Spice rub is any mixture of ground spices that is made for the purpose of being rubbed on raw food before the food is cooked. The spice rub forms a coating on the food. The food can marinated in the spice rub for some time for the flavors to incorporate into the food or it can be cooked immediately after it is coated in the rub. The spice rub can be left on or partially removed before cooking. The spices are usually coarsely ground. In addition to spices, salt and sugar may be added to the rub, the salt for flavor and the sugar for caramelization. Different salts are sometimes used for their unique qualities, such as Himalayan pink salt.
Native Americans cooked some of the earliest barbecue, placing meats on a wooden rack elevated over flames and gently smoking it for an extended period of time. Colonists shaped the food’s development by adding sauces and marinades that they had enjoyed in Europe, such as the German taste for mustard that took root in South Carolina. During the pre–Civil War period, pig butchering led to neighborhood–wide celebrations, the first instances of modern barbecue get-togethers.
Midwesterners and Southerners may still spar over the best flavors for sauces and rubs, but everyone can agree that the preparation consists of cooking meat by way of prolonged exposure to smoking wood — though what kind of wood is up for debate. Meat, rub, sauce, wood: varied arrangements of the barbecue quartet create the nuances that separate one rack from another. And while regional variations still exhibit some deeply rooted flavor traditions, today’s chefs aren’t afraid to experiment with tastes and technique.