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Rubs, marinades, and pastes for grilling and roasting

Learn the difference between rubs, marinades, and pastes and use them to cook delicious foods on the grill, in the smoker, or in the oven

For today's chef, the decision to grill, smoke, or roast is one of preference and convenience. Bottles, packets, and jars containing seasonings fill store shelves and cookbooks abound on how to grill the perfect steak or make the perfect roast.

Which product should you use? Rubs, marinades, or pastes? What types of meat benefit from each and how does the manner of cooking affect the meat?

A few tips follow about how to add flavorings to your food and keep them moist and juicy in the process.

First, a little about rubs:

These dry mixes can vary from 2-3 herbs and spices to more than 20 ingredients. Make your own recipe and control the balance of flavors. Some folks recommend including a sugar and salt balance - 2 parts sugar to 1 part salt -- while others eliminate one or both. It is really up to you. You should generally plan on about 3 tablespoons of rub per pound of food.

The purpose of a dry rub is to create a flavorful coating. Dry rubs generally work best on the more tender cuts of meat as well as chicken and fish. For smaller cuts, toss the rub and meat together in a plastic baggie to cover. You can apply a dry rub to ribs just 30 minutes before grilling or smoking, but for full, rich flavor, or add a few hours ahead of time.

Rubs will keep for about 3 months in a cool, dark place.

About pastes:

Pastes are a thick consistency and start with a rub recipe. For added zest, use fresh herbs instead of dried, but use the entire batch with a day or so. Add wet ingredients such as oil, juice, Worcestershire, soy sauce, and vinegar to achieve the paste texture. For each pound of food, make about ¼ cup of paste.

Give food a generous and vigorous rub when using a paste. Apply at least one hour before cooking and, preferably, longer. Pastes work well when you are broiling or braising - quick cooking keeps the meat from charring and drying out. Do not trim the fat from meats before adding paste. That will help keep the insides moist. You can do the trimming after the food is cooked.

About marinades:

Marinades are generally milder and may contain bits of food such as garlic and onion. Marinades contain more liquid than pastes. They work best on tough cuts as the liquids combined with herbs and spices help break down fibrous meats. One cup of marinade should be enough for one pound of food. The longer food marinates, the stronger the flavor becomes. Many foods should only marinate for 2-4 hours while others taste great with an overnight soak.

You can grill or oven cook with marinades. Before adding marinade to any meat, chicken, or fish, be sure to reserve some in a separate container for basting. If in doubt about bacteria growth in the marinade, just bring it to a boil and then use.

Many ethnic recipes require overnight marinating.

A few extra tips:
-Do not marinate food in metal pans or bowls; they may give off a metallic taste.
-If you are not using plastic bags to marinate, be sure to cover the bowl or pan with plastic wrap to help the marinade do its job.
-Let foods come to room temperature for about 30 minutes to ensure even cooking throughout.
-Eliminate sugar from grilled foods; it tends to burn at higher temperatures, but will do fine if barbecued over indirect heat.

Keep these basic ingredients in your pantry and refrigerator and you will always be prepared to put together a basic rub, paste, or marinade:

Sugar (brown)
Chili powder
Mustard (any type)
Red wine vinegar
Olive oil

Any type of food - beef, pork, fish, poultry, vegetables - will be enhanced with a little seasoning before going on the fire or in the oven. Try mixing and matching ingredients and you will become a master of rubs, pastes, and marinades.


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