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BACK TO How to Cook The Road to Flavorful Grilling Starts Here
Flavors of the Grill: Barbecue Sauces, Rubs and Marinade Recipes

The Road to Flavorful Grilling Starts Here

Grilling is a celebration of food that has evolved into quite an art form. But ultimately, it's all about flavor and how to get the most out of your grill and what you cook on it. Here are some classic ways—with tips and recipes—to enhance and elevate the flavor of practically everything you grill.

The Secret’s in the Sauce

Thick, slightly sweet and sometimes smoky, tomato-based barbecue sauces are a common grilling condiment. The versions most people are familiar with hail from famous barbecue cities like Austin, Tulsa and Kansas City, but the overriding characteristic they all share is that they’re built on a foundation of tomato paste, sauce, ketchup or a combination.

Other regions of the country have their preferred barbecue sauces, and these sauces bear little resemblance to traditional tomato-based barbecue sauce:

  • Vinegar: North Carolina is home to vinegar-based barbecue sauces. One version, preferred in the eastern half of the state, is seasoned simply with sugar, hot sauce and black pepper. It’s an acquired taste but goes well with the rich pulled pork North Carolina is famous for. The western half of North Carolina prefers a less tangy vinegar version that’s toned down with ketchup and more sugar.
  • Yellow: Yellow barbecue sauce is a favorite in South Carolina. Thick, sweet, tangy and vibrant yellow from lots of mustard, it is amazing with smoked pork.
  • White: White barbecue sauce might be the most unusual of the 4 sauces but it’s highly prized in Alabama. Made from mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar and plenty of black pepper, this zesty combination is a pleasant change of pace from standard sweet red barbecue sauces.

Rubs the Right Way

Rubs come one of two ways—dry or wet–and are usually applied before grilling. A dry rub is a combination of spices and herbs, and can be as simple as salt and pepper or a combination of ingredients that’s a prized secret recipe. Regardless of the recipe, the rub is liberally applied and “massaged” onto the surface of the meat then left to sit for anywhere from an hour to a full day so flavors permeate the food. Because rubs are heavily applied, they deliver a more intense flavor and deeper color—simply sprinkling a rub onto meat is seasoning, not rubbing.

Add a liquid, usually oil, to a dry rub and it becomes a wet rub. While there’s little flavor difference between a dry and wet rub, the main advantage of using a wet rub is that it sticks to the meat a bit better. It also tends to form a crust which adds texture to the meat.

Massage the meat completely with the rub mixture, for the best flavor, then let the meat sit in the refrigerator for at least 1 hr. before grilling—larger cuts like pork shoulder or beef brisket can sit overnight. When applying rub to chicken or turkey, work some of the mixture underneath the skin so the flesh takes on flavor too.

Use vegetable oil when making a wet rub. Olive oil more expensive and has a lower smoke point than vegetable oil so it will burn more quickly. It also loses its herbal qualities when exposed to long periods of heat.

Max Out Flavor with Marinades

Marinades do 2 things—they tenderize and add flavor. Generally speaking, there are 2 types of marinades: acidic and savory. Acidic marinades are based on ingredients like citrus juice, vinegar, wine, mustard, yogurt or buttermilk. They’re ideal for flavoring but also help tenderize tougher cuts of meat by breaking down connective tissues. However, too much acid or marinating for too long can result in mushy texture and dry meat. One hr. in a marinade is generally enough time to impart flavor and help tenderize, especially with items that are fairly tender to start with, like poultry, pork tenderloin or shrimp. Try these simple acid-based recipe ideas:

  • Pineapple juice, soy sauce, honey, garlic, ginger
  • Fresh lemon juice, white wine, oil, a touch of brown sugar, red pepper flakes
  • Dijon mustard, lemon juice, garlic, oil, salt and pepper
  • Dark beer, soy sauce, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, dried herbs
  • lain yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, dried oregano and mint
  • Balsamic vinegar, oil, dried herbs, salt and pepper

KITCHEN TIP] Heavy-duty resealable plastic bags are great for marinating. Mix the marinade in the bag itself, add the meat, seal the bag and flip gently to coat.

Marinades penetrate only about ¼-in. deep. Poke holes into the meat using a fork, to increase flavor. Avoid marinating very thick roasts or steaks—the center of the cut won’t benefit from the marinade’s flavor.