Mops & more

Aye, There’s the Rub

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Mops & more



 by Dave DeWitt and Nancy Gerlach

Genuine, Authentic, South of the Border Chile Rub

Thai Lemon Grass Marinade

Your Basic Beer Sop or Mop

Texas Chilipiquin Barbecue Sauce

South Carolina Mustard Sauce


Memphis-Style Finishing Sauce

Spit-Roasted Chicken with Spicy Wild Rice Stuffing

Rosemary-Scented Lamb Chops

Grilled Artichokes with Chile Dipping Sauce

Meat that is to be grilled or smoked is often treated with spice mixtures and marinades of various types before, during, and after the cooking process. Now, of course, in the contentious world of barbecue, there is a great debate not only about which of these marinades to use, but whether or not to use them in the first place. Many grillers, for example, would never use a rub on their sirloin steak. And you’ll hear it time and time again from the smoking purists: good barbecue doesn’t need condiments. No rubs, no marinades, no sops, no sauces. If that’s so, please tell us why nearly every recipe you can find for Texas barbecued brisket contains at least two of the three following steps:

  • Massage a rub into the meat and let stand for ½ hour before smoking.

  • Apply a sop during the smoking process.

  • Serve the sliced meat topped with a barbecue sauce.

In some recipes, the sliced meat is mixed with the barbecue sauce and allowed to sit before serving. In other recipes, the meat sits in the sop and barbecue sauces are omitted. Some barbecuers prefer just to use a rub, claiming that brisket and ribs get a better crust than wen a sop is used. What we are talking about here is personal preference. Feel free to omit, add, or adjust any ingredients or techniques in this book. Cooking is more of an art than an exact science, which is why at any given time, there are tens of thousands of cookbooks to be found with millions of recipes!

Let’s examine the various spicing and saucing techniques in order of use.

Rubbing It the Right Way

Rubs are essentially dry spice mixtures. A rub can be as simple as crushed black pepper, or as elaborate as a jerk or curry rub. Their purpose is to add intense flavor to the meat without excessive moisture. A paste is a rub with a little moisture–usually water, beer, or oil–added to bind it. Generally speaking, rubs are used more with meat and poultry and pastes more with seafood. A notable exception to this rule is Jamaican jerk pork, which can be treated with either a jerk rub, a jerk paste, or in some cases (mostly outside Jamaica), a jerk sauce.

The most important thing to remember about making rubs is to use the freshest possible ingredients, not the ground oregano that’s been in your cupboard since 1986. Older spices and herbs oxidize, or turn rancid, and either lose flavor or gain a flavor you don’t want on your meat. Buy spices such as mustard, black pepper, cumin, and coriander in whole form and grind them yourself. The same goes for chile peppers–buy the pods, not the powder. Spices should preferably be fresh, but we’ve bought some incredible dried Mexican oregano in bulk. Dry fresh spices in the microwave and then crush them in a mortar.

You can use a spice mill, a coffee grinder, or a mortar and pestle to make the rubs, just remember not to grind the mixture too finely. The object is not to allow the herbs and spices to release too much of their essential oils, which is caused by friction and the heat of the grinder motor.

Rubs–and particularly pastes–do not store all that well. If you must store a rub, put it in a small jar with a tight seal and place it in a cool, dry cupboard, or in the freezer. Oxygen and light are the enemies of a rub. Pastes can be stored for a few days only in the refrigerator.

Dry rubs are massaged into the meat or poultry, lightly covered, and allowed to sit for as little as a half hour, or as long as a day. When using pastes on seafood, completely cover the shrimp or fish or whatever in the paste, and then wrap tightly in plastic wrap to more fully infuse it with flavor. The same technique works with pastes applied to meat or poultry.

Debates continue to rage about the use of rubs in the barbecue process. Some people state that the rub seals the meat, keeping the juices in but others warn that salt in the rub will draw the juices out and they will evaporate. (Note that most rubs have a little salt in them.) At least one home physicist theorizes that the dryness of the rub attracts moisture from the air and actually adds it to the meat, but this is doubtful. Barbecue writer Richard Langer explains that “A rub draws a portion of the juices from a cut of meat to the surface, there to mingle with the seasoning and form a crust encasing the rest of the meat’s juices and flavors.”

Ha! Food chemistry expert Harold McGee counters: “Any crust that forms around the surface of the meat is not waterproof.” So it seems that, if we use food common sense and don’t add additional salt before smoking and don’t worry about moisture loss because smoked meats are supposed to lose moisture as they tenderize, what happens is that the rubs simply add flavor and help make a tasty crust, or burnt ends, as the barbecuers call the crust on the thin end of the brisket.

