One of the most popular and easy ways to add flavor to bbq meats is to prepare your protein using a dry rub and basting your meat with a nice mop sauce during cooking. BBQ dry rubs are a combination of dried spices that are applied to the meat before being cooked. These spices can take a variety of flavors and can contain anything from spicy heat such as cayenne pepper to the smokiness of cumin.
Dry rubs can be applied to any type of protein including chicken, beef or pork. They can also be applied to other meats such as lamb or fish to help produce a nice crusty texture on the outside of the meat as well as add a great deal of flavor. In addition to the dry rub, a mop sauce is also often used. Mop sauces, also known as sop or bastes are a liquid sauce applied to the meat while cooking. Mops sauces, while most commonly made with a vinegar base, can incorporate any type of flavoring from spirits to beer or soda. Mops add moisture while cooking and help produce a tender product.
Dry rub flavors can vary from region to region. Barbecue in the American South such as that found in Memphis often exclusively rely solely on a dry rub and mop sauce to produce the regional signature taste. BBQ flavors commonly found in the Caribbean include jerk flavors. Jamaican jerk spices are well known for their spicy kick. Jamaican jerk rubs often combine the sweet flavors of cinnamon and allspice with the savory flavors of various peppers such as cracked black pepper and cayenne, as well as salt and dried herbs. Cajun flavors are often influenced by the spiciness found in the Caribbean but usually emphasize commonly found ingredients such as onions, celery and carrots rather than exotic ones such as allspice and cinnamon. Other variations include the ever popular sugar based rubs which are found throughout all of the United States. Sugar based rubs combine the contrasting flavors of sweet and savory. Sugar based rubs can either be smoky or spicy, depending on the desired flavors. In these types of rubs, brown sugar is utilized in addition to the typical peppers, salt and dried herbs. The addition of brown sugar results in the creation of a caramelized crust when cooking.
While dry rubs can be applied and used for any cooking method. Quick grilling or blackening utilizes the dry rub to create a quick crust over high heat. Another method, also known as the low and slow method, utilizes lower temperature in combination with smoke to cook the meat over an extended period of time. This long cooking process allows time for the connective tissue in the meat to break down to produce a tender final product. Here the dry rub, which is used in combination with the mop sauce, creates a dark and hard outer layer known as the bark or smoke ring.
Larger cuts of meat such as pork butt, brisket or back ribs are commonly cooked using the low and slow method while more expensive cuts such as prime rib and steak are done rather quickly. Mop sauces used to baste meat during the cooking process can consist of almost any flavors which compliment those in the dry rub. One of the most common ingredients in a mop sauce is the tangy and pungent vinegar. The acidity in vinegar gives a distinct flavor while adding moisture to help tenderize the meat while cooking. White distilled or apple cider vinegar can be used and combined with other mop ingredients such as sugar, salt, pepper or the original dry rub recipe. Other liquids that are commonly used in mop sauces include beer or spirits such as bourbon or whiskey. If using alcohol in a mop sauce, use caution when applying over and open flame as the liquid may instantly catch fire and cause burns. If possible, cook your mop sauce first before using. Heat will cause the alcohol to evaporate, thus preventing dangerous flare ups.