May 7, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I don’t remember, exactly, when I made the original batch. But, like a lovingly maintained and ancient sourdough starter or the embers of an Olympic torch, the lineage from that first throwing-together of ingredients to the vital 1/2 tablespoon or so currently sitting atop the fridge—safely sealed in an orange Tupperware container—is long and unbroken. I wish I could say that the name “Rubsputin” came a few years in and after much use, during an hazy and probably alcohol-inspired moment of cleverness when I realized that my dry rub, like it’s Mad Monk namesake, simply would not die. Sadly, though, I cannot. The name came first. The lineage, however, was accidental. I always had just a tiny bit left, and would mix the new batch in the same container. When we moved to Michigan, I transferred the half cup or so I had from an old coffee can to it’s current Tupperware tabernacle. Consequently, and as you’ve probably gathered, I can’t give you a recipe. But this isn’t something you want to measure. It should be organic and a bit haphazard; something different every time, something you’re as excited to taste and can be as pleasantly surprised by as your hungry guests hopefully will be. It should be sacred, and it should be yours.
I can’t give you a recipe, but I can tell you how I came to mine. Like many of our creations, it was born out of the desire not to go back to the store for forgotten ingredients. Scanning our spice rack, I started plugging what we had into Google hoping to find a recipe that wouldn’t leave too much out. I ended up riffing off two recipes: Alton Brown’s Baby Back Rib recipe and Aaron McCargo Jr.’s Big Daddy Rub. I trust Alton Brown implicitly, and McCargo’s gave hints to proportions for ingredients we had that Brown left out.
When it comes down to it, Alton Brown’s 8:3:1:1 ratio is pretty righteous. 8 tbsp brown sugar, 3 tbsp salt, 1 tbsp chili powder, and 1 tbsp total other mixed spices. McCargo’s adds quite a bit of paprika—as much, actually, as he uses salt—which worked out because I didn’t have the Old Bay Brown called for. I remember being low on brown sugar and high on chili powder (ancho, chipotle, and regular, in fact). Neither of them mention garlic powder, but I wanted it in there, too. With everything we had arranged before me, I started mixing. Brown sugar, salt, chili powder, pinch of various spices, lid on, shake, open, poke with finger, taste, adjust with a pinch of this, generous pinch of that, lid on, shake, open, poke with finger, taste…. This is how one dances with Rubsputin. There’s really no way to screw it up. If you get too spicy, thin it back with more brown sugar. If you put in too much sugar, add more salt and chili powder then adjust spices as needed. When you’re down to a tiny bit and need to rekindle the rub, start again by adding brown sugar to what you have, then some heat, some salt, and start the dance again. I would advise that, tasted on its own, it will want to be a bit spicier and saltier than you might think, as pork especially tends to suck up and mellow those attributes. Be very generous in your application and let the meat sit and get acquainted with its flavorings at least an hour before throwing it on the fire.
Given a good dry rub and slow cooking over low heat, there’s really not much need for sauce. My recent excitement over obtaining a new grill and the resulting and necessary cookout with our upstairs neighbor and his girlfriend, however, seemed the perfect reason to try making my own. Again, the cupboards were bare, but I had a bottle of chipotle-flavored Tabasco sauce and some molasses. A few minutes of Googling later and I had the base: 2 tbsp molasses to 4 tbsp Tabasco. On its own, this would make a pretty decent basting sauce, but I wanted more. In the spirit of Rubsputin, I started adding things, tasting as I went. Here’s approximately what ended up happening this time around. The sauce doesn’t have a name yet, so feel free to suggest one.
Chipotle Tabasco BBQ Sauce (Bride of Rubsputin?)
- 2 tbsp molasses
- 4 tbsp chipotle Tabasco
- 3-4 tbsp ketchup
- 2 tbsp spicy brown mustard (or Dijon, or plain yellow)
- 1/2 tsp applewood smoked salt (or kosher, or sea salt)
- 2-3 splashes Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tbsp Heinz 57
- 3-6 grinds black pepper
I was out of garlic and onion powders, else those would definitely have gone in. Other possible candidates to add might be a bit of vinegar, a tiny amount of liquid smoke, some Rubsputin for continuity…. As above, this is an approximate business. Make your base then add slowly, whisking with a fork and tasting as you go until you get it just where you want it. Brush on the sauce during the last few minutes of grilling, flipping once and applying more to make sure you’re fully covered, then transfer what’s left to a ramekin or, if you’ve made a ton, into a squeeze bottle to have on hand at the table.
Below is a picture of a recent end result—Rubsputin undeadingly applied to some country style pork ribs, finished with homemade sauce, and accompanied by skewered squash and onion. Of all the meals we’ve made since moving here, it’s the first run of this we did with our neighbor that rates at the very top—the first introduction of pork to the new grill, first homemade bbq sauce, first hints of winter finally letting go, first calm breath of summer, and the first vision of a backyard full of happy and hungry friends. I ate until I was just uncomfortable, drank two or three more beers than I probably needed, and slept very, very well.