme. Beef can stand up to onion and garlic powders, turmeric, oregano and coriander. Quantity-wise, try 1 teaspoon for spices and a little more for herbs.