Our food director Chris Morocco came to me in May with a top-secret request: Could I produce a rub that’s fantastic for a summer picnic but can swing into the seasons beyond? Ramps were just starting to bloom, and shorts season was still a ways off. Possibly ever! And now that the rub is widely available, I’m offering a peek behind the curtain at how it all came together.
We joined forces with Burlap & Barrel, a tiny spice firm based in New York City that collaborates with growers in 23 nations, from Afghanistan to Zanzibar. The emphasis is on sustainable agriculture, fair and transparent procurement, and farmer-set prices that reflect their expenses. Spices are vibrant when there are no middlemen and a shorter supply chain.
A weekly dose of pastrami from Frankel’s Deli in Greenpoint, which was a lifesaver during quarantine, is honored in The Spicy & Smoky Grilling Rub.
Ingredients: Spicy and Smoky
A strong vein of spice signals the beginning of the brawny, bold rub of my dreams. Crushed chipotle flakes stand out with eerie smoke and potent spice, while Zanzibar peppercorns deliver a punch of heat with a subtle lemony zing. However, why stop at two? Burlap & Barrel’s urfa chili is soft and lustrous like buttery leather, with a hint of salt and sunflower oil. Yes, there is a hint of spice, but what I truly desired was a dark chocolate undertone that would perfectly balance the overpowering heat of the chipotle flakes and black pepper.
How to Bottle a Genie
To arrive at the perfect combination, it required 3 experiments, 100 emails, 3 prototypes, and 20 pounds of ribs. When I finally created a variation that everyone in the test kitchen approved of, it had to be converted to grams for precise precision. To confirm their criteria, Burlap and Barrel retested a small sample on their end (taste, shelf life, scalability). Then, a somewhat larger batch was combined, packaged, and returned to us. Not exactly the proper grind size: too coarse (it would fall right off the meat). The following was too delicate (might burn as it cooked). The third attempt was flawless. Thanks to our art director, Hazel Zavala Tinoco, there were labels to design and back-of-the-bottle copy to think about. Finally, the Smoky & Spicy Grilling Rub was created three months later.
how to handle it
The Smoky & Spicy Grilling Rub makes a fantastic dry brine when combined with nothing but salt (try it on your turkey for Thanksgiving). Add a generous amount of olive oil to make it into a moist rub (great on a steak). I strongly advise adding a small amount of sugar (granulated or light or dark brown) to the rub, just like in this recipe, which served as the model for the bottled version. The ratio of 1 tsp sugar to 1 tbsp of rub is perfect, melting and blending with the spices to create a caramel-like crust that is never overly sweet.
The rub is excellent on meat, including beef or pig ribs, chicken wings, steak, and turkey, but it can also be used for other things. Here are three of my preferred applications for it:
As a Dressing
The rub transforms into a type of chili crisp when heated with olive oil and thinly sliced garlic until the spices are fragrant and the garlic is golden, and it tastes simply delicious when poured over a platter of sliced tomatoes with a sprinkle of fresh herbs on top.
A generous amount in the flour and panko combinations for cutlets, eggplant fries, shrimp, or arancini breading brings life to the mixtures that have been ground into a fine powder in a mortar and pestle.
Black Pepper Travels Everywhere
Add it to tofu, crispy crushed mushrooms, frittatas, scrambled eggs, and matzo brei.
Where to Purchase
You could make a batch yourself, but I crunched the math for you and found that buying all the spices would cost far more than just purchasing the rub. You’ll probably use the entire jar—or more—of the rub because there are so many different ways to use it (see me create enormous red-eye ribs with it here). Buy it right now.
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