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Spice Rubs for Meats, Poultry and Fish

Next time you’re in the supermarket, cruise through the spice section and notice the abundance of bottled spice “rubs” – the mixtures of herbs and spices to season foods before grilling or roasting. Also note the prices; they are pretty expensive! If you have a reasonable assortment of spices and herbs in your cabinet already, you can make your own wonderful rubs to put on meats, poultry and fish. You will also save a lot of money.

There are three parts to most of these prepared rubs: savory herbs, sweet spices and powders, and pepper. Here are examples of these groups:

Savory group: oregano, thyme, basil, tarragon, dill, marjoram, sage, rosemary, parsley

Sweet group: garlic, onion, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cumin, coriander, fennel, cloves

Hot group: black pepper, white pepper, cayenne, chili powder, paprika, dry mustard

For most spice rubs, you will need one or two from the savory and sweet group, and one from the hot group.

The other thing you will need is a mortar and pestle. You can find these in kitchenware shops or in the housewares department. If you can’t find one, a heavy rolling pin and a couple of pieces of wax paper will work just fine.

When you mix the spices together, start with 1/4 teaspoon of each one. Put your combination in the bowl of the mortar, or between the wax paper sheets and crush together for a few minutes until the spices are blended. Then use your nose; sniff the aroma of the combined spices and note whether it appeals to you. Add other spices as necessary.

When you have the right combination, mix it together so the flavors are well distributed, and with your fingers, rub it on to the food so that it penetrates the surface. Leave the rub on the food for at least 30 minutes to an hour before your grill or otherwise cook the food.

Refer to the list below for some ideas on how which spices complement which foods. Experiment with those you like and write down the combinations you like best. When you find one you like, make a lot of it and put it in an empty spice bottle so you’ll have it for next time!

Also try the chicken recipe at the end – a wonderful summer barbecue dish!


Savory: oregano, thyme, dill, rosemary, parsley
Sweet: onion, garlic, cumin, cloves
Hot: black pepper, cayenne, chili powder

Savory: tarragon, dill, sage, basil, rosemary, thyme
Sweet: onion, garlic, ginger, coriander
Hot: white pepper, paprika, dry mustard

Savory: oregano, thyme, marjoram, basil, dill, parsley
Sweet: onion, ginger, fennel
Hot: white pepper, paprika

Savory: oregano, thyme, rosemary
Sweet: onion, garlic
Hot: black pepper, dry mustard

Savory: oregano, thyme, sage, marjoram, dill
Sweet: onion, garlic, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin
Hot: black pepper, chili powder, dry mustard

Lemon Herb BBQ Chicken

1 whole roasting chicken, about 3 to 4 lbs.
2 T. canola oil
2 T. lemon juice
2 T. water
Rub mixture: 1/4 tsp. each: basil, rosemary, dill, thyme, onion, garlic, paprika

Mix together spice rub, crushing rosemary to make sure it’s well distributed. Rub over entire surface of chicken. Mix together canola oil, lemon juice and water in a small measuring cup. Put the chicken in a large Ziploc bag, taking care not to rub the spices off. Gently pour the lemon marinade over, and seal the bag. Place breast side down and put in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Turn the bag over so that the breast side is up and marinate 30 minutes more.

Heat a BBQ grill for indirect heat. Place a pan to catch drippings underneath the side of the grill that is not lit. Place the chicken on the unlit side and BBQ for about 45 minutes to one hour, turning horizontally every 20 minutes so that it’s evenly browned. Serves 4.

I hope you enjoy your rubs!

Catherine Kitcho

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