Published July 1, 2004.
Do you need a dozen pan-toasted ingredients for a top-notch spice rub?
You can look to the supermarket shelf, which displays rubs from celebrity chefs containing a dozen or more ingredients, or you can follow one of those "empty the spice cabinet" recipes that usually require a trip to the market.
A grilled steak is simple enough, but sometimes you want to dress it up a bit and--aye--there's the rub. Was there such a thing as a simple spice rub recipe for steaks that really does the trick? We set out to find it.
Because relatively few spices taste better when heated, we realized that a five-ingredient rub (made with carefully chosen ingredients) is actually preferable to a pantry-emptying rub. Many proponents of spice rubs profess the benefits of toasting whole versions of all spices and grinding them fresh. To our great surprise, the flavor of steaks rubbed with freshly toasted and ground spices was indistinguishable from that of steaks rubbed with preground, untoasted spices. The intense heat of the grill does the toasting for you and obliterates any subtle differences between freshly ground and preground spices. The one exception to this finding was black pepper, which is best ground to order. While a spice rub is meant to be a quick, last-minute addition, most recipes direct you to rub the steak hours in advance. We got the best results by lighting the coals and then rubbing the steaks. Eight- to 12-ounce steaks easily take 2 teaspoons of rub per side, but this is a vague rule of thumb. Simply sprinkle on enough rub to cover the steak, and gently pat it to adhere.list of recipes