A Myriad of Marinades

A marinade is a liquid mixture used to soak meats of all kinds before they are grilled. Barbecued meats are rarely marinated prior to cooking. A case could be made that apply sops during the cooking process is the same thing as marinating the meat. But applying a thin sauce to a meat that is cooking is a different process that a lengthy soaking that can break down the muscle fibers.

“Marinades containing wine or vinegar can also tenderize the surface of the meat–their acid denatures the surface proteins–but again the result will be drier meat.” Writes food chemistry expert Harold McGee, who noted that such acidic materials don’t penetrate very far into the meat for tenderizing purposes. But marinades are more than just meat tenderizers–they add an enormous amount of flavor to grilled meats. Except when containing wine and vinegar, they can add moisture to drier cuts of meat. Howard Hillman in Kitchen Science agrees and notes that even when using acidic marinades, “However, on balance, the marinated meat’s juice loss is usually more than compensated by a gain in tenderness and flavor.”

The permutations and combinations of ingredients that can make a marinade sometimes seem infinite. In basic form, however, they usually combine an oil of some sort, an acidic component such as vinegar or citrus juice, and flavorings that can range from garlic to habanero chiles, from rosemary to allspice.

You can use large bowls for marinating the meat, but it’s handier and takes up less space to use zip bags, which actually require less marinade to cover the meat. The length of marinating time varies from cook to cook and recipe to recipe, but the softer the meat, the less the marinating time. Fish, poultry, and meat are in order from least to most marinating time.

If you intend use the same marinade that you’ve soaked the meat in as a sop or sauce, remember to boil it for a couple of minutes or simmer it for 20 minutes so that any bacteria released by the uncooked meat are killed off.

The Sop: Marinade, Baste, or Both?

A sop, sometimes called mop, is a thin basting sauce that is applied during the smoking process. It keeps the meat moist and adds flavor. Most mops do not have sugar or tomatoes in them, because they will caramelize and the resulting sugars burn easily, even under smoking temperatures. Barbecue expert C. Clark “Smokey” Hale once wrote that the sop was the greatest secret of barbecue, so powerful that it could make “a pine knot tender and delicious.” Just remember to keep the sop simmering during the smoking process so it doesn’t breed bacteria and spoil that pine knot.

In the grilling world, a sop is called a grill sauce and is designed to act as a baste and to stimulate a certain amount of smoke. Like sops, grill sauces are not sweet so that the meat does not blacken. You can use a one or two inch wide paint brush to mop or sop your meat, but the traditional tool is a miniature cotton mop that is available from barbecue supply stores.

Finishing Sauces or Just Plain Finished?

“Strictly in terms of flavor, good barbecue needs no saucing at all.” John Thorne, in his attempt to prove that a true “barbecuist” vandalizes someone else’s sauce and improves upon it, rather than creates one from scratch. In other words, he (or she) takes and existing style of barbecue sauce and then “individualizes” it. Thorne concluded: “Knowing this is what separates the real barbecuist from the dilettante: where for the latter the sauce is everything, for the former it is only a signature of a poem already written.”

Let’s not get into name-calling, now. Even barbecue dilettantes know a good rib when they taste it, and saucing or not is merely a matter of personal preference. Since there are dozens of regional U.S.A. barbecue sauce variations and hundreds of commercial barbecue sauces available, even a “barbecuist” would eventually have to succumb to the tasty lure of one of them.

No, the sauce is not the be-all and end-all of the barbecue process, but it adds moisture and a complimentary flavor to the smoked meat. If you are having a barbecue party and a “barbecuist” shows up, serve the barbecue sauce on the side and he or she can make up their own minds. In fact, serve everyone two or three sauces on the side and prove how sauces can brighten up a barbecue. As far as altering existing commercial barbecue sauces for your own nefarious purposes, why not? Barbecue industry surveys indicate that fifty percent of all people who buy a commercial sauce alter it in some way, mostly by adding chile peppers or bottled hot sauce. This is not to mention all the restaurants with sauces that are merely spiced-up national brands that they buy by the keg. Think of the possibilities of combining your favorite commercial barbecue sauce with your favorite habanero hot sauce! And with the numbers of different barbecue and hot sauces available, the combinations are nearly endless.


