Dry Rubs Are Better Than Marinades
We usually don’t like to use the word “dry” when talking about our food. But there are exceptions. A dry martini? Sure. Dry-aged steak? Absolutely. Dry rubs? Oh, yes. We love dry rubs. We prefer them to marinades almost every time. That’s right: When it comes to seasoning meat and developing a exceptionally-textured exterior, nothing beats a dry rub.
What is a dry rub though? Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like: A dry rub is a blend of seasonings and spices, without any wet ingredients, that you rub on meat. This might sound kind of like a dry brine, but we’re talking about something else entirely. Unlike a dry brine, which stays on a piece of meat for a long period of time before being rinsed off, a dry rub is usually applied to meat shortly before it is cooked.
The big advantage of dry rubs, and the reason we love using them so much, is that they don’t add any additional moisture to the exterior of a piece of meat the way that a marinade does. Whenever you apply heat to chicken thighs, pork chops, or any other piece of protein, the moisture on the surface needs to evaporate before a sear can start to develop, so dousing them in liquid beforehand doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. A dry rub—which is, naturally, dry—is going to put you on a faster track to the beautifully-caramelized crust you’re after.
But while a dry rub is our preferred pre-cooking treatment for meat, there’s nothing wrong with incorporating a liquid element after you’ve gotten some browning going. We love brushing a glaze, be it a mixture of maple syrup and soy sauce or just some store-bought barbecue sauce, onto chicken thighs during the last few minutes that they’re on the grill or in the oven, creating layers of complex, concentrated flavor. And we’re all about finishing a grilled skirt steak with a pungent sauce once it’s cooked, rested, and sliced—nobody’s ever gotten mad about a drizzle of bright, herby salsa verde or chimichurri. So, yeah: It’s not that we have a problem with liquids, it’s just that we don’t want to apply them to proteins until after it’s gotten its sear on.
That’s not to say a dry-rubbed piece of protein needs a secondary element. It doesn’t. If you balance all of the elements of a dry-rub correctly, that aggressively-seasoned crackly exterior will hold its own. And by hold its own, we mean make you forget about marinades all together. Which you probably should do.