Memphis barbecue is famous the world over, popularized by eateries like Cozy Corner, Paynes, and the Bar-b-Q Shop.
Of all the dishes you’ll find from this neck of the woods, perhaps the best known and most loved are Memphis dry ribs. Where pitmasters from elsewhere in the United States often slather BBQ ribs in sauce, Memphis grill artists use little more than a simple blend of spices, allowing the smoked meat to take center stage.
How do BBQ rubs end up making meat so flavorful, then?
Well, this is due to the reaction between the rub and the surface of the meat. The crust that forms is called bark.
While today’s recipe yields a dry rub, if you prefer your pork wet – served with sauce – then all you do is season your meat with the rub before cooking and then brush it lightly in a sauce at the tail-end of the smoking process.
The Memphis rub recipe we outline today has no salt. Salt penetrates deeply into meat, so you should salt your meat in advance, ideally overnight. Use ½ teaspoon of kosher salt for every pound of meat. This way, the salt will take full effect and you can sidestep adding salt to your rub.
Herbs and spices contain larger molecules, and these rarely go beyond the cracks and pores in the surface of meat. In this way, herbs and spices are simply a surface treatment. Since herbs and spices do not penetrate the meat in the same way as salt, you will achieve little from applying these in advance.
The process of applying salt in advance of cooking is a technique known as dry brining. Salt thick cuts the day before you cook them, and with thinner cuts apply the salt an hour or two before cooking.
Some people apply rub directly to meat before gently massaging it in. Other grill artists prefer first applying a mustard base to serve as a glue. If you add some water, oil, or alcohol, you’ll turn it into a wet rub. Alternatively, you can pat your meat with some water and then sprinkle the dry seasoning all over the top.
Before we show you to how to make a great Memphis rub, a few words on what constitutes a great rub in general.
What Makes a Great Rub?
You might look at some of the ingredients in a rub and feel they are unnecessary, or even that you don’t like them.
The best rub, though, will contain the following elements all working in harmony to create something much greater than the sum of its parts.
- Sugar: Sweetness in a rub not only helps to enhance flavor, but it also helps with the formation of a crust and with browning
- Savory: Savory flavors are the result of amino acids called glutamates. In rubs, savory flavors come from garlic, green herbs, and some spices and flavorings
- Herbs and spices: By no means all herbs and spices are suitable for rubs. Paprika is a common favorite, mainly for the color it imparts
- Spiciness: If you are making a rub for the whole family and guests, you should go easy in the pepper, unless you’re confident everyone loves spiciness as much as you. Black pepper is a staple in rubs, and hot ground peppers like chipotle and cayenne also work well. Others spicy flavors include mustard powder, horseradish, and ginger
OK, now you have the basics of rubs dialed in, how do you go about making a Memphis rub for your next rack of ribs?
What You Need to Make a Memphis Rub
First, you’ll need to assemble the following ingredients:
- Brown sugar (3/4 cup)
- White sugar (3/4 cup)
- American paprika (1/2 cup)
- Garlic powder (1/2 cup)
- Ground black pepper (2 tablespoons)
- Onion powder (2 tablespoons)
- Ground ginger powder (2 tablespoons)
- Rosemary powder (2 teaspoons)
How to Make a Memphis Rub
Here’s all you need to do to whip up a lip-smacking Memphis rub:
- Mix all of your ingredients thoroughly in a large bowl. If you find the sugar is lumpy, break the lumps down by hand or using a fork
- Remember: you can store your rub in an airtight jar for months on end
- Wet the surface of your meat and sprinkle your rub sparingly all over. Less is more here. All you’re looking for is enough rub to color the meat
Note: To avoid contaminating your rub with any meat juices, you should portion out the amount you need before you start, and then reseal the bottle for future use. Also, use one hand to sprinkle the rub onto the meat and the other hand to rub it in. This will protect you against cross-contamination.
To make Memphis style ribs without a sauce, all you need, then, is enough rub to encourage the formation of a crunchy crust. This will probably work out to around 2 tablespoons of rub for a full slab of ribs.
With any luck, you’ll now feel confident of making a Memphis rub like a pro, even if you’re a first-timer.
All that remains is to choose which type of grill or smoker makes the best fit for you. For many purists, there’s no substitute for a charcoal grill, but if you’re making ribs we would strongly recommend exploring the best smokers so you can cook those ribs low and slow Memphis style.
We have a very busy content calendar for the next few months here at Hempen Hill BBQ. As well as plenty of informative grilling guides, we’ll also help you to choose the best grilling gear for your needs based on impartial reviews.
Take a second to bookmark our blog as you go and make sure you pop back very soon. We update our content daily, so don’t miss out!