Genuine, Authentic, South of the Border Chile Rub

Yeah, right. Okay, this is our spin on Mexican flavorings that would work on goat, as in cabrito, pit roasted goat. Can’t find goat at Winn-Dixie? Use this rub for either grilling or smoking beef, pork, and lamb.

  • 3 tablespoons ground ancho chile

  • 2 teaspoons ground chile de arbol

  • 2 teaspoons ground chipotle chile

  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano, Mexican preferred

  • 2 teaspoons onion salt

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon powdered garlic

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Store any unused rub in a sealed container in the freezer.

Yield: approximately 2/3 cup

Heat Scale: Hot

Thai Lemon Grass Marinade

Lemon grass makes a nice houseplant and a continuous supplier of lemony stalks–simply root a stalk in water and then plant it in a pot. Put it in partial sun and it will grow and separate. This marinade is excellent with chicken and fish. Warning: the marinade tastes so good your will want to drink it. Go ahead, call it lemon grass tea. Use this marinade for poultry, fish, or pork, or as a dressing for a salad. Dave serves it over noodles and calls it a pseudo-curry.

  • 1 stalk lemon grass

  • ½ cup coconut milk

  • 8 Thai chiles, stems removed, chopped (or substitute 4 serrano chiles)

  • 2 ½ tablespoons lime juice, fresh preferred

  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar

  • 1 shallot, sliced

  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce

  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger

Cut off and discard the green top of the lemon grass and the root end, leaving about a 6-inch stalk. Remove any tough outer leaves, cut the stalk into 1-inch pieces, lightly pound the stalks with the knife handle to release the flavor .

Combine the lemon grass with the coconut milk in a saucepan and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Do not let it boil. Remove from the heat and strain. Discard the lemon grass and reserve the milk.

Place all the ingredients, including the milk, in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.

Yield: ½ cup

Heat Scale: Hot

Your Basic Beer Sop or Mop

This is an all-purpose sop that can be used with any meat or poultry. It’s purpose is to keep the meat moist during the smoking process and to give the cook something to do during the long, boring, smoking process. Use a little sop mop to coat the meat.

  • 1 cup vegetable oil

  • 4 bottles good Mexican beer, such as Dos Equis

  • Juice of 2 lemons

  • 1 large onion, chopped

  • 1 clove garlic, minced

  • 2 tablespoons vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper

  • 3 tablespoons commercial hot sauce of choice

In a large saucepan, combine all of the ingredients, reserving two of the bottles of beer. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. Use the sop to baste any meat, but especially beef, and drink the reserved bottles of beer while you sop.

Yield: 4 cups

Heat Scale: Medium

Texas Chilipiquin Barbecue Sauce

Chile-spiced Sauces



Chile-spiced Sauces




The wild chiles called chiltepins in Mexico and the Southwest are known as chilipiquins in Texas. We always have some of the berry-like pods available because we grow them as perennials, but they’re difficult to find in markets. So substitute any pequin or small, extremely hot chile. This is a finishing sauce for grilled or smoked beef, chicken, or pork to be applied before serving or served on the side.

  • 1 onion, chopped

  • 2 tablespoons butter, margarine, or vegetable oil

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 cups catsup

  • ½ cup cider vinegar

  • 1/3 cup brown sugar

  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

  • 3 teaspoons crushed chilipiquins, or other small, hot dried chiles

  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard

  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • Salt to taste

In a small skillet, saute the onion in the butter until soft. Add the garlic and saute for 2 minutes.

Combine all the remaining ingredients in a saucepan and whisk to blend. Bring to a boil over high heat and bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Yield: 2 ½ cups

Heat Scale: Hot

South Carolina Mustard Sauce

In South Carolina, barbecue is flavored with mustard as a dominant ingredient rather than just an incidental spice. But vinegar makes its appearance here as well, plus some hot sauce. As in North Carolina, the sauce is primarily used over smoked pork. But you could serve this over grilled pork chops.

  • 3/4 cup yellow “ballpark” mustard

  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar

  • ½ cup sugar

  • 1 ½ tablespoons margarine

  • 2 teaspoons salt

  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 1/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 teaspoons Louisana-style hot sauce, or more to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan, stirring to blend, and simmer over a low heat for 30 minutes. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before using.

Yield: 1 3/4 cups

Heat Scale: Mild

Memphis-Style Finishing Sauce

This is the sauce that is traditionally served over smoked ribs in Memphis and other parts of Tennessee. Some cooks add prepared yellow mustard to the recipe. It can be converted into a basting sauce by adding more beer and a little more vinegar. Add more hot sauce to taste, or substitute red chile or cayenne powder.

  • 1 cup tomato sauce, preferably freshly made

  • 1 cup red wine vinegar

  • 2 teaspoons Louisiana-style hot sauce

  • 1 tablespoon butter

  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • ½ cup light beer

Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

Remove from the heat, but serve warm over smoked meats.

Yield: 2 ½ cups

Heat Scale: Mild

Spit-Roasted Chicken with Spicy Wild Rice Stuffing

Easy Dinner: Roasted Chicken with Stuffings



Easy Dinner: Roasted Chicken with Stuffings



Roasting the chicken along with the stuffing makes for an easy dinner. To complete the meal, cut zucchinis lengthwise and brush them with chile oil. Grill during the last 15 to 20 minutes of cooking, remove and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.

  • 1 2-1/2 to 3-pound whole chicken

  • 3 tablespoons Genuine, Authentic, South of the Border Chile Rub (see recipe)

  • ½ cup wild rice½ cup white rice2 teaspoons vegetable oil1 cup chicken broth

  • ½ cup chopped onions4 sun-dried tomatoes chopped

  • ½ teaspoon cayenne powder

  • ½ teaspoon dried sage, crumbled

Rub the chicken with the barbecue rub, being sure to put some under the skin. Allow the rub to penetrate at room temperature while you prepare the stuffing. In a sauce pan, cover the wild rice with 1-1/3 cups boiling water, return to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 40 to 45 minutes or until tender. It is not necessary to drain the rice thoroughly, but drain off any excess water. Sauté the white rice in the oil for 2 to 3 minutes. Bring the broth to a boil, add the white rice, and return to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Do not drain. Add the wild rice, onions, tomatoes, cayenne, and sage to the rice and mix well. Spoon the mixture loosely into the chicken cavities. Secure the neck skin to the back of the chicken. Insert the spit rod through the bird, tie the wings together, and tightly secure the bird to the rod. Place a drip pan under the bird on the grill, lower the cover and grill over a medium heat for 2 hours or until the chicken is done.

Yield: 4 servings

Heat Scale: Mild

Rosemary-Scented Lamb Chops

Lamb Chops, flavored with Chile and Rosemary



Lamb Chops, flavored with Chile and Rosemary



Anyone who has eaten at Nancy’s house knows that sooner or later they will have something flavored with two of my favorites–chiles and rosemary. Depending on your preference, the marinade can be strained before reducing. This recipe will also work well with ribs, roasts, or even cubed lamb, which can be made into kebabs.

  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice

  • 1 cup dry red wine

  • 1 cup red wine vinegar

  • 3/4 cup South Carolina Mustard Sauce (see recipe)

  • 3/4 cup chile-and-herb-infused olive oil

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

  • 2 tablespoons minced onion

  • 2 to 3 chiltepins, crushed

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 4 lamb chops

Combine the lemon juice, wine, vinegar, and mustard together in a nonreactive bowl. Whisk the mixture while slowly adding the oil in a steady stream. Add the remainder of the ingredients, except the lamb, and mix well. Marinate the lamb in the mixture for an hour at room temperature. Remove the lamb and reserve the marinade. Grill or broil the lamb chops to desired doneness. Place the reserved marinade in a saucepan and simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally, until reduced by one half, about 20 minutes. To serve, place some of the cooked marinade on a plate and arrange the chops on top. Additional sauce can be served on the side.

Yield: 4 servings

Heat Scale: Hot

Grilled Artichokes with Chile Dipping Sauce

These artichokes are so easy to prepare and are a great accompaniment to any barbecue of grilled meat, poultry, or fish.

  • 4 small fresh artichokes

  • 1 cup Texas Chilipiquin Barbecue Sauce (see recipe)

  • 1 cup mayonnaise2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

  • 2 teaspoons minced serrano chiles1 teaspoon lime juice

Cut the artichokes in half vertically and scoop out the dark leaves and the “fur.” Poach the artichokes in boiling, salted water until the leaves start to come off. Remove and drain. Marinate in the marinade or grilling sauce for 2 hours. Combine the mayonnaise, cilantro, chiles, and lime juice. Grill the artichokes for 3 to 6 minutes on each side, remove and drizzle additional sauce over the top. Serve with the dipping sauce.

Yield: 4 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

Text excerpted from The Barbecue Inferno, Ten Speed Press, 2001. Recipes by Nancy Gerlach.


More about Rubs:

Using Rubs and Spices the Right Way

Rubs, Marinades and Sauces: Barbecuing and Grilling with Flair